21st Oct 2016


What is going on in Ukraine?

Watching hundreds of thousands of people flock to the streets of Ukrainian cities, Western audiences may have a feeling of deja vu and think that a second Orange Revolution is in the making.

Hundreds of EU flags on Ukraine’s squares have prompted many to think the protest is about the country’s relations with the EU.

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  • Yanukovych is just the latest in a line of disappointing leaders (Photo:

The violent dispersal of the "Euromaidan" over the weekend has led many others to believe that Ukraine is turning into another Belarus.

The answer is much simpler.

What is driving Ukrainians to the streets is the desire to change the way their country is run.

President Viktor Yanukovych's last-minute change of mind about signing an sssociation agreement with the European Union is neither a Russia-inspired "coup," nor is it the main reason why Ukrainians are on the streets.

Yanukovych's EU decision and Saturday's police crackdown were triggers for action.

People are tired of their political elites and the way their country is being mismanaged.

Nine years after the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians want to finally have a say over their future.

What they are revolting against is the entire political system, which is based on mis-governance, rent-seeking and corruption. It was established two decades ago and the Orange Revolution failed to dismantle it.

The elites got away with it for so long because they had the resources to do so.

They used the state budget, rent-seeking schemes with Russia (primarily in the gas business) and played Brussels against Moscow in highfalutin talk of geopolitics designed to extract money from both sides.

Those resources are now drying up.

Ukraine’s GDP is expected to contract next year and public finances are in disarray.

Meanwhile, the EU and Russia appear to be getting tired of feeding Kiev.

Russia has not yet provided the cheap gas and big loans that many thought would follow if Yanukovych gave up on EU association.

Brussels did not offer to "compensate" Yanukovych for the cost of approximating industrial and legal standards with EU norms.

No matter what happens next, Ukraine faces very turbulent times.

Neither the opposition nor the President seem to be in control of the situation.

In any case, the protests mean the end of Ukraine as we know it - a misgoverned and corrupt country trying to position itself between the EU and Russia.

If the Ukrainian political elites do not find a peaceful solution, the situation may get even worse and people's appetite for radical solutions might increase.

To prevent this scenario, Ukraine’s opposition and the government need to agree on a deal outlining a clear plan for political reform.

In the end, the turmoil might help to change the Ukrainian system and to put the country on a European path, as the association agreement envisaged.

The EU would be ill-advised to think Ukraine's protests are about their country’s relations with Brussels, or with Moscow.

Instead, the EU should offer co-operation and support to all political forces and international partners - including Russia - who are willing to help facilitate internal dialogue and consensus-building.

In the end, this might be the EU’s most important contribution to constructing a European Ukraine.

Jana Kobzova is an analyst at the London-based think tank, the European Council on Foreign Relations. Balazs Jarabik is a researcher at the Madrid based think tank, Fride, and the Central European Policy Institute in Bratislava


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