“We didn’t start the fire”

Ariane Forgues
9 March 2014

Image Credit: ВО Свобода

Image Credit: ВО Свобода


“We didn’t start the fire”. This is, broadly speaking, what all parties of the current Ukrainian crisis are saying to the international community. Whose fault is it, then? Is it even someone’s fault? The people of Ukraine took to the streets to protest against their leader’s dependency upon Russia and his refusal to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in late November 2013. The turmoil led Yanukovych to escape from Kyiv, resulting in the constitution of a new temporary government run by the former head of Parliament. Even though Yanukovych called it illegitimate, the new government is there. This happens. It is called revolution.

The Ukrainian demonstrations in Maidan Square—given the name of Euromaidan during the protests—were unexpectedly more intense than what observers had expected. Social unrest would have burst out for a few weeks before coming back to daily routine. This is not how it turned out, and the lifelong dissidents, as well as the pro-Europeans, never accepted Yanukovych’s apologies and promises. He had to resign. The Ukrainian Parliament eventually made him resign against his agreement, and he has yet to recognise his dismissal.

During the turmoil, both the European Union and Russia were particularly attentive towards the Ukrainian events. While these unfolded, both sides began to negotiate with Ukraine, slowly but surely. For Europe, this is a very tricky case. The EU cannot stay silent while hundreds of people are risking their life to support the Europeanisation of Ukraine. Catherine Ashton, the head of European diplomacy went to visit Kyiv several times since the outburst. Not doing so would have been indecent towards the exceptional motivation of a substantial proportion of Ukrainians, who aim to get closer to the European Union. However, as we are all aware, Russia’s watching. Putin suffered several attacks these last couple of months. The international community, starting with the West, vehemently criticised his lack of openness on the Syrian case. This is due to his looming veto threat over a potential resolution draft in the United Nations Security Council, which ensures successful peace talks and negotiations led by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN peace envoy to Syria. More recently, many heads of state and government decided not to show up for the Sochi Winter Olympics as a sign of protest against the latest Russian laws reinforcing the sanctions against homosexual acts and ‘propaganda’. The latest news attests that these very leaders are threatening Russia to boycott the upcoming G8 held in Sochi. They are even going so far as to evoke a potential exclusion of Russia from the Group of Eight.

However, it is not likely that Putin will try to soften his image in the international arena after these two cases. In fact, the former member of the KGB will surely want to prove strong and independent on the Ukrainian issue—and so do most Russian politicians. Duma, Russia’s legislative power approves Putin’s use of the Russian army in Crimea. This region in the south of Ukraine, where the population is mostly made of ethnic Russians, has been witnessing the approach of Russian military forces alongside pro-Russian Ukrainian groups, what Ukrainian acting president Turchynov qualified as “provocations” organised by President Putin.

So, what now? Are we heading towards a new European civil war? Even though the USSR collapsed for good, the Cold war only ceased twenty years ago. The multilateral failure to avoid bloodshed in former Yugoslavia happened twenty years ago as well. This timeframe, in the scheme of history, is incredibly short. Nonetheless, today’s news offer another solution to the crisis, as Crimea Parliament has launched a procedure to become part of Russia, therefore leaving Ukraine to its potentially foreseeable European fate. If the local Parliament’s decision is validated by Ukraine (or can it be applied without Ukraine’s consent with Russian backing?), a referendum will take place on March 16, in order to consult the Crimean public on their sense of belonging: either to the West or to the East.

Does that not remind you of something?

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