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When Choosing between Europe and Russia, Does Yanukovych Choose North Korea?

While Europe is discussing what to do with Ukraine and whether or not to impose sanctions, President Viktor Yanukovych has opted to enforce terror against his people. The regime of Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions have ruined the Ukrainian state power and precluded a legal solution to Ukraine’s woes. On January 16th, the parliamentary majority, controlled by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, took ​​another step towards dictatorship.

January 23, 2014 - Oleksii Polegkyi - Articles and Commentary


Laws restricting civil rights and freedoms have been violated in all procedures. There was neither debate in parliament nor actual voting, just a show of hands and a calculation done in three seconds of how many hands were raised.

These procedures criminalise almost any form of protest, outlaw the independent internet media and critically narrow the freedoms of speech, expression and assembly. The regime fell short of re-instating the death penalty. This legislation came into life on January 22nd.

The police have already killed four people. One of them, Sergiy Nigoyan, was a 20-year-old Ukrainian of Armenian origin from Dnepropetrovsk who was shot dead by the police last night. Authorities cynically blame the protesters who have demonstrated peacefully over the past two months. Even though the authorities did not listen to the people for two months, now they began firing at them.

The power and peaceful character of the Euromaidan were indeed fascinating. Seeing the government ignore their demands and disappointed by the passivity of the opposition leaders, radical protesters have clashed with riot police in Kyiv starting Sunday January 19th. The authorities have rejected the possibility of a political resolution of the lasting conflict. Instead, the police used water cannons in freezing temperatures. Dozens of journalists have been wounded by police shots, and many have been taken captive and beaten.

After all these incidents, who could have expected the Yanukovich regime to respect any democratic processes? Would we be absolutely naïve if we were to expect free presidential elections in 2015?

For the last two months, the Ukrainian people have been pleading for the West to support their right to live in a country with European values and human dignity. The de facto abolition of democracy and the offences to basic rights call for an immediate response. If Europe really stands for democratic values and human rights, it is not enough to only “express a deep concern”.  The absence of action could equal support for a future “bloody dictatorship”.

This is a historical moment for Ukraine, like the breakup of the Soviet Union.The people of Ukraine are waiting for real support from the European community. But what can the EU do?

The only thing that scares the Ukrainian authorities is the possible change in their personal well-being. Many of them have businesses and families in Europe. Many in power in Ukraine are concerned about their businesses in Europe and are scared of anti-corruption investigations. They are afraid that their accounts could be blocked in European banks. They fear that they will be denied entrance to Europe where their children study and their families live. The EU should enforce anti-money laundering laws against those who are proven to have broken them. The EU should consider imposing individual financial sanctions against those who are responsible for perpetrating the violations of human rights and freedoms in Ukraine.

Some commentators believe that sanctions will push Yanukovych’s regime closer to Russia. Isn’t it close enough already? According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “Russia is doing everything” to resolve the crisis without any foreign interference. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once called the collapse of the Soviet Union the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century and who sees himself as a unifier of Russian territories, no price is too high to keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit. Maybe Europe should also do something? How many deaths do we need to stop talking and start acting?

Ukrainians are now protesting on the streets not only for a better life, but also because they stand for European values and a democratic future of Europe.

Oleksii Polegkyi is a research fellow at the Institute of International Studies at Wroclaw University and the Political Communication Research Unit at the University of Antwerp. 


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