Ukraine crisis, all the reasons for a 30-year split: this is how pro-European and pro-Russian “coexist”

Of Fabrizio Dragosei

From Yuliya Timoshenko to Viktor Yanukovic, from Yushenko to Zelensky, from Euromaidan to the stake in Odessa: protagonists and salient facts that led Ukraine to today’s crisis

from dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 that Ukrainian political life revolves around the division between the Russian-speaking part of the country and the Ukrainian / Polish part. TO West it from the beginning looked to Europe while the Southeastwhere Ukrainians who speak Russian and real ethnic Russians live, has always had Moscow as a point of reference.

When did these differences start triggering a real fight?
In 2004, when the political alignments oriented towards the European Union and the United States manage to join forces and focus on a flag candidate who soon proves capable of beating the Russian-speaking group. Viktor Yushchenko, former prime minister, is poisoned with dioxin on the way to victory but still manages to win a lot of support. Viktor Yanukovych wins for the elections, a man of the apparatus, head of the government, supported by the Party of Regions which sees the south-east of the country vote compactly. But the contested result for fraud reported across the country. Peaceful revolt breaks out in Kiev’s main square, the Maidan. After long weeks of protests led by Yushchenko and the heroine of the streets, Yuliya Tymoshenko, he takes a vote and this time the candidate of the democratic grouping triumphs. Tymoshenko becomes prime minister.

Have the Democrats failed to get the country out of the swamp?

No, fractures soon emerged between the various leaders, while no one could tear Ukraine out of the grip of the powerful oligarchs who controlled and controlled the economy. Had it begun the necessary restructuring and reforms then, today the country would be self-sufficient from an energy point of view. And even the state apparatuses would function in a completely different way. Thus, amidst contrasts, resentments and divisions, the front dissolved.

When did the pro-Russians come back to power?

In 2010, Yushchenko and Timoshenko stood apart in the presidential elections. The pro-Russian group, on the other hand, has always remained compact around the Party of Regions, thus the candidate Yanukovych, who after the Maidan revolt seemed destined to oblivion, managed to prevail. Thirty-five percent of the votes in the first round and even 48 percent in the run-off against Tsarina Timoshenko. In the following years, the president cautiously took the path of rapprochement with Europe because it was clear to everyone that from an economic point of view this suited every part of the country, including the oligarchs who were behind the various political alignments.

Why did the association with the European Union break?

Yanukovich was negotiating with Brussels, but the adaptation to European standards would have led to high costs for the Ukrainian economy, which was very inefficient and was closely linked to the supplies of Russian gas at favorable prices. Yanukovych asked Brussels for financial aid that the EU could not and did not want to grant. Meanwhile, Moscow was pressing for Kiev to become even more closely tied to Russia. Lastly, in February 2014, Yanukovych announced the end of negotiations with the EU. The revolt that took the name of Euromaidan broke out. Shooting begins in the square: police on one side and armed groups with the strong presence of neo-Nazi nuclei on the other. Yanukovych fled to Russia and the Russian-speaking areas of the country, Crimea and Donbass, began to organize themselves to counter the European drift that they did not want. It should be remembered that in previous years the polls on EU and NATO membership always indicated a majority of opponents across Ukraine.

How did the annexation of Crimea to Russia come about?
Crimea, which had passed from Russia to Ukraine only in 1954 under Khrushchev, immediately began to push for independence, supported by Moscow. In a few hours, with the intervention of Russian soldiers without official uniforms (they were called the “little green men”), the regular troops were overwhelmed. A referendum called in a hurry and not recognized by international organizations, indicated the will of the overwhelming majority of the population to pass through Russia. Shortly after, the Kremlin decided to annex the peninsula. A tragic episode in Odessa further ignited spirits on May 2, 2014. Pro-Russian protesters who had taken refuge in the trade union building find themselves besieged by frantic extremists who set the building on fire. The TV shows gruesome scenes of trapped pro-Russian people. Some die from jumping out of windows, many do not survive the flames and smoke. Those who manage to get out are attacked by right-wing extremists. In the end there were 48 victims. In the Donbass other revolts broke out against those that the Russian-language TVs indicated as the heirs of the gangs that in 1941 had supported the Hitler army during the attack on the USSR. The two self-proclaimed independent republics of Lugansk and Donetsk were born, hitherto not recognized by anyone.

Since when does the war last in the Donbass?
In 2014 the clashes began immediately because Kiev, after the lesson of the Crimea, immediately tried to regain control of those areas. But with Moscow’s secret (so to speak) military assistance, the rebels have always resisted, inflicting heavy casualties on the regular army at times. It is estimated that the dead have been at least 14,000 to date. The most intense fighting ended after 2015, when an agreement was reached in Minsk in Belarus between the rebels and the Ukrainian government under the aegis of Russia, Germany and France.

What do the Minsk agreements foresee and what measures have been implemented?
In reality only part of what has been decided has been implemented. Both contenders withdrew heavy weapons from the front line. Many prisoners have been released. OSCE observers arrived to monitor the ceasefire which has essentially held up to this day, even if the exchanges of isolated shots have continued. The Kiev parliament blocked the implementation of other measures that should have led to real peace and the reintegration of those territories in Ukraine. No amnesty for the fighters of the two republics. No granting of broad administrative and political autonomy to the areas in question. No local elections. As a result, Ukraine was unable to regain control of the border between Donbass and Russia, another point of the Minsk agreements.

Has the change to the Ukrainian presidency had any major effects?

The fact that he failed to achieve real peace with Moscow made Petro Poroshenko, the president / oligarch who signed the 2015 agreements lose the elections. In his place the country, without the contribution of millions of Russian-speaking citizens who do not they voted, he elected an outsider, the former actor and TV producer Volodymyr Zelensky. He had played in a TV series the role of a middle school professor who suddenly became very popular for his tirades against oligarchs and inconclusive politicians. In the series called Servant of the people, the professor was then elected to the presidency by popular acclaim. In reality Zelensky founded a party of the same name as the TV series, ran for it and won hands down, with 73 percent of the vote in the second round. But also Zelensky failed to achieve peace. The parliament, albeit controlled by his party, has never voted for the necessary reforms so as not to antagonize the threatening extremist groups. Today, it is said in Kiev, if Zelensky dared to implement the measures provided for by the Minsk agreement he would have to face a revolt among his own and perhaps even the request for impeachment to the Rada. His popularity dropped dramatically: a late January poll said only 23 percent of respondents would vote for Zelensky.

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