Ukrainian protests flare up over pivot away from Europe

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Kiev this weekend, calling for the resignation of President Yanukovych after the government abandoned an EU trade deal.

Sergei Grits/AP
Demonstrators wave flags as they gather during a rally in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013.

A daily roundup of global reports on security issues

Three hundred and fifty thousand Ukrainians packed Kiev's main square Sunday to protest the government's abandonment of a trade agreement with the European Union that, in many Ukrainians' eyes, was packed with promise of a different future.

The Nov. 21 decision, which pivots Ukraine's trade policy back toward Russia, came after months of pressure from Russia and prompted the biggest protests since the Orange Revolution of 2004-05. The EU agreement would have set Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, on a path toward greater European integration.

"They stole the dream," opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxer, called out in Independence Square Sunday, according to Reuters. 

The demonstrations have a central demand: the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych. But there is no clear leader among the opposition yet, The Wall Street Journal reports. 

“Society has to take the initiative,” Oleh Rybachuk, a former government minister, told The Wall Street Journal. “People went onto the street because they wanted to live in Europe. They didn’t chant a single name of a politician, unlike in 2004. If politicians fail to lead, it will be done by well-organized students.”

Demonstrations have been ongoing since the government decision, and took a violent turn this weekend as police tried to rein them in with tear gas and stun grenades, Reuters reports:

TV footage showed Berkut (special forces) police striking people on the legs and body with batons or kicking them as they lay on the ground.

Kiev's medical authorities said 112 people were given first aid treatment for injuries on Saturday, 42 of whom were kept in hospital. Police said 100 officers had been injured in the violence during the day.

An online TV station, called Public TV, on Sunday listed 29 journalists, mainly cameramen and photographers, who had suffered at the hands of police while covering the weekend events in Kiev.

At least 12 of these had been beaten by riot police. Those hurt included a Reuters cameraman who was beaten on the arms and whose camera was destroyed.

Bloomberg Businessweek puts the number seeking medical care at 165, with 109 admitted to the hospital. The Wall Street Journal reports that protests had been petering out until the police crackdown, which infuriated demonstrators and swelled their support.

Opposition leaders called for a national strike today. The number of people who join in will be an indicator of how much support they have for their calls for the government's resignation.

Protesters have entered and blocked some government buildings and put up barricades on Independence Square, BBC reports. Overnight, they pitched tents there as well. This morning, the parliamentary speaker said that there would be talks between the government and opposition today

The dispute has a more prosaic dimension as well. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Russia and the EU each buy about a quarter of Ukraine's exports, but that Russia supplies 60 percent of its gas. They have accused each other of pressuring the Ukrainian government. 

Putin’s government may have offered Ukraine $15 billion in loans, debt restructuring and asset purchases to persuade it not to proceed with the EU deal, the Ukrainian magazine Zerkalo Nedeli said. Azarov also said yesterday on Inter television he wanted to agree a new price of gas in two weeks.


Russia will offer cheaper natural gas to Ukraine if the government in Kiev opts to join the Moscow-led economic bloc, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said in an interview. 

“A gas agreement could help relieve Ukraine of a huge problem,” Shuvalov said in comments cleared for publication Nov. 30. “We can also give them a loan, but we will not help them without commitments on their part.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that neither party expected the disagreement to escalate like this, and that leaders "seemed taken aback by the scale of the protests, but had few obvious levers to influence the situation."

“The Russians are now spectators to what is going on,” said Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Kiev and now an analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It’s something that’ll take place between the street and Yanukovych.”

Ukrainian government officials have insisted that the decision to break off negotiations with the EU has not closed the door entirely. First Deputy Prime Minister  Serhiy Arbuzov said in an interview with the website "forUm" that "Ukraine continues to move towards the European Union," and an agreement would be signed. 

"I still have optimistic mood, because there are agreements on road map. And I'm talking not about the conditions of the Association but about the problems that we planned to decide before signing and after signing of the Association Agreement. We knew the risks and had calculations. We told Europe about our problems. We found understanding. Unfortunately, it was not previously put on paper," he stressed.

According to the first deputy Prime Minister, due to this the agreement could not be signed in Vilnius. "We will correct this situation. We will create a working group. I think Europe will support us," he said.

Bloomberg Businessweek writes that corruption and political upheaval have left Ukraine "far behind its neighbors," as "the economy is stagnating, budget and trade deficits are ballooning, and the central bank is running low on reserves." 

Ukraine could have faced a miserable winter if it hadn’t cozied up to Russia and turned its back on a trade deal with the European Union. Moscow had hinted it would tighten the screws on Ukraine’s gas supply if the EU deal went through. It has already slapped restrictions on trade with Ukraine, which now sends about one-quarter of its exports to Russia.

But in opting for short-term relief, Ukraine may have condemned itself to long-term status as Europe’s worst economic basket case.

Twenty years ago, per capita incomes in Ukraine were about the same as in nearby countries such as Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania. No more. Ukraine is now by far the region’s poorest country (apart from tiny Moldova), with incomes averaging no more than half the level of its neighbors.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Ukrainian protests flare up over pivot away from Europe
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today