In a matter of two months, the protest movement in Ukraine has travelled quite a distance. Ukrainians hit the streets last November in protest against what they saw as a betrayal — despite building up hopes for a better future through integration with the European Union, Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, had done a volte-face at the last moment and thrown in his lot with Russia. The proffered reason was Russia’s $15 billion bailout and the lure of cheap gas before the hard winter months, but the people were not convinced. They took over the streets and government buildings. Since then, Mr Yanukovych has done his best to break the back of the movement in order to snub his rivals who, not surprisingly, are leading the protests. But each of his moves has backfired — from the gesture of offering the prime ministership to the Opposition leader, that has been seen as an attempt to divide and rule, to the ham-handed effort to clear the streets through the anti-protest bill that threatened to start a civil war. From an angry response to an ill-considered decision, the protest movement in Ukraine has turned into a full-fledged revolution directed at changing the nature of the way politics is done in the country. In seeking to topple Mr Yanukovych, who is seen as a stooge of Russia, and demanding the release of all political prisoners, a matter left unaddressed by the government’s latest amnesty drive, Ukrainians are now making the same demands that were voiced in the Orange Revolution of 2004. As before, they clearly want better governance, less corruption and the freedom to choose a political future different from what their powerful neighbour, Russia, may want for them. Had the public protests not metamorphosed into something bigger, they would have not have had such ease in penetrating Mr Yanukovych’s stronghold in the Russophone east and threatening to engulf the entire country.
As the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, pointed out while discouraging the West’s heightened interest and overt support for the protests, the Ukrainians should be allowed the chance to sort out the matter for themselves. A way out could be preponing the 2015 elections. Mr Yanukovych, given his current unpopularity, is naturally unwilling to allow that. Unfortunately, he is no longer in control of the situation, just as Russia is not. Self-realization could serve as a balm for both.