Magazine article Russian Life

Tug of War

Magazine article Russian Life

Tug of War

Article excerpt

Ukraine between Russia and a Hard Race

EVENTS IN KIEV after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's decision not to sign a pact with the EU, putting his country on a path toward economic union, have struck a chord in Moscow. Both the Kremlin and opposition activists have seen what they want to see in Ukraine's watershed moment, fitting it into their own frame of reference.

Predictably, President Vladimir Putin described the events as a riot organized by unseen enemy forces. Opposition observers, meanwhile, saw the hundreds of thousands of protesters on Maidan (Ukrainian for "square") as evidence that Ukraine is somehow better, more organized, less fractured than Russian society.

"The events in Ukraine seem more like a pogrom than a revolution," Putin said on December 2, asserting that the demonstrations were not inspired by people's desire to choose a path toward Europe, but were an attempt by the opposition to "shake the acting legitimate power in the country ... We see well prepared and trained groups of fighters," he said, "and either the political opposition cannot control them, or they are just a political facade for extremism."

Ukraine's so-called 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought the pro-European Viktor Yuschenko to power, shocked the Kremlin into a series of dramatic domestic political changes. Pro-Kremlin youth movements like Nashi were launched to resist opposition. Most any political criticism was labeled the "orange plague" or the "orange threat," creeping in from abroad to poison young minds and bribe them into committing unpatriotic acts. Opposition parties were neutered; for several years it was impossible to register any new parties, and the old parties were either tamed or banned.

Russian protesters, meanwhile, look longingly at Maidan. Russia's popular rallies of 2011-12 are all but completely quashed, dozens have been in pre-trial detention for over a year for demonstrating (and allegedly inciting unrest) on Bolotnaya Square. Ukrainians paint their faces in national flag colors and sing the anthem; they occupy buildings in central Kiev; they enjoy the support of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, whose priests blessed the crowds and sheltered them the night of a particularly violent dispersal by the Berkut riot police. …

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