LESSONS TO BE LEARNED ON THE 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE MAIDAN REVOLUTION
Dr Timo Hellenberg is founder of research institution Hellenberg International and co-author of the book “Battle for Ukraine – Eyewitnesses” (In Finnish: “Taistelu Ukrainasta”, Docendo).
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED ON THE 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE MAIDAN REVOLUTION
“We are already out of this World”. Those words of Sergei still echoes in my ears at the late nightstand of snowy night at the European square in Kiev in February 2014. This year remarks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Maidan revolution in Kiev. For myself the beginning of the Maidan was on 14 October 2013 while witnessing a demonstration on Kreshtatik, the main street where people arrived from Lviv.
Peaceful protest of Maidan soon turned to circle of violence (source T. Hellenberg)
Ukraine and Russia are two countries that are linked to each other through strong historical, religious and cultural ties. Families, from Kharkiv to Belgorad, are often strongly intertwined, with common Slavic roots and day-to-day family ties. Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe and boasts the seventh largest population in Europe with 46 million citizens. It should be remembered that Ukraine has only existed within its current borders since World War II. It was not until 1954 that the Crimean Peninsula was annexed to Ukraine at the initiative of the Soviet leadership to celebrate the connection between peoples – a decision that has probably been regretted several times over. Three regions of western Ukraine – Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil – were annexed to the USSR only after the Second World War, having previously belonged to Poland and even earlier to the dual monarchy.
Transcarpathia, located west of the Carpathian Mountains, was also annexed to the Soviet Union just before World War II. Ukraine, like its neighbors, finally then gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The eastern and southern parts of the country are strongly Russian-speaking and more closely connected to Russia, while the western and northern parts are connected to Poland and Europe.
When presidential elections were held in Ukraine in 2004, neither the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko, supported by western Ukraine, nor Viktor Yanukovych, supported by the Russian-speaking regions of the industrialised eastern part of the country and Russia, managed to collect more than half of the votes cast, soon after the Orange Revolution became the new normal.
After the elections, Yushchenko’s prominent ally Yulia Tymoshenko was appointed prime minister of Ukraine. From then on, the constitution was changed even more in a parliamentary direction. However, the orange forces soon drifted into mutual strife and Tymoshenko’s government was sacked in September 2005. In the March 2006 parliamentary elections, Yanukovych led the Party of Regions to an electoral victory and it became the largest party. In 2008, Ukraine, like many other eastern European countries, was plunged into a severe economic crisis.
In 2010, Yanukovich was elected president of Ukraine. As a first step, the President worked with Russia on a so-called “peace process”. Under the Kharkiv Agreement, the lease period of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea was extended until 2042, and Ukraine, in turn, received a discount on the price of gas.
In June 2010, Ukraine decided to abandon the pursuit of NATO membership. However, it kept participating in NATO naval exercises and developed bilateral training cooperation, including with the United States.
In December 2010, Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko were put on trial on charges of misappropriation of state funds. Tymoshenko’s charges were later added to in claims of the abuse of power in gas deals with Russia. He was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011.
The European Union and Ukraine negotiated a five-year Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The agreement was set to “bring Ukraine into the EU’s single market, attracting investment into the country and perhaps one day leading to EU membership.”
Despite the bumpy road, the agreement was initialed in the spring of 2012, but after that the situation stalled. In August 2013, Russia began to make increasing use of tariff restrictions and food regulations. Eventually, trade with the east ground to an almost complete stop.
The Ukrainian leadership also began to speak in favor of the Association Agreement, and at the end of September the government approved the agreement at its meeting. The Association Agreement was to be signed in Vilnius at the EU-Ukraine Summit on 28-29 November 2013.
Yet, on November 21, 2013, the Government of Ukraine officially decided to abandon preparations for the signing of the Association Agreement. The government’s U-turn was disappointing for the European Union, but even more so for those Ukrainians who had put Ukraine on a treaty for the future.
On the night of 29/30.11, the special forces, the “Berkuts”, decided to clear the central square of “Maidan” citizens. It ended with unnecessary use of force, causing dozens to be injured. The Maidan used the heaviest possible force that the Ministry of the Interior possessed. The city was engulfed by an atmosphere of the Middle Ages, with the bell ringer of the Mikhailov Monastery ringing emergency calls for hours – according to his interview, this last happened in the 1240s when the Mongols invaded Kiev. Ukraine plunged into a deep political crisis.
