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Putin’s Move on Ukraine

Showdown in Kiev.

Dec 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 16 • By JONATHAN SPYER
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Of course, Euro Square isn’t just a movement of idealistic civil society activists. The banners on display include the blue and yellow emblems of the far-right Svoboda party, whose chief, Oleh Tyahnybok, has emerged as one of the leaders of the protest. There are also the red and black flags of a number of paramilitary associations, linked to the radically anti-Russian and anti-Semitic fringe of Ukrainian nationalism. Stas, a butcher from the city of Rivne and a member of the Ukrainian National Assembly, proudly showed me the collection of clubs that he and his comrades had assembled in their tent on the square. “For defense against the Berkut [special police] units,” he explained. 

To delegitimize the Euro Square protest, the Yanukovych government seeks to portray it as fascist in its entirety. Rather, it is a gathering of all those forces in Ukraine who want to resist absorption into Putin’s geostrategic bloc. This coalition encompasses democrats, but also nationalists, including radical ones. And yet for all their courage and commitment, it is hard to see how the Euro Square protesters can succeed, at least in the short term.

Yanukovych and his supporters, hired or not, are affiliated with a camp that has a recognized leader, Putin, who has a clear vision and an ambitious project. In contrast, the Euro Square protesters have put their faith in the West at a moment when neither Europe nor the United States seem capable of grasping the nature of geopolitical threats, let alone responding to them effectively. Such are the battle lines in icy Kiev.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict.

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