As the protests in the Ukraine have been ongoing for nearly one month and the Ukrainian and Russian presidents have just signed an unconditional (according to the Russian president) (1) agreement on the granting of a Russian loan of $15 billion to the Ukraine, as well as a temporary contract to sell gas at a reduced price, it is a good time to draw a few lessons.
1. In contrast to the Orange revolution, this movement is not a party-political struggle in which the opposition is set against the government, but a huge popular protest movement motivated by an aspiration to have the Rule of Law, as embodied by the EU, upheld, and by a reaction against the game of fools being played by some of the elite in power.
2. In contrast to the 2004 revolution, these protests do not set the west and the centre of the Ukraine against the south and the east. As numerous examples show (including, for example, the demonstrations in Donetsk, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk), the protests have brought together people from across the geographic and linguistic divides.
3. The EU/Ukraine Association Agreement has not been signed or ratified. There is therefore no good reason why it should be held responsible for the severe economic and financial crisis in the Ukraine. This crisis is the result of the calamitous mistakes made by the present government and, in part, those of previous governments.
4. Whatever is said by Sergei Lavrov, the urbane and Soviet-style Russian Foreign minister, the vehement opposition shown by Moscow to the EU/Ukraine Association Agreement is not only based on economic considerations (2) but more on factors of a political nature - the will to restore a new form of the old Russian Empire and the Putinian terror that a system built upon the Rule of Law and real democracy could be not set up in a large neighbouring and "brotherly" country.
5. With a few significant exceptions, the leaders of the EU and its member States have taken the issue of the Association Agreement with the Ukraine much too lightly or even worse, with a self-centred, short-termist approach reminiscent of other far-from-glorious episodes in European history.
6. The issue is simple. As Ivan Krastev said, "apart from bankruptcy, only two scenarios are possible for the Ukraine - signing the Association Agreement with the EU or joining Vladimir Putin's Customs Union". (3)
7. Vladimir Putin and Victor Yanukovych have indisputably won the second set, the first having been won by the demonstrators of EuroMaidan. So the third set is still to play for and one side holds the advantage: the long poker game that Victor Yanukovych has been playing is now finished.
On the strength of these basic points, a road map to a peaceful solution to the crisis can be drawn up.
A Referendum (4)
As it is a popular protest, the best response to the protesters' demands can only be people-led. Organising a referendum next spring would be the best way to lastingly overcome geographical and political divides - the most innovative and meaningful accomplishment of the EuroMaidan movement. Above all, it would constitute a solid defence against any new attempt at political manoeuvring. Sergei Lavrov would only be able to show approval, having declared "If there is liberty of choice, let the Ukrainian people decide". (5)
A Government of National Unity
To guarantee that it is carried out in the best possible conditions, this referendum should be organised by a new government of National Unity with a Prime Minister drawn from the ranks of the Party of Regions and an Interior minister from the opposition. This new government would have as one of its main tasks the organisation of the referendum, under the direct supervision of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, along with the negotiation of transitional loans from international financial institutions and the adoption of laws and rules necessary for the relaxation of visa policy with the EU in 2014.
Guarantees for the demonstrators and for the opposition
Equally, the agreement should sanction the liberation of all demonstrators as well as the cancellation of all related prosecutions and also allow Yulia Tymoshenko to seek medical care abroad.
Guarantees for President Yanukovych
In order to create a peaceful climate, an agreement leading to an exit from the crisis should include a series of guarantees for President Yanukovych, such as the assurance that he would continue as President to the end of his mandate, the certainty that no criminal action will be taken against him after his mandate is over, and finally, the assurance that, if he so wished, he could find refuge in an EU country with all the necessary security guarantees.
Whether those hostile to European construction like it or not, (who, whatever part of the political spectrum they come from, tend to forget that the Rule of Law is at the foundation of our democracies), what is happening in the Ukraine at the moment is a major event. For the Ukrainians, it is about no less than avoiding being condemned to the two-fold sentence of Lukashenkisation - the absence of the Rule of Law and the reign of arbitrary power as the principles of government in their country and the effective subjugation of the Ukraine to the new Russian Empire as dreamt of by Vladimir Putin.
Will the leaders of the EU and its member States live up to the expectations, courage and determination of the Ukrainian people? Will they stand together with them in their search for liberty and dignity, and finally tell them, loud and clear, that their country is clearly called upon to become a member of the EU?
(1) Which does not augur well for its future use by the Ukrainian regime...
(2) Mainly the possibility for the Russian regime to take control of energy transport infrastructure.
(3) Ivan Krastev, "Who Lost Ukraine", Project Syndicate, 12 December 2013.
(4) Vladimir Oleynik, MP from the Party of Regions, was the first to suggest a referendum. See "Crise en Ukraine : 'la Russie a une attitude guerrière'", Le Monde, 7 December 2013.
(5) "Lavrov lifts veil over Russia's intentions for Ukraine", EurActiv, 17 December 2013