Ukraine protests send icy blast through Moscow and Central Asia

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Since the mass protests in Kyiv’s Maidan square began Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin three times.

The Ukrainian opposition feared that Yanukovych would sign documents on Ukraine’s accession to a Russian-led Customs Union during a Moscow visit on December 17. That did not happen but the people are not ready to end their anti-government demonstrations.

The opposition in Maidan encourages people to mobilise. The Ukrainian authorities, and especially Yanukovych, also seem unwilling to give up their positions.

To find out what Moscow, Brussels, Kyiv and the opposition can learn from the Maidan experience euronews talked to Lilia Shevtsova, a senior research fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

Andrei Belkevich, euronews: “First of all, let’s talk about the attitude of European politicians to Maidan. Did Brussels expect such a passionate reaction from Ukrainians to the refusal of Yanukovych to sign an association agreement with the EU? Do you think the EU’s response has been adequate?”

Lilia Shevtsova, Carnegie Moscow Center: “I think that Brussels and all European capitals were taken by surprise, they were shocked that so many people came out in Kiev. They were also unprepared for Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement.

“So they had no plan B ready. For European politicians it is still not clear that the Ukrainians see the association agreement with the EU as more than a free trade zone, but they are free to choose the sort of civilisation they want. Until now Europe could not offer the people in Maidan Square any significant support. Nothing more than rhetoric.”

euronews: “How does this reaction from Ukrainians affect the EU’s Eastern Partnership?”

Lilia Shevtsova: “I think that Brussels should revise the entire Eastern Partnership project. First of all the Eastern Partnership countries do not fit together. On one side Ukraine is committed to Europe. At least a significant portion of Ukrainians want to move in this direction. On the other side we have Aliyev and Azerbaijan who do not want to move in any direction. They want to stand still and be in the orbit of Russia.”

euronews: “The rhetoric from the Kremlin against the Ukrainian events today is much gentler than in 2004 during the Orange Revolution. Why is that?”

Lilia Shevtsova: “At the beginning of the Maidan protests Putin’s rhetoric was very tough. He called this movement for independence a “pogrom”, but later the emotions in the Kremlin calmed down and the Kremlin is now using completely different tactics. Softer, more enveloping. The Kremlin is not going to throttle Ukraine and impose sanctions . The Kremlin understands that, just to survive, Yanukovych is moving in the direction of Moscow.”

euronews: “How could the events in Ukraine affect Moscow’s relations with other former Soviet republics? And is there a threat from these Ukrainian protests to Russia’s own political stability?”

Lilia Shevtsova: “I think not only the Kremlin but the leaders of all authoritarian states,including those that are members of the Eastern Partnership, first of all Azerbaijan, are looking at Ukraine with horror, shock, and discomfort. Naturally Maidan Square is a warning for all authoritarian states in the former Soviet Union that the same thing may occur at any time in their countries. So I think that, at least in Moscow, the protests will cause more intimidation, and more sanctions, and repression will stiffen.

“In 2004 Putin used the Orange Revolution in Ukraine to make his style more authoritarian, to increase repression in Russia. Now Maidan Square will be another pretext for the authorities in Russia and in Central Asia to tighten their regimes.”