Regime change

Ukraine is in the eye of dramatic changes. President Viktor Yanukovych, who till a few days ago seemed to enjoy an iron grip over power, has not only been ousted but also, he is on the run now.

While it was the Ukrainian parliament that eventually forced him out, it was mass protests, which peaked last week that rendered shaky Yanukovych’s position as president. Violent unrest has engulfed Kiev and other cities since November. The protests erupted initially over Yanukovych’s rejection of a trade deal with the European Union, in favour of a closer embrace with Russia. Over time, the protestors demanded Yanukovych’s resignation. The president extended several concessions to quell the protests, the most recent being a compromise deal that provided for a new national unity government, constitutional changes to hand powers back to parliament and early elections. A day later, parliament voted to force the Ukrainian strongman out of power.

His ouster appears to have put a lid on the violent unrest. However, the respite is at best temporary. For one, Yanukovych continues to enjoy support in eastern Ukraine. Leaders here are questioning the legitimacy of the new government. The possibility of them challenging the new government resulting in a civil war, even a fragmentation of Ukraine looms. Besides, the army has remained neutral so far unlike the police, which has sworn allegiance to the new government. Should the army throw its weight behind Yanukovych, the balance may tilt in his favour again.

The reverberations of Yanukovych’s ouster will be felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders. It is well-known that the US and EU backed the opposition’s protests. Ukraine’s new rulers have promised to prioritize Kiev’s European integration. This is being celebrated in western capitals. Yanukovych’s ouster is no doubt a setback for Russia. But the tide could change soon. The Ukrainian economy is in a shambles and the EU is hardly in a position to extend Kiev the kind of largesse that Russia had promised Yanukovych recently. It is likely that the EU and Ukraine’s new government will sign the agreement that Yanukovych had rejected earlier. But such a step is merely symbolic.  Once the euphoria of regime change dies down in Kiev, Ukrainians will expect an improvement in their economy. And should Russia raise gas prices it could deepen Ukraine’s economic crisis. This could bring Ukrainians back to the streets again.

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