Ukraine rejects its own president and Vladimir Putin

The BBC reports that the parliament of Ukraine voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovych and hold new elections on 25 May. Meanwhile former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had been in jail on trumped up charges of ‘abuse of office’, has been freed from jail.

What is less clear is whether the constitution gives MPs this power. But this probably doesn’t make a difference, as the vote makes clear that Yanukovych has been abandoned by his own party, and by the police guarding the palatial ‘personal residencies’ Yanukovych built for himself and his son with public funds.

Even the ex-President’s few remaining supporters are going to realize the game is up when video of the interior of those residencies starts appearing on TV and the Web. [And here are some pictures that were published while I was writing]

Kiev, Maidan, Ukraine- November 28, 2013: the Cabinet of Ministers with the tacit approval of President Yanukovych to stop the process of European integration and to enter into alliance with Russian. Roman Mikhailiuk / Shutterstock.com

Kiev, Maidan, Ukraine – November 28, 2013: the Cabinet of Ministers, with the tacit approval of President Yanukovych, vote to stop the process of European integration, and instead choose to enter into alliance with Russia. Roman Mikhailiuk / Shutterstock.com

This outcome is a huge headache for the EU, a catastrophe for Putin, and an embarrassment for Obama.

It is now clear that Ukraine is going to take the Western path and align itself with the EU and the West. Which means that the EU is going to have to somehow find the funds necessary to make that happen. It is a problem, but it is a good problem to have.

KIEV, UKRAINE - 21 JANUARY: Protest against "Dictatorship& quot; in Ukraine turns violent on Euromaidan in Kiev. Against the president Yanukovych on 21 January, 2014 in Kiev, Maidan, Ukraine. S'J / Shutterstock.com

KIEV, UKRAINE – 21 JANUARY, 2014: Protest against “Dictatorship” in Ukraine turns violent on Euromaidan in Kiev. S’J / Shutterstock.com

What most European leaders aren’t going to care much about is what the outcome in Ukraine means for Russia and Putin. The outcome is a personal catastrophe for Putin. Russians regard Ukraine to be part of the Slavic family, and thus part of their rightful ‘sphere of influence,’ and the government of Ukraine has just collapsed after demonstrations against closer ties with Russia under Putin.

The people of Ukraine have just given Putin a slap in the face on the eve of the closing ceremonies of his Sochi propaganda triumph. Russia might think Ukraine is part of their sphere of influence, but the Ukrainian people don’t want to be influenced, at least not by Russia.

KIEV, UKRAINE - JAN 26, 2014: Euromaidan protesters rest and strengthen their barricades on Hrushevskoho Street after another night of clashes with riot police in Kiev, Ukraine. snames / Shutterstock.com

KIEV, UKRAINE – JAN 26, 2014: Euromaidan protesters rest and strengthen their barricades on Hrushevskoho Street after another night of clashes with riot police in Kiev, Ukraine. snames / Shutterstock.com

Obama’s embarrassment comes from backing the attempt to shore up Putin and protect Russia’s sphere of influence. Hegemonic powers may be rivals, but they have a common interest in maintaining hegemony. Over the weekend, there will be much bloviating on the talk shows about how a weak Russia is a long term problem for the US. What they really fear is a world in which there are no monsters like Putin, Kim-Il or Assad. Because a world with no monsters is a world that might not need US might. In their world view, the UK, Canada, Mexico and the rest are mere vassals of a ‘US sphere of influence’ rather than the US being one partner in a community.

There was a good argument to be made that the US should not appear to back opponents of Putinism too openly. Governments take any excuse to position domestic opponents as the tools of foreign enemies. President John McCain has been a good friend of authoritarian governments with his weekly calls for US meddling in foreign politics. There was also a good argument to be made that the US should attempt to help manage the crisis by persuading Russia, to cut its losses rather than dig in and risk civil war in Ukraine. But those are no longer risks.

Ukraine has not rejected Russia, it has rejected Putin and Yanukovych. In the near term the future of Ukraine is going to be more closely bound to Europe than to Russia. But it is also clear that Ukraine is more than willing to restore relations with Russia in the future — but as a partner, not a vassal, and only after Russia has rejected Putin as well.

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