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Ukraine's Opposition
Advantage: Protesters?

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The situation in Ukraine seems to have shifted overnight, with police withdrawing from Kiev’s Independence Square. As far as one can tell, the authorities fear that the savage violence needed to clear the square would set off a backlash. The FT reports on Yanukovich’s climb-down:

Thousands of police had descended on the protesters’ tented camp on Independence Square at midnight, but as the day progressed they pulled back, leaving the square in the possession of thousands of demonstrators.

There were widespread scuffles as protesters attempted to defend the square from the police assault. But officers appeared to be under orders not to target protesters with deliberate violence, as they did when clearing a smaller protest camp 10 days ago in a clash that injured dozens, and did not make many arrests.

Another win for the protesters: the leading churches in Ukraine seem to be coming down on their side. Ukraine has a fractured religious scene. Catholics, Uniates and Orthodox often disagree and there is a history of bad feeling. But with the country shaken to its foundations over the issue of whether to choose Russia or the EU as its principal economic partner going forward, the churches all seem to be standing with the protesters and against the government. As the Orthodox church is strongest in the Russian-speaking east, this could be significant.

The Putin government in Russia sees the Orthodox Church as an important instrument in its struggle to maintain its grip on civic life and political power. Close links between the Church and the Russian government are not new. In the Soviet era, the KGB supervised all church appointments, and the hierarchy in place in 1990 was the product of decades of communist infiltration and control. The Putin government appears to be even more interested in the church than the communists were; strong support from the Orthodox leadership at key points has been very helpful to the development of the blend of nationalism, Russian exceptionalism and anti-western populism that constitute what we might call the Putinist ideology.

That makes the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox both interesting and important. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church doesn’t appear to be longing for a closer relationship with Moscow. This drastically undercuts the potential strength of pro-Russian forces in the east and substantially enhances the chances that, in the end, Ukraine will look west.

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  • Coleman Glenn

    Just a minor point – Uniate Catholic, correct? I don’t know if there have been conflicts between the Uniate Catholics and the Roman Catholics, but that would seem a little odd, as they’re both in full communion with Rome.

  • tarentius

    There are actually three Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and it is not clear just how many Ukrainians are members of each even though they all call themselves Orthodox. The religious situation in the Ukraine is much more complex than the author of this article realizes and it is inaccurate and simplistic to see the religious situation as Russian Orthodox vs. Ukrainian Orthodox.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    As I have said before when this blog was touting that Ukraine had rejected the EU and joined Putin, this isn’t over yet. With a very cold Winter here (Global Warming is BS), a tent city in a square, is going to be a horrific place to make a stand. The Opposition could have chosen a better battlefield, as the Russian winter has proven invincible over the centuries.

  • Jim__L

    I’ve heard from a Ukrainian friend that the protests are limited to Kiev, and that it would be tough to pull the eastern half of the country out of Russia’s orbit because so much of its population lives in Ukraine and commutes to Russia to work.


  • Corlyss

    “Advantage: Protesters?”
    To quote that eminent foreign policy expert, Jerry Glanville: NFL, buddy, which stands for “not for long!” No EU, no NATO, no US to back them up, Putin wins, period.

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