Ukraine’s protests in Kiev reached a fever pitch on Sunday as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the government’s rejection of a free trade agreement with the EU, toppling a statue of Lenin near the city center in the process. The protests are the biggest the country has seen since the Orange Revolution a decade ago, but the Yanukovich government appears to be holding strong. Bloomberg Businessweek has a good roundup of the state of play in the city:
As the government played hardball, threatening harsh measures against the demonstrators and arresting opposition activists, protests only gained steam.“Yanukovych has lost legitimacy as president … He is no longer the president of our state. He is a tyrant,” jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said in a letter to the crowd read by her daughter. “Don’t give in, not a step back, don’t give up, the future of Ukraine is in your hands.”
It’s important to remember that Kiev, the national capital, is in the western part of the country where anti-Yanukovich forces have always been strong. Kiev is also a media center and the center of government, so there is a lot of publicity for the dramatic confrontations taking place there. But anti-government demonstrations in the west can paradoxically bolster the government’s position in the east.The real battle over Ukraine’s future is unlikely to be decided in the streets of Kiev—Ukraine is not like 18th and 19th century France where disturbances in Paris could easily translate into national revolutionary upheavals. The real battle is likely to depend on how Ukraine’s powerful oligarchs divide among themselves and on how successful the government is at staving off a looming economic crisis.To some degree, it’s a question of how much money Putin can pour into the country. If it looks to enough oligarchs and ordinary Ukrainians that a Russian orientation is rewarding enough, then Putin may succeed at building closer ties between Ukraine and Russia. But if he is unwilling or unable to pay the price, he will lose what may be his last chance to reconstitute Russia as a truly great power.One suspects that the Ukrainian oligarchs who are ‘swing voters’, uncommitted to either Russia or the West, know this, and are pushing to get the highest possible price from the Kremlin.