Ukraine’s Maidan revolution this week culminated in the overthrow of President Yanukovich. Even so, clamours of a ‘democratic triumph’ would be premature. The fate of this divided country remains as uncertain as ever.
During an emergency session last Saturday, the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) passed a law to return to the 2004 constitution – without the president’s signature, asserting that the president had removed himself from power. Additionally, parliament ruled to release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison and has set early presidential elections for May 25.
The political crisis in Ukraine has been variously described as a terrorist insurrection, a fascist uprising – even civil war. Yet the multiplicity of voices in the uprising is equally matched by the multiplicity of external actors vying for influence in post-Maidan Ukraine, with many questions left unanswered.
Will Tymoshenko ride to victory on this wave of revolutionary fervour? And if so, with a history of corruption as pervasive as Yanukovich’s will the country fare much better under her resurgent leadership? What political influence will the nationalists, who played such a prominent role on the Maidan, be able to exert?
Given the prodigal disappointment Yanukovich has proved for Russia, how much of a fight will Russia be willing to put up to keep the country within its sphere of influence? Already it has frozen the second tranche of a US$15 billion loan brokered to steer Ukraine away from a trade and cooperation deal with the European Union.
Ukraine’s finance minister says it will need US$35 billion over the next two years to stave off bankruptcy. Now released opposition figure Tymoshenko has stated that Ukraine will join the EU imminently; but will the EU allow it entry into the club or continue to string it along?
Having shown its strength in recent months, perhaps the people will have the greatest influence on Ukraine’s future trajectory. But consensus does not seem to be on the horizon. For the last century, speaking Ukrainian was an inherently political act, to show one’s cultural and spiritual independence from Russian political and linguistic dominance. Yet, as Matthew Sussex notes, Ukrainians are split almost down the middle on choosing between the West and Russia.
The fog may be lifting, but there isn’t anything to sing about just yet.
Katrina Senchuk is an intern at the Australian Institute of International Affairs National Office and post-graduate student at the Australian National University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org