Ukraine becomes Russia's worst nightmare

Independent on Sunday:
The details still need to be decided, but the revolutionaries have won in Ukraine. Some elements of the old regime may survive, but that is precisely why the protesters on the “Maidan” (Kiev’s main square) don’t trust the mainstream politicians who claim to be negotiating on their behalf.

The politicians in suits can do the donkey work – writing a new constitution to improve on the old one they have just restored, and trying to save the collapsing economy. But the Maidan leaders in the fatigues and helmets will set the agenda on justice – dismantling the militia and reworking the corrupt legal system, so that the many guilty end up behind bars. And there are credible reports that the snipers who killed more than 70 on Thursday were based in the government buildings that are already being occupied by protesters combing for evidence. Once the world knows who gave the deadly orders, justice will decapitate the old regime. And the “official” opposition will be radicalised by the need to compete with the moral authority of the Maidan.

All of which is the Kremlin’s worst nightmare. When the protests started back in November they were about a trade deal with the EU. Russia was ecstatic that it had persuaded Ukraine to walk away from that deal, and was picking off the other states in the EU’s “Eastern Partnership” programme (Armenia caved in September, Georgia and Moldova were expected to come under enormous pressure in 2014). Russia hoped to drag them into its alternative Eurasian Union instead, which is due to be launched in January 2015.

But this is 10 times worse than Brussels expanding its bureaucracy to Russia’s borders. A real democracy in Ukraine is an existential threat to the entire system that Vladimir Putin has built since 2000. Ironically because Putin is right – most Russians regard Ukraine as a kin state, or not really a different state at all. They are used to stepping in tandem; so if something changes in Ukraine, why not in Russia too? And now the dominoes might fall in the other direction. Other Maidans might appear in other neighbouring states – maybe first in Moldova where the Russia-backed Communist Party was hoping to return to power in elections due in November.

Putin marginalised his own protest movement after the last Russian election cycle. He does not want to see that flare up again. So far, the Russian opposition has been quiet. Few have supported the Ukrainian Maidan, even fewer sound inspired to copy it – for now. But Putin will need to come up with something more convincing than the scattergun propaganda the Russian media has pumped out to date.
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Putin and Russia overreached by opposing an Ukraine agreement with Europe on trade and it has backfired on them big time.  Whether the backfire will be as far reaching as this speculation suggest will be determined in the coming weeks, but this revolution looks much more solid than earlier attempts and Moscow may not have the capacity to be as heavy handed as they would like in dealing with it.  At this point it looks like Putin style hegemony is unraveling.

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