Ukraine - between Russia and the EU
A very large civil society developed in Ukraine over the past year.

After the bloody and devastating breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Europe is facing another military conflict, taking place in Ukraine. Ukrainian people fed up with corrupted, ineffective and highly influenced by the Kremlin government, took drastic steps which caused the removal of Viktor Yanukovych  from the presidential office and the introduction of a new government. A series of riots and protests lasted for some months, after which many people were killed and finally Ukrainians saw the light in the tunnel of real democracy. 

The Russian president Vladimir Putin decided that he cannot risk losing influence over Russia’s neighbours and sent soldiers to Ukraine. In late February, unmarked soldiers gradually took control of Crimea. Despite the fact that these men, using Russian weapons and equipment were identified as Russian Special Forces and other paramilitaries, Russian government denied any form of involvement. Later on, after the successful annexation, Putin admitted on live TV that they have always been Russian troops. He later awarded them medals.

On the eve of potential full scale war between the two European countries, the question is what position should Europe take? Should it be left without any form of military intervention, focusing mainly on economic sanctions, risking the tragedy of Srebrenica genocide, or should some international military intervention under the umbrella of UN or NATO take place? Should Europe take a firm position, showing that it really cares about European stability and we can stick together in the light of escalating conflict?

There are strong arguments for Europe to engage and show a clear