Ukraine Protest and Violence
Since Ukraine gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country has been in a dilemma between preserving its historical connections with Russia to the East and strengthening economic ties with the European Union (EU) in the West (Mayer, 2013). Russia has imposed restrictions on Ukrainian imports as retaliation for its efforts to integrate further with the EU through the signing of trade agreements. Ukraine’s government decision of abandoning a trade agreement with the EU in favor of Russia sparked protests across major cities in Ukraine. This paper explores the origin of the Ukraine’s protests and the resulting violence from the political perspective. The paper attempts to relate Ukraine’s protest and violence to historical and current national and international political influences.
Ukraine’s anti-government protest can be traced back to November 2013 when thousands of protesters took to the streets of central Kiev and other major cities protesting against the government’s decision to abandon a trade agreement with the EU in favor of Russia. They are accusing the government of succumbing to pressure from Russia’s authoritarian regime, while foregoing integration with the EU that is more progressive and democratic. The West views the protest as a struggle between Ukrainians supporting European type of democracy and the increasingly authoritarian government that is under the influence of Russia.
Within Ukraine, opposition leaders have rallied their support behind the anti-government protest. The opposition leaders view the protest as an opportunity to restore democracy in the country to be in line with that of western countries, which is perceived to be more progressive. The opposition leaders supporting the protest are demanding political reforms as a means of entrenching democracy, while at the same time reduce the increasing powers of the executive branch of government. To achieve this, the protesters called for electoral reforms and constitutional changes as the initial steps towards the path of participative democracy in Ukraine. After two days of bloody violence involving protesters and government forces, the Ukrainian president and the opposition leaders managed to sign a deal on February 21, 2014, with the aim of ending the country’s political crisis (Siebold & Zinets, 2014). The peace deal halted violence, but protesters are still angry with the president and opposition leaders, as they believe the deal was not comprehensive enough to bring the desired political reforms towards democracy. The agreement includes the immediate restoration of the 2004 constitution that was more democratic, followed by radical constitutional reforms that will seek to balance the powers of the president, government, and parliament before September 2014 (Solohubenko, 2014). The deal paved way for the formation of a transitional national unity government as the country prepares for an early election before the end of December after the adoption of the new constitution and the passing of new electoral laws.
International political influence is evident in the Ukrainian protest and violence. While America and the EU back the course of protesters and the opposition leaders, Russia appears to support Ukraine’s government decision to use appropriate force to halt the escalating violence from the protest that is destabilizing the country. Russia has criticized the western countries, particularly the United States, for not condemning the protesters’ actions of seizing government buildings, and the attacking and burning of police officers. These international political influences over Ukraine’s protest and violence is largely viewed as a renewal of the Cold War rivalry that was based on ideological differences, especially regarding the superiority of capitalism and Socialism systems, and military power. This is evident in President Obama’s administration warning to Russia, advising the country’s regime to keep its military forces out of Ukraine after the protesters forced the Ukrainian president out of power on February 22, 2014 when they stormed the presidential palace (Taylor & Richardson, 2014).
An analysis of Ukraine’s protest that turned violent reveals that people bestow powers to the government to rule over them in order to protect and advance their common interest. This implies that the people and the government have entered into a contract in which the government is expected to serve the people, who in turn are expected to support the government in accomplishing these functions (Van Belle, 2012). While the government can use legal force to protect the common good of the society, the society has the right to resist the legitimacy of the government if its institutions fail to accomplish their mandate to the people. The Ukrainian protesters believed that the government had breached its social contract with the people by signing a trade deal with Russia’s authoritarian regime at the expense of a more beneficial one with the democratic and progressive EU. The anti-government protesters believed that the Ukrainian government was against the will of the people towards the country’s integration with the EU, thus violating the social contract of protecting and advancing their interests. This translates to a breach of contract, paving way for the illegitimacy of the Ukrainian government over the people. When a government or its institution loses its legitimacy, people usually resist its governing authority over them, thereby resulting in attempts to overthrow it with the ultimate objective of establishing a new one that will serve them better, as it was evident in the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Libya (Van Belle, 2012).
The current events in Ukraine and the political influences of the United States, European Union, and Russia is an indication that political cultures differ across societies. According to Van Belle (2012), political culture can be instrumental in the understanding of a country’s approach to policy choices, for instance, how Ukraine relates to Russia and the EU. This is reflected in Ukraine’s competing impulses between maintaining relations with Russia, its imperial master, and the democratic EU that is offering it a promising future through their integration into the EU. While political culture can be important in differentiating one country from the other, the concept does not offer an adequate explanation for all notable differences among the political landscapes of nations (Van Belle, 2012). Political culture can offer an explanation as to why popular cultures, for instance demonstration movements, can be a powerful tool for achieving political ends and the establishment of group identities, such as the revolutionary identity for those people who succeed in overthrowing a corrupt government.
In conclusion, it is clear that Ukraine’s protest, violence, and ousting of the country’s president have resulted from the attempt by Ukrainians to restore the sovereignty of their country, by rejecting Russia’s influence over the country. As a sovereign state that is not subject to external influence, Ukraine will seek to make its independent policy choices affecting its internal and external interests. Nevertheless, Ukraine’s current political turmoil is a delicate balancing act reflecting its political culture that is characterized by inherently divided loyalty to Russia and the EU.
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Siebold, S., & Zinets, N. (2014, Feb 21). Ukraine peace deal halts violence but crowds still angry. Reuters. Retrieved from: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/21/us-ukraine-idUSBREA1G0OU20140221
Solohubenko, O. (2014, Feb 21). Ukrainian president and opposition sign early poll deal. BBC. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-26289318
Taylor, G., & Richardson, V. (2014, Feb 23). US warns Russia to keep its military out of Ukraine after protesters force president out. Washington Times. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/23/us-warns-russia-to-keep-its-military-out-of-ukrain/
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