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What Kiev’s Democratic Turn Means for Moscow

Published: February 26, 2014 (Issue # 1799)




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Last week, the Ukrainian opposition suddenly gained a parliamentary majority through democratic and legal means as lawmakers defected in droves from President Viktor Yanukovych after his killing of 82 people in Kiev in three days. On Feb. 22, the president was impeached with the required two-thirds majority. It is still early to say how this transition to democracy will work, but it looks promising. What will this mean to Russia?

The Ukrainian protests present a challenge to all Russians. Putin must realize the Eurasian Union is stillborn and Russia needs the EU.

For the last three decades, I have been deeply involved in both Russia and Ukraine. To a foreigner, common Russian attitudes toward Ukraine are clearly contradictory. Russians will tell you that Ukrainians are their brother nation, but at the same time they claim that Ukraine is not a real nation, Ukrainian not an actual language, and Ukrainians are intellectually backward. Russians can barely hide their superiority complex toward Ukraine. Ukrainians take note and object in their quiet, polite fashion.

In late 2004, the Orange Revolution turned the tables on the Russians. Suddenly, Ukraine was ahead in terms of democracy, freedom and modernity, although not in economic policy or wealth. President Vladimir Putin swiftly adopted a series of laws to curtail civil society and safeguard his authoritarian rule. Since the Orange government turned out to be disorganized, Putin could relax.

In February 2010, Yanukovych won a free but not very fair presidential election with 49 percent of the vote in a runoff. At the time, the common view was that Yanukovych would turn into a Putin by installing a political vertical of power and greatly enriching his loyalists.

Yanukovych’s problem was that he had not learned Putin’s sophisticated art of sharing. Instead, he concentrated all wealth in a tiny family circle, alienating everybody else. His political base did not expand but narrowed. As his political legitimacy dwindled, he imposed more repression. Russians have accepted some repression because their standard of living has risen palpably, but Yanukovych’s predatory economic policies caused economic output to stagnate.

In the end, Ukrainians asked themselves, “Why should we accept a leader who robs and represses our country and only cares about himself?”

But dissatisfaction alone is rarely sufficient. It requires a catalyst to be unleashed. Foolishly, Yanukovych provided such a catalyst with the European Union agreement that he first endorsed and then rejected. Few were concerned about the free-trade agreement, but it represented a choice of civilization. Would Ukraine go for European values — freedom and justice, democracy and the rule of law — or for corruption and authoritarianism? To Ukrainians, the choice was clearcut, and they stood up in protest.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Nov. 22


Russian Premier League-leaders Zenit St. Petersburg return from the international break to take on Kuban Krasnodar at Petrovsky Stadium this evening at 7 p.m. Tickets for the game can still be purchased on the club’s website, at the Petrovsky Stadium box office or in any of the club’s merchandise stores.



Sunday, Nov. 23


Get in the holiday spirit at today’s Winter Bazzar at the Astoria Hotel. Featuring gifts from around the world such as French eclairs, Dutch cheeses and Indian jewelry, the annual event organized by the International Women’s Club will feature 18 international stands and raise money for charity through the sales of a diversity of products that further illustrate the city’s international connections.



Monday, Nov. 24


Dr. Axel Schulte, Department Head at Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund, Germany, is the featured speaker at the SPIBA Industrial Committee lecture on “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Digitalization of the Supply Chain.” The event begins at 4 p.m. at the Graduate School of Management at 3 Volkohvsky Pereulok and registration is required by Nov. 21 either by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.



Tuesday, Nov. 25


Tag along with AmCham during their “Industrial St. Petersburg” Tour program today. This incarnation of the ongoing series will visit Philip Morris Izhora and include an Environmental Health and Safety Committee meeting.


Find out how to expand your business east during the “Business With China” forum beginning today and concluding tomorrow at the Lenexpo convention center. The largest Russian forum dedicated to business with the Asian giant, topics that will be discussed include logistics, customs clearance, trade financing and many more.



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