Sifting Through Ukraine’s Turmoil


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Tiia Lehto of Global Risk Insights offers an insightful primer on Ukraine, which is currently embroiled in civil unrest where its President Viktor Yanukovych was officially removed from office by the Ukraine Parliament on Saturday, February 22nd.  Chaos ensued when Mr. Yanukovych decided to renege on an agreement to join the European Union.  While this move appeased Russian President Vladimir Putin who would like them to join the Eurasian Union, mass groups of protests led to Yanukovych’s ouster. When perusing Lehto’s piece, you learn about:

  • Distinctions between the European Union and the U.S.;
  • Negotiations for Ukraine to join the European Union;
  • Diverse cultures that are in conflict with each other.

Distinctions between European Union and the U.S.

Lehto characterizes the European Union as being more passive than the U.S. when it comes influencing Ukraine away from the tight reins of Russia.  It appears that the Europe is reluctant to raise tension with their eastern rival.  However, sustained violence met by protesters during Yanukovych’s reign is drawing both the U.S. and Europe together as they seek targeted sanctions against Ukrainian officials responsible for the violence.

Negotiations for Ukraine to join the European Union

Four factors were identified as obstacles to Ukraine joining the European Union (EU):

  1. Expansion fatigue with the EU reluctant to expand beyond it current membership of 28 countries, which is significantly different from its initial group of six countries.
  2. Concern about losing their identity where some believe accepting Ukraine would cater to U.S. and western influences.
  3. Reluctant to risk offending Russia.
  4. Worried that Ukraine has not instituted enough reforms to ensure smooth integration.

Diverse cultures that are in conflict with each other

Lehto also mentioned the cultural divide that is tearing the country at each seams.  While the western part of the country is pro-Western, the southeast portion is leans to Russian influence.  We can see that through evaluating three maps. The first map shows Yanukovych losing to Viktor Yushchenko in 2004.  The area coded in beige favored Yushchenko, while Yanukovych depended on the blue areas for most of his support.

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The second map makes a distinction between Ethnic Lithuanians that lean toward Western influence, while the Ethnic Russians are tied to Russia.

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The last map highlights where most of the protests and chaos is taking place.  As you can see, all of the violence is occurring in the western section of Ukraine.

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It does not appear that political stability will happen soon in Ukraine and this will be a thorn in the side of U.S. and European leadership as they await Putin’s response to Ukraine’s new leadership.  As Tiia Lehto put it, “Ukraine’s future is very uncertain.”

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