The Mankato Free Press
---- — Ukraine has had no shortage of drama in recent days: A three-month, increasingly violent popular occupation of the city center in its capital, Kiev, culminated this week in the essential abdication of its president.
This is not the first time a popular uprising in Kiev has forced a Moscow-centric government from power. It happened also in 2005, in the Orange Revolution.
The Western-oriented government that took power then was ineffective and lost the 2010 elections. The Moscow-oriented government that followed was not merely ineffective but corrupt.
Ukraine matters. The largest nation (by land mass) completely in the continent of Europe, it is one of the world’s biggest grain producers and has a well-developed industrial base. It ought to be an economic powerhouse.
Instead, after years of mismanagement and corruption, it’s an economic basketcase. The uprising that forced Viktor Yanukovych to flee the presidency was sparked by Yanukovych’s decision to turn to Russia rather than the European Union for a financial lifeline.
And there is the essential issue for Ukraine. It is akin to a planet trying to orbit two stars, Russia and the EU. The western part of Ukraine wants to align with Europe, the east with Moscow.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, very much wants Ukraine back in his pocket, and he has some powerful means to that end: Most of Ukraine’s energy comes from Russia; Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol; and the sizable Russian-speaking portion of the populace favors that direction.
Despite those factors — or perhaps because those factors tend toward extortion — at least as many Ukrainians prefer to look west. Yanukovych’s ouster came despite Moscow’s support for him; it was Ukraine’s own solution to its political crisis, certainly not Moscow’s and not even Europe’s.
An indigenous solution is always best. Ukrainians have significant challenges before them, internally and externally, not the least of which is to prevent the nation itself from splitting apart. The west, and in this case that means the European Union more than the United States, would do well to encourage whoever emerges as the head of the Kiev government to resist Putin.
Putin has a stick; the EU has the carrots. The latter is the more nutritious.