Kiev’s New Leadership: Ukraine En Route Back to Europe

Written by | Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Following the ouster of Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s interim leadership has pledged to put the country back on course for EU integration while announcing that new elections will be held on 25 May – symbolically the same day as EU citizens will vote in the European elections. Meanwhile, the two rival neighbors east and west of the former Soviet republic – European Union and Russia – seemed to agree that a power vacuum in Kiev must not lead to this strategically important country breaking apart. But against the backdrop of the still heightened tensions in the country, and after Moscow had recalled its ambassador to Ukraine for consultations on the “deteriorating situation” in Kiev, the United States openly warned Russia against sending in its military forces.
Shortly after Yanukovich fled to the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country, in the wake of dozens of casualties during street protests aimed at toppling the country’s former president, parliament named its new speaker, Turchinov, as an interim head of state. An ally of the ousted leader’s jailed rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was freed from jail over the weekend, Turchinov aims to swear in a government that can provide authority until a presidential election on 25 May. Faced with battle-hardened, pro-Western protesters in control of central Kiev who are also determined to hold their leaders to account, the members of parliament rushed through decisions to cement their power, display their rejection of widespread corruption and bring to account officials who ordered police to fire on Independence Square.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchinov emphasized late on Sunday (23 February) that Kiev’s new leaders wanted to see relations with Moscow on a “new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine’s European choice”. Yanukovich’s fall into disgrace left Putin’s Ukraine policy in shambles and that – quite remarkably and perhaps paradoxically, happened exactly on a day he had hoped eyes would be on the grand finale to the Sochi Olympics. It is quite unlikely the US and its allies in NATO would risk an outright military confrontation with Russia, but such echoes of the Cold War underline the high stakes in Ukraine that has been caught in a geopolitical tug of war.
But whoever takes charge as interim prime minister faces a huge challenge to satisfy popular expectations and will find an economy in tatters. Therefore, in response to the latest dramatic developments, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton traveled to Ukraine yesterday (24 February) to discuss measures to shore up the country’s ailing economy. The EU offered to provide financial aid to a new government and to revive a trade deal that Yanukovich spurned under Russian pressure in November, sparking the protests that drove him from office after 82 deaths last week. In addition to a prospective EU assistance, Washington has also promised help.

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