Genuine grassroots revolution or NATO backed coup? Here are the facts to help you decide.
Kit Knightly – Off Guardian –
As Russia actually do launch an invasion or “special operation” in Ukraine, we thought now was a good time to recap on how we got here.
The historical, political and ethnic divisions in Ukraine go back decades, if not centuries, but we don’t have the space for that kind of deep-dive. For now, we’ll be keeping it to three simple parts: The fall of Viktor Yanukovych, the Crimean referendum, and the ensuing civil war which puts the region in a direct path to the events of today.
Much like our 30 Facts on Covid, this piece is intended as a quick reference guide to help get friends and family up to speed on the recent history of Ukraine, a handy index of contemporary sources, or a refresher course for those who’ve forgotten the details.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, multiple Western leaders give both written and spoken assurances to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, that NATO does not plan to increase its territory eastwards.
To quote US Secretary of State James Baker:
not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”
The Charter on a Distinctive Partnership is signed by representatives of both NATO and Ukraine. This document is a long-term agreement that Ukraine will move gradually into cooperation with NATO and eventually become a member. This is in direct violation of the assurances given above.
NATO publishes their NATO-Ukraine Action Plan, re-affirming their commitment to “closer ties” with Ukraine, and outlining a long term plan for “reforms” in Ukraine that will make it suitable for “full Euro-Atlantic integration”.
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko sign the US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership,the charter “emphasizes the continued commitment of the United States to support enhanced engagement between NATO and Ukraine”.
Viktor Yanukovych, leader of Ukraine’s Party of Regions, wins the presidential election and is named Ukraine’s fourth President. Yanukovych is the former governor of Donetsk, the region of his birth, and wins office with a huge percentage of the vote from ethnically Russian east Ukraine.
As one of his first acts as President, Yanukovych signs an agreement with Russia, extending their lease on the Black Sea naval base in Crimea until at least 2042. This extension is met with consternation and rebuke in the Western press, with one paper asking:
The End of Ukraine’s EU Integration?”
Writing in the Guardian, Luke Harding called it:
the most concrete sign yet that Ukraine is now back under Russia’s influence following Yanukovych’s victory in February’s presidential elections.
Also noting that “the lease extension is likely to increase opposition to Yanukovych in Ukraine’s western provinces”
A PEW poll finds the majority of Ukrainians opposed to joining NATO.
Ukraine’s parliament votes through a new bill barring the country from joining any military bloc. This, as the BBC noted at the time, effectively ends any prospect of Ukraine joining NATO, killing a plan that the West had worked on for 13 years.
Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions secures victory in the parliamentary elections, increasing its number of seats and seeing its biggest rival, Arseniy Yatsenyuk‘s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party lose 55 seats.
However, the elections also mark the first time Ukraine elected a far-right MP to its parliament, with Oleh Tyahnybok’s Svoboda party winning 37 seats and over 10% of the vote (entirely from the ethnically Ukrainian west of the country).
The Ukrainian cabinet unanimously approves the draft of the long-awaited Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. Yanokuych is expected to officially sign the agreement at the EU’s “Eastern Partnership Summit” in Vilnius on November 28th and 29th.
Russia – Ukraine’s major creditor and biggest trade partner – warns that this treaty would “cause chaos”, break the terms of an existing treaty between Ukraine and Russia, and lead to Ukraine’s economy collapsing. As a counteroffer, they suggest Ukraine sign a new deal with the Eurasian Economic Union.
The Ukrainian government issues a decree suspending preparations for the association agreement (AA). Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boyko warns the current terms of the agreement would “seriously damage the economy”.
“Pro European” demonstrations begin in Maidan square within days of the decree being issued. A poll run by the Kyiv Post finds an even split on joining the EU vs the Eurasian customs union: 39% for, 37% against.
Yanukovych attends the Eastern Partnership Summit on the 28th, but does not sign the Association Agreement, instead suggesting a new tri-lateral agreement between Ukraine, Russia and the EU. Russia is open to negotiating such a deal, but EU rejects this offer completely.
Despite not signing the AA, Yanukovych tells the press that Ukraine still intends to work for closer ties with the EU: “an alternative for reforms in Ukraine and an alternative for European integration do not exist…We are walking along this path and are not changing direction”.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov echoed this: “I affirm with full authority that the negotiating process over the Association Agreement is continuing, and the work on moving our country closer to European standards is not stopping for a single day”.
Nevertheless, this is ubiquitously covered in the Western media as Yanukoych “refusing to sign the association agreement in favour of closer ties with Russia”.
Thousands more gather in Maidan Square and others begin occupying Kiev City Hall. Protests intensify as opposition politicians speak of Yanukovych “committing treason”, they call for a re-run of the Presidential election, despite new elections being only 18 months away.
On November 29th the protesters make their first “official” demands, including the immediate resignation of Viktor Yanukovych.
1/12/2013 – Thousands of protesters chanting “revolution” storm the metal barriers erected by riot police. Protesters throw Molotov cocktails:
The police withdraw from the square. Over 200 people are injured, including over 100 police officers.
In a press conference, far-right MP Oleh Tyanybohk officially calls it a “revolution”, and asks that police and members of the military defect to their side.
3/12/2013 – Writing in the New Republic, Julia Ioffe praises the Maidan protesters, citing specifically the throwing of Molotovs at police:
When the police came, unlike the Muscovites, they didn’t leave. They swung chains and threw Molotov cocktails and built barricades in the streets. They took over municipal buildings. They nearly toppled the city’s main statue of Lenin. They sang the national anthem and chanted “Revolution!”
8/12/2013 – Protesters topple a statue of Lenin. Grafitti reading “Yanukovych you’re next” is scrawled on walls. An effigy of Gadaffi’s severed head is carried around the square to chants of “Yanukovych the game is over!”. Kyiv Post reports preparation of Molotov cocktails.
10/12/2013 – Berkut riot police attempt to break down the barricades and clear the square. Tear gas is deployed. They are beaten back.
11/12/2013 – US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt visit the protests and talk to opposition leaders. They are photographed shaking hands and distributing food: