The first thing you should know is that Ukrainian protests make Occupy Wall Street look like a play date (livestream here). Zuccotti Park was a field day compared to the battles between police and opposition supporters currently taking place in Kiev and spreading beyond. Three protesters so far have been killed. So then, at what point does a riot become a revolution?
The down and dirty is that the protests/riots in Kiev are about the future of Ukraine in the most immediate sense. Is the country going to move toward the European Union, largely seen as more economically promising, or is the Ukraine going to move back towards Russia. There are decades old resentment among many Ukrainians towards Russia who see and have seen Russia as an occupying force both economically and culturally. Remember the Iron Curtain? Ukrainians, especially young Ukrainians, don’t want to move towards an increasingly authoritarian Russia while Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is striking deals with Vladmir Putin, essentially in the form of cheaper natural gas, in exchange for seemingly keeping Ukraine out of the EU.
What’s more, Viktor Yanukovych, an industrial tycoon, is seen as irrevocably corrupt and has a stranglehold over Ukraine’s industrial sectors. In 2011, he also cut benefits for surviving Chernobyl rescue workers and veterans of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. Since his election, he has repeatedly promised to move Ukraine towards EU membership but has absolutely not delivered and has, in fact, gone in the opposite direction from what he promised.
So, Ukrainians are protesting and fighting, truly, over the direction their nation will take, the West or Russia? Here’s a timetable for the protests from the Associated Press via ABC News.
Nov. 21 — President Viktor Yanukovych’s cabinet announces that they are abandoning an agreement that would strengthen ties with the EU, and instead seek closer cooperation with Moscow.
Nov. 30 — Police launch a brutal attack on protesters, detaining 35. Images of protesters bloodied by police truncheons spread quickly and galvanize public support for the demonstrators. A demonstration on Dec. 1 attracted around 300,000 people, the largest protest in Kiev since the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Dec. 17 — Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that Moscow will buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian government bonds and allow for a sharp cut in the price Ukrainians will have to pay for Russian natural gas. Putin and Yanukovych claim that there were no conditions attached to the agreement, which did not require Ukraine to join a Russia-led free trade pact.
Jan. 22 — Two protesters die after being hit with live ammunition and the third after a fall during a confrontation between police and demonstrators manning barricades, the first protest deaths.
One more thing you might want to know and which is also awesome is that one of the three main Ukrainian opposition leaders is a man named Vitaly Klitschko. Who is Vitaly Klitschko? This is Vitaly Klitschko.
He’s also known as Dr. Ironfist. He has PhD, a 45-2 all time record, and held the WBC and WBO belts until his retirement in December of 2013, last month.
After talks between opposition groups and President Yanukovych today, Klitschko told protesters that he was “ready to face police bullets.”
“Today they are preparing to clear us out of the ‘Maidan’ (Independence Square),” Klitschko declared, urging protesters to camp out overnight to defend the square. “We must do all we can to stop them clearing us out.”
‘We will go on the offensive’
“Tomorrow if the President does not respond … then we will go on the offensive,” he said, drawing a roar of support from the crowd.
Former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk echoed his words, invoking the deaths of the three protesters, which he blamed on the police.
“I will not live in shame. Tomorrow we will go forward together. If there will be a bullet in the forehead, so be it. It will be honest, just and brave action,” he said.
So, that’s where we’re at.