One of the most significant stories that is not getting press is the massive demonstration in Kiev against the national government. For many reasons, including timing and location, few happen to know what's going on in Ukraine. During my masters I studied the post-Soviet space and I therefore have a keen interest in the geopolitics of the region.
The future of Ukraine is largely understood as a binary. It is generally understood that the nation can either lean toward Russia or toward the European Union. This constant push and pull places Ukraine in the middle of a scary geopolitical situation. Neither option will secure a successful future for Ukrainians.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has pursued a policy by which it feels as though it has a right to interfere in the affairs of its former constituents. Russia considers the historical political, cultural, and economic relationships as an entitlement, its so-called "Near Abroad". As such Ukraine's relationship with Russia has been complex and little has changed since 1991, including ethnic Russians still making up roughly 18 per cent of the population. Russia has sought to exert economic and political influence on Ukraine, namely in the form of gas prices. Moscow has both offered discount prices and cut off the supply. This approach has been clearly aimed at ensuring that Ukraine does not pull away from Russia.
In the past two decades Ukraine has experienced a significant connection to the European Union. The organisation has expanded into Eastern Europe in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most recently in 2004 and 2007. The European Union is seen as a beacon of economic prosperity and democracy and many in Ukraine are hopeful that European integration will transform the country. The EU has been clear about not expanding further for the time being, but it is intent to develop a special relationship with Ukraine. That said, there is a significant amount of hesitant amongst EU officials not to intrude into Russia's affairs.
In the west, Ukraine is often expected to simply divorce itself from Russia's sphere of influence in order to pursue full integration into the European Union. In Moscow, Ukraine is often expected to spurn all advances by the European Union. As mentioned before, there is minimal space for Ukraine to navigate partnerships on their terms. Instead, the intended course of action for Ukraine is to align or to remain uncomfortably situated between Europe and Russia. This is an example of cold war bipolarity and is quite destructive to Ukraine.
In the wake of an unsigned trade deal, youth in Ukraine have taken to the streets to demonstrate against a government that leans too far toward Moscow. It has been branded as an expression of democracy, one that is for an idea (European integration) rather than in favour of a particular political movement or party. Activists feel connected to Europe and view integration as a panacea. Unfortunately, expectations of the EU are high and it's an example of idealism. Minimal attention is given to the fact that the European Union is not a protector of democracy but rather a vehicle to create larger markets.
What's unfortunate is this appears to be the next chapter in a constant pendulum swing between Europe and Russia. This is particularly significant given that Russia is constantly in the news with the Sochi Games on the horizon. Much attention has been given to Russia's new homophobic laws, the crackdown on political opposition, and the policy of violence in the Caucasus. While Ukraine is likely to swing far to one side, it is likely both short term and of minimal benefit for the majority of Ukrainian society.