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n+1 Magazine: Ukraine, Putin, and the West

March 7, 2014

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"What role has the American intellectual community played in this saga, if any? Certainly we failed to prevent it. But there is more. For the past two years, since Putin re-assigned himself to the Russian presidency, we have indulged ourselves in a bacchanalia of anti-Putinism, shading over into anti-Russianism."

In November of last year, a spirited protest took place in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv after the country's president, Viktor Yanukovych, declined at the last minute to sign an association agreement with the European Union. The agreement would have been a very small first step toward a still hazy, far-off EU membership, but it had significant cultural and symbolic significance, and its sudden rejection, under clear pressure from Russia, brought people to the streets.

The initial protest, on central Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square, has since been estimated at around a thousand people—hardly impressive, especially in a country where since independence the citizenry has been willing to take to the streets. The difference this time was the surprising ham-handedness of the authorities, who first ignored the protest, then tried violently to disperse it. This, to many people who'd been growing weary of a corrupt and incompetent regime that had imprisoned political opponents and enriched itself and its friends while the country's economy stagnated, was too much, and they too came out into the streets.

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