The situation in Ukraine has reached something of a denouement. The opposition leadership and the regime have reached an agreement whereby the government will amnesty arrested protestors, and the protestors will end the occupation of government buildings and permit traffic to move on Hrushevskyy Street, although they will not dismantle the barricades altogether.
This deal has been met with some dismay (and in cases, anger and bitterness) on Maidan, and with good reason. The protestors have given up their main leverage, and although they have threatened to re-occupy the buildings and Hrushevskyy Street if Yanukovych’s regime backslides, this is likely an empty threat. The regime was surprised once, but is unlikely to be surprised twice, and will be ready to respond aggressively to any attempt to take the buildings again.
Conversely, the government can easily re-arrest those that it has amnestied-and many more to boot. There is thus a pronounced asymmetry between the concessions made by the government, and those made by the opposition.
In brief, although Yanukovych has not triumphed, the threat to him has abated considerably and the correlation of forces has shifted palpably in his direction.
Truth be told, the real threat to the Yanukovych regime is economic. The Ukrainian currency, the Hryvnia, is the best readily available indicator. It has plunged from 8.2 to the dollar at the beginning of Maidan, to 8.8/8.9 to the dollar at present. Although it rallied to 8.4 a week ago, when the outlines of a deal were in prospect, and when Ukraine imposed capital controls, it weakened almost immediately thereafter. The current depressed level augers poorly for Ukraine’s future prospects.
And here is the tragedy. An economic collapse, which would be accompanied by a further collapse in the currency, would be the most likely cause of Yanukovych’s political demise. But then the opposition would inherit a horrible situation which would require it to take measures that would inevitably lead to it becoming hated and despised. It is also not an environment conducive to the completion of the constructive economic and political reforms the country so desperately needs. Think of Russia ’91-’92, or ’98-’99. The reformers ended up totally discredited and hated, paving the way for the emergence of Putinism.
The end result is unlikely to be a Ukraine that resembles Poland, on a path to converging with the EU. A more likely outcome is a perpetual Sovokistan, and one that is a satrapy of Russia to boot.
An incipient collapse would put Putin in a hard place. He would be forced to double down and increase economic assistance-likely throwing bad money after worse-or to stand aside and watch the whole thing collapse.
Cynic that he is, perhaps he would stand aside, on the calculation that he could take advantage of the collapse, and swoop in and pick up the pieces of a shattered country. And a prostrate Ukraine would hardly be attractive to the EU.
It pains me, but I just can’t see a clear path forward for the unlucky country. Belarus-light on the upside. Perpetual basket case as the middle scenario. Economic collapse and revolutionary chaos as the worst case
The Sovok legacy is too powerful: the country’s institutions are weak and fundamentally corrupt. Europe is feckless and disinterested, long on soaring rhetoric, short on Euros and will. Obama doesn’t give a rat’s rump about foreign policy generally, except for his Iranian legacy project: if he won’t bestir himself over the daily slaughter of hundreds in Syria, he’s not going to lift a finger to keep Ukraine from sullenly settling into a Russian orbit. In contrast, Putin is far more motivated, driven by his dream of undoing the results of the Cold War. He views Ukrainian independence from Russia as a historical monstrosity. He would no doubt prefer to eliminate Ukrainian sovereignty de jure, but would no doubt settle to eliminate it de facto–for now.
Ukraine is too close to Putin-and subjugation of Ukraine is a goal too close to Putin’s heart. Ukraine is far from the EU, farther still from the US, and farther still from the help of God.
I wish this weren’t so. I pray I am wrong. But as much as I admire the idealists on Maidan, and pull for their victory, I can’t see it happening. The mutilating historical legacy of the USSR is too powerful, a malign Russia is too close, and succor is very, very far away.