Turmoil in Ukraine continues as the future of its economic and political state remains unknown and hostility toward recently ousted President Viktor Yanukovych heightens.
The decision by Yanukovych to cease years of negotiation with the European Union is what underpinned the violence associated with the anti-government protests that have been taking place since November, but sentiments soon turned into contempt for Yanukovych’s corrupt practices altogether, calling for his resignation.
DePaul finance professor Rebel Cole, who spent two weeks working for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Kiev in 2011, described his reaction to the protests while following the conflict.
“I saw the square, I walked around there a dozen times; sightseeing, sitting on a Sunday afternoon, all the local people – it’s so peaceful,” he said. “To see it turn into a battleground was just shocking to me. To think that a peaceful place (where) I sat two years ago could turn into what it has.”
Cole attributes the changing point between the two polar opposite scenes to the corruption within Yanukovych’s government.
“The corruption was there then – I heard talk of it – but eventually the people got sick of it. They rose up; they got tired of having their tax money stolen from them,” he said. “They knew their freedoms were being trampled on.”
Amid the unrest, Yanukovych fled Ukraine after signing an agreement to hold early elections May 25. Despite this concession, he held a press conference in Russia over the weekend condemning the protesters and claiming to still be the legitimate president of Ukraine. Aside from the rampant violence, Ukraine is facing problems from an economic standpoint as well.
As the country of 46 million faces the possibility of default, EU and United States officials all consider what the best course of action may be for establishing an independent and democratic Ukrainian state.
Both parties have expressed desire for a united Ukraine, but are weary of the uncertainty of Ukraine’s political future. Potential donors stress the necessity of a plan for reform, as well as more confidence about the country’s future political state. The IMF, the central bank that Ukraine has turned to for aid, announced Thursday that they will visit Ukraine in order to establish what the next steps may be in securing the country’s economic stability.
“The IMF is going to be looking for a course of action, a plan for reform,” Cole, who still works with the IMF, said. “The IMF doesn’t give out money. They are going to be expecting some sort of conditionality, criteria that Ukraine will have to meet in order to get a loan.”
It seems that Ukraine will be obligated to concede to all conditions set forth by the IMF, as the country’s currency has fallen 6 percent since the protests began and a state of default has become increasingly realistic. The acting finance minister said the country will need $35 billion in order to finance government needs for the rest of this year and next.As far as the United States getting involved, Cole believes the West has no other choice but to grant Ukraine funds in order to keep its government afloat while IMF loans are pending.
However, this will not be the determining factor of Ukraine’s future, according to Cole, but rather the course of action Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to take will likely influence Ukraine’s outcome the most.
Over the weekend, Putin received permission from the Russian Parliament to deploy military forces close to the border of Crimea, where counter protests have been taking place for the past week. Crimea is technically part of an independent Ukraine, but it’s largely populated by Russians and home to a large majority of anti-European civilians.
“Russia is playing with kid gloves – soft power,” John Gallagher, a senior political science student at DePaul, said. “They are engaging in soft power tactics including show of force. A major concern of course is whether or not the show force is more than a show force, and also the potential for that show force to further escalate.”
World leaders condemned Putin’s decision, and Ukraine’s interim government called it a declaration of war. All parties have urged Russia to remove its troops from Ukraine, with U.S. officials expressing a willingness to punish Putin if he ignores their demands. One major possibility, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, would be for the U.S. to boycott the upcoming G8 Summit in Sochi.
However, no one seems to want this tension to turn into violence.
“The hope of the United States and everybody in the world is not to see this escalate into a military confrontation,” Kerry said, according to Reuters. “That will not serve the world well, and I think everybody understands that.”