Kiev’s new rulers must not repeat with the east the mistakes Yanukovich made with the west.
The memory of the Orange Revolution of 2004-05 presents a dilemma for Kiev, still recovering from a radical swing in political fortunes over the weekend. Back then, an election was declared illegal and the president-elect was defeated in a repoll. Then too, the battle was between two apparently irreconcilable ideas of Ukraine. Then too, the individual in question was Viktor Yanukovich.
Yet, 2013-14 is a far cry from the Orange Revolution, not just because of the bloodbath but also because Yanukovich was in his fourth year in office, as a democratically elected president. In removing him, Ukraine may have avoided a potential civil war, but its problems go beyond one individual.
With the opposition assuming power, Ukraine’s identity as a “European” nation and its integration with the EU may become official sooner than imagined. But caught in the great-power game between Russia and the West, Ukraine will need help in rebuilding its institutions. Russia’s idea of Ukraine as its backyard — the Crimea still hosts Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet, and Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern half remains largely loyal to Yanukovich — coupled with its fears of EU encroachment, made Moscow arm-twist Kiev into a special relationship. However, an either/ or choice between Russia and the EU could cripple Ukraine’s economy and split the country.
Now that Yanukovich is gone, western legislators need to address the east’s concerns. Ukraine’s own industrial-manufacturing base is in the east. Given how deep the division runs, it would be unwise for the west now to lose the east, in an exact reversal of how the east had lost the west under Yanukovich. Without compromise and accommodation, the wounds will not heal.