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The EU, Russia & Ukrainian Protests: Comparing Euromaidan and Orange Revolution

Comparing revolutionary events that are taking place now in Ukraine with the Orange Revolution is one of the most widespread trends in Ukrainian blogosphere. However, Euromaidan  qualitatively differs from its ‘coloured’ counterpart at least to the extent that colour does not matter anymore: this revolution is the revolution of ideas and transformation of minds, not a political redress. Here, I discuss international dimensions of these events.

Euromaidan, March of a Million, author: Ludmila Slyesaryeva, source: Eastbook.eu

Euromaidan, March of a Million, author: Ludmila Slyesaryeva, source: Eastbook.eu

‘Europe’ and ‘Russia’: then and now

Just as nine years ago, the rhetoric addressing the place of Russia and Europe in the Ukrainian context is present in the nation-wide protests, and also represents the common question in Ukraine: ‘Quo vadis?’ The difference now, though, is the fact that the very concept of ‘Europe’ has changed its meaning. In 2004, it was rather amorphous construction which for an average Ukrainian was rather yet undiscovered, but certainly alluding. Now, the situation has changed. Although the majority of Ukrainians have never visited the EU, with various exchange programs and opportunities designed for Ukrainian students and professionals to travel abroad, the idea of ‘Europe’ acquired more personalized and more appealing meaning. Moreover, nine years of Ukrainian government’s movement westwards created an understanding, albeit still rather superficial, of what ‘European values’ are.

“The difference now, though, is the fact that the very concept of ‘Europe’ has changed its meaning”.

The very idea of ‘Russia’ in the slogans of protesters has also changed its meaning. In 2004, a closer cooperation with the eastern neighbour was perceived as a return to the Soviet Union, associated more with the Customs’ Union. To some extent, this Russia-led project could be viewed  as a modern analogue of the Soviet concept, however, Moscow made a big effort to give it a new, EU-like ‘dressing‘ of common market, shared values and, of course, history.

Reactions from Europe and Russia

The EU’s active support for revolutionary events in Ukraine starkly differs from its hesitant stance nine years ago. And this seems to be quite understandable. The Union has formulated a more coherent vision of its neighbourhood policy: not the motley group of formations in ‘New Eastern Europe’, but the articulated participants of Eastern Partnership platform: Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus and Azerbaijan. As a result, the EU offered the “Association Agreement” prospect as a new format of relations with these countries. Speaking about Ukraine, in the eyes of the EU, from a post-Soviet country with unclear foreign policy future it turned into a pro-European state. Even with the change of president, Ukraine remained dedicated to the pro-European course. At least, ViktorYanukovych managed to convince Brussels of his devotion to sign the Association Agreement. And then, he suddenly changed his mind.

“…the deal made between Yanukovych and Putin is viewed as a legitimate choice of Ukraine”.

Comparing the Russian position towards the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan protests, one could argue that in essence, it remains the same. However, along with drawing the parallels of similarity, we can distinguish a qualitatively new rhetoric in Kremlin’s position. Professor Viacheclav Morozov, currently teaching EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu, expresses the view that ‘in comparison with the events of Orange Revolution, now the Kremlin feels more confident, since Euromaidan fits into the paradigm of ‘late Putinism’ when the revolutionary events are being perceived as ‘the returning orange threat’. This means that unlike nine years ago, Moscow is prepared to this kind of developments and acts in a calmer manner. Moreover, the ‘Ukrainian question’ is viewed by Russian elites as a fait accompli since the deal made between Yanukovych and Putin is viewed as a legitimate choice of Ukraine. Meanwhile Moscow remains firm in its position, viewing protests as an act of Western conspiracy and ‘illegitimate’ solution to this kind of situation’.

What  are they offering?

Since 2004 both Russia and the EU have developed comprehensive packages of incentives for Ukraine. In this respect, the EU’s position underwent more radical transformations: from a mere observer in 2004 it became an active bargainer. Although its Association Agreement and DCFTA treaty do not offer the possibility of EU membership for Ukraine, they represent an elaborated and long-term mechanism of cooperation in political and economic spheres.

“Brussels clearly stands in the opposition to Russia by defending the right of Ukraine to make a ‘free and democratic choice’ “.

On its part, the Russian ‘catch’ for Ukraine has also changed: from a bold offer of ‘eternal friendship between two fraternal nations’ it evolved into a more structured and institutionalized idea of the Customs’ Union, based not only on the shared past, but also economic interests. Professor Morozov adds to this, saying that ‘Customs Union and Eurasian Union in a long-term prospect could serve as a legitimizing instrument of Russian pressure on Ukraine. In 2004, Kremlin pressure was limited mainly to the gas issue. However, with the Ukrainian entrance in the Customs’ Union, the range of pressure instruments might increase. And so, by applying them to Ukraine, Russian would be acting in the ‘legal’ framework provided by Union.’ Also, the summer blockade of Ukrainian goods at the Russian border contributes to the idea that Moscow diversifies its arsenal of pressure.

Ukraine: an old-new playground for Russia and the EU?

The ongoing protests in Ukraine underline a tendency which has been becoming more and more salient during the last years: considered a desired sphere of influence for Russia, Ukraine has also  appeared into the focus of EU. Almost for the first time in the history of  the Ukrainian state, agonizing between the East and the West, Brussels clearly stands in the opposition to Russia by defending the right of Ukraine to make a ‘free and democratic choice’ in favour of the EU. Recently, President Barroso went even further by stating that ‘the European Union has the right and the duty to stand by the people of Ukraine in this very difficult moment, because they are giving to Europe one of the greatest contributions that can be given’. But what contribution should Ukraine expect from the EU? Is Brussels ready to exchange political statements for concrete actions? As for Russia, this kind of hesitation does not have place in the current Russian discourse. The Kremlin has demonstrated a growing arsenal of possible instruments of influencing Ukrainian foreign policy course. Now, the EU should answer, if it dares.

#євромайдан #euromaidan LIVE

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