Toward Europe, One Ukrainian at a Time 

by Walter Derzko


Since my return from a three-week trip to Ukraine in December, I’ve been constantly asked my opinion about the unfolding events on EuroMaidan. Everyone is now asking the same question: What’s next? Especially, after the brutal beating of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko this past week.

To attempt to answer this question, we must look at various perspectives - the international or geopolitical level, the national level and what it means for individual Ukrainians - the “in-my-heart” level.

In an interview in December 2013 entitled “Ukraine Moving Forward” Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter and currently Counselor and Trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) discusses unfolding events in Ukraine and what it means geopolitically for the future of the region.

Brzezinski concludes: “My basic take is that the issue [of EuroMaidan in Kyiv] is the future of Russia and not of Ukraine, because ultimately I’m convinced that Ukraine, which is a genuinely European country,  will be part of Europe. A country of 43 million people cannot be held down even if economic necessity forces it in the short run to forgive, forsake,  abandon certain ambitions that it has been holding. So I’m not so much worried about Ukraine and the problems as such, even though I share a lot of sympathy for the hardships of the Ukrainian people. I think at stake is the future of Russia because if Ukraine is subordinated by Russia, in the short run, the Russians will think that they  are recreating the old Russian empire, under a new name that Putin has invented for it-the Eurasian Union . But the fact is that the Eurasian Union will not endure. It just doesn’t have enough substance.”

The dirty secret is that Russia is just as financially broke as Ukraine, and the situation is just as dire for Putin, with lower energy prices, falling Russian energy exports and competition from “fracking”. Ignoring its own industries and infrastructure, Russia needs to urgently take over Ukraine strategic industrial assets to survive.

The USA will decide how to respond to recent events in Ukraine after an emergency  meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing in Washington on Wednesday January 15, 2014 at 2 pm. See live webcast :

From a national perspective,  everyone agrees that the government no longer enjoys the trust of the Ukrainian people. It needs to be replaced by a  government of national unity. But everyone also concedes that Yanukovych won’t step down voluntarily as president or dissolve the current government unless there is overriding pressure. How to break the deadlock?

A nationwide boycott of oligarch-owned businesses was launched and a national strike looms on the horizon. Several options are being discussed in high level political and strategic circles. Political analyst Oleh Soskin is in favour of a new provisional government,  a coup d’état of sorts (also known as a putsch, or an overthrow), which would be created by a coalition of the three Opposition parties and independent deputies in the Verhovna Rada. Realistically, many of these so-called independents are controlled by Ukraine’s top oligarchs, so they would have to publicly denounce the current regime.  226 deputies are needed to form a new majority in parliament and I strongly suspect that these behind-the-scenes negotiations are taking place right now.  This would be followed by a  reversal of the constitution and honest elections.

Andreas Umland takes it a step further, proposing abolishing the office of the President of Ukraine,  turning the country into a purely parliamentary republic, with a prime minister as it’s symbolic head, once a temporary government is formed after the coup d’état.

The biggest change I see is at the individual level. Talking to people on EuroMaidan, I got the unanimous impression about two huge attitudinal shifts which were not as pervasive in previous “revolutions.” The first involves steadfast commitment: “We are here for the long haul, till the end, until this current mafia regime falls.” was everyone’s answer. The second was a personal mind-shift. People stopped asking: Who is going to be our next great leader or savior who will take Ukraine out of the post-soviet chaotic wilderness? Instead the debates and discussions on EuroMaidan focused on “What can I do myself?  How do we become more European and less Soviet?  This was especially widespread among young students. Leaders and activists were all urging self-reflection. Are we paying our taxes honestly or cheating the system? Are we putting in a fair days'  work or stealing time? Are we offering or accepting bribes?  Are we crossing roads willy-nilly or at designated cross-walks? Are we dropping garbage anywhere on the streets or into waste receptacles? Almost a mass, collective, open air, religious confessional or self-cleansing.

All together, I’m quite optimistic about the situation in Ukraine long term, but with bumps in the road. Radical change may not happen as quickly as everyone hopes for but what revolution succeeds overnight?