Current events in Ukraine are reminiscent of the 2004/2005 “Orange Revolution” that brought Viktor Yushchenko to power after a bitterly contested presidential election against none other than Viktor Yanukovych, the polarizing man who made a comeback. The struggle to resist an old-guard Russia-friendly leader widely perceived as being thoroughly corrupt and hindering Ukraine’s economic and political development is common to both “revolutions.” But there is a major difference between the events of today and those of nine years ago – also compared to similar events in other countries, such as the 2003 “Rose Revolution” in Georgia. Unlike previous uprisings, which were energetically supported by the United States, this revolution’s main external help came from the European Union.

After months of political gridlock and violent confrontations between government and opposition forces in Ukraine, the end of Yanukovych’s hold on power came only two days after the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland met Yanukovych to broker a peace deal with the opposition, and one day after EU foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials. In a rapid succession of events, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from office, protesters occupied his office and residence, and his long-time rival Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison and addressed crowds the same day at the symbolic epicenter of the protests: Independence Square in downtown Kiev. Throughout the day, statues of Lenin were toppled in several Ukrainian cities, signaling a clear desire to break from Ukraine’s Soviet and Russian-dominated past once and for all.

While Yanukovych’s sudden defeat can’t solely be attributed to the EU’s diplomatic efforts, the timing of the president’s fall from power suggests that the EU’s influence was important. As European foreign ministers traveled to Kiev to talk to Yanukovych and opposition leaders personally, US efforts were limited to some public statements and Vice President Joe Biden warning Yanukovych over the phone that the US would impose sanctions on Ukrainian officials who order troops to fire on protesters.

Certainly, EU influence is particularly strong in Ukraine compared to other countries because of long-running negotiations on a bilateral association agreement; indeed, the anti-government protests were sparked by the very fact that the association agreement was not signed. However, given America’s history of involvement in the politics of post-Soviet states, Ukraine’s non-color revolution appears to mark a shift of Western regional influence from the US to the EU.

By Marco Funk

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