Soon after, when the European motorway started to slow down, on 17.12.2013, Ukraine and Russia signed 14 agreements. Russia offered its assistance with a loan of $15 billion, as well as a promise to reduce the import price of natural gas. There was a lot of speculation in the air as to whether President Yanukovych had already secretly signed a Customs Union Agreement with Russia.
The Maidan began to organize, and opposition forces established the “Kiev Autonomous Region.”
On 16.1.2014, in an undemocratic procedure, the majority of the Ukrainian Parliament passed undemocratic laws to curb demonstrations, and introduced the concept that NGOs receiving foreign funding needed to be registered under the so-called “foreign agent law.”
A misjudgment of the situation was made, and the smoldering situation exploded as the small but radical wing began to resist and lash back against the special forces of the Ministry of the Interior with Molotov cocktails.
Picture: Leonid Kravcuk on 31.1.14, speaking at the Ukrainian Parliament
On 31.1., the first President of Ukraine, The first president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravtshuk, gave a speech at the parliament session. According to his own words, the most important thing in his life. According to him, the country was on the brink of civil war and the demonstrations had turned into revolutionary activity. According to Kravshuk, the country needed an atmosphere of mutual trust in order to find a peaceful solution. He would refer to the ruling Party of Regions by stating that if the majority forces the minority to its knees, this will not happen. He also gave back to the opposition by stating that it is also not right for the opposition to hand out ultimatums to the government. According to him, Ukraine’s future should not be jeopardized by the ambition of an opposition leader. In my opinion, Kravtshuk showed statesmanship skills that one would have hoped to see from Yanukovych at least once.
Could the crisis have been resolved peacefully at that stage? Interestingly, at his Opening speech of the Munich Security Conference on 31 January 2014 the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy stated that “the future of Ukraine belongs with the European Union”.
I considered then and still do that it was absolutely essential to draw attention to the West’s position and strategy in this situation, including with regard to the financial package offered to Ukraine. This seemed unclear at that time. Where was the money supposed to be taken from? In principle, the amount was 15 billion dollars if Ukraine met the conditions, including an increase in the price of gas.
On Friday 21 February of the same week, the opposition spokesman, Vitaly Klitshko, presented a negotiating agreement that had been worked on over a week with the help of the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland. The major powers first discussed it with Yanukovich, the president elect of the country, and the leaders of the opposition, after which the agreement was to be presented to the Maidan People’s Assembly, who would either reject it or accept it. At that moment, I was standing there in front of the podium, and I recall how the situation resembled a medieval village community in its setting and atmosphere. A good feature, of course, was that it was the most direct democracy. A bad feature, on the other hand, is that there were people demonstrating, and this miscellaneous congregation certainly did not represent the whole of Ukraine or all its people.
The Association Agreement was, for Ukraine, the most ambitious agreement the EU had ever offered a third country. If implemented, it would have brought Ukraine legislatively closer to the EU in environmental matters, consumer rights, food safety, education, competition matters, and administration and financial management. Bank of Finland economist Pekka Sutela wrote an article in December 2013, after President Yanukovich refused to sign the Association Agreement at the Vilnius meeting, in which he presented his position on the situation under the title “Ukraine spared the EU and itself”. Ukraine would not have been able to withstand another revolution in that situation, not to mention the war that has been raging for almost 10 years now. The remedy would only have been found through thorough round table discussions, gradual trust building, and the seeking of a consensus between the president and the opposition, that is, creating a road map for the complete rebuilding of democracy, the country’s governance, institutions and, above all, the rule of law.
Despite of the unilateral and medieval style aggression by Russian State against the Ukrainian nation (see my earlier blog 10 May, 2022 “How To Respond To Russian Ultra-Orthodox-Historic-Hegemonism?)”, the West needs investigate what is her own responsibility in the devastating war raging in Ukraine? What should have been done differently or maybe not done at all? These questions need to be answered and the West still need to meet its fair share of accountability for those given promises and “fast tracks” at some stage.