Ukraine moves in mysterious ways. During the Orange Revolution of 2004, rebellious Ukrainians successfully prevented the favoured candidate of a corrupt system from becoming president. But in 2010 Russia-friendly Viktor Yanukovych eventually managed to get himself elected anyway – using the kinds of slogans that are typical of his regional, political and financial circles. These included building stronger economic relations with Russia and giving the Russian language a new status alongside Ukrainian.
In 2013, Yanukovych even led people waving Europe flags into the Maidan, Kiev’s independence square. In a TV interview, he suggested that while he did not really like protests (which have become known as Maidans in Ukraine), he did have some sympathy for the current Euromaidan.
I do not doubt the truth of this. I’m sure that when he was alone Yanukovych really did applaud those people camped out in the Maidan day after day, demonstrating in favour of closer ties between Ukraine and the EU. But only until he looked at the cards he had to play and compared them with the cards in Putin’s hand. Whether we like it or not, it was Yanukovych who led the people into the Euromaidan and for a moment needed those people more than ever.
It all began when Yanukovych suddenly announced a change of direction “towards Europe”. Many of his party friends were not happy. They failed to understand the point of such a move. But the president could understand it, and that was why he was president. He had become tired of fruitless discussions with Russian officials about making gas three or – better still – four times cheaper. He was tired of being publicly humiliated by President Putin and by repeated slights on Russian TV. Yanukovych wanted to get his own back. Really get his own back. He wanted to put President Putin in the same position he had been in for the previous three years: a position of pointless waiting. This was the reason why President Yanukovych suddenly, and to the surprise of everyone, including the democratic opposition, pointed his hand in a Leninesque manner towards the West and, with his eyes brimming with passion, said “Comrades, towards Europe!”