Yesterday, President Yanukovitch of Ukraine solidified his relationship with Russia through a 100 minute news conference. The conference occurred just two days after Yanukovitch accepted an economic relief deal from Putin, at an estimated $15 billion in aid. Protests are continuing in the capital, and Yanukovitch was careful to assure that there would not be a violent removal of protesters for at least three weeks. This statement was followed, however, by stern denunciations of any foreign involvement. Although it can be assumed that he is referring to Western involvement, those observing the events in Ukraine and Russia may note the irony in his statements. It has been perfectly obvious to those watching from the outside that Russia is vying for control over Ukraine. The manipulation of Yanukovitch through reduced gas prices and economic aid packages seems obvious, but Yanukovitch appears more than willing to engage Putin and defy Europe and his people.
The implications for Ukraine are ominous. The country seems split down the middle regarding preferences between Russia and Europe. The oppression of protests, however, and the governments unwillingness to compromise or listen to the people, indicates that democracy is not being properly utilized. The next elections are scheduled for 2015. Yanukovitch argues that the people can voice their opinions then, but many say it will be too late for Ukraine to remove Russia's grip on the country.
Not only does Russia's grip on Ukraine make joining the EU (or having strong ties with Europe at all) almost impossible, but it also creates friction in energy security and regional stability. Russia's other pets in the area will likely be increasingly nervous if Ukraine comes fully under Russian influence. Georgia is still reeling a bit from the 2008 war with Russia, wherein a domestic territorial issue became grounds for invasion by Putin and Medvedev. It is not in Georgia's interest for Russia's power and influence in the region to grow. For the United States, our interests lie in stability in the region as well as supporting our allies in Europe. We clearly do not enjoy the idea of a Russian Ukraine, especially if it comes about by the way of suppressing protests and rendering democracy moot. As we continue to monitor relations in the region, it will be interesting to note the tone of American diplomats as they coerce this complicated political landscape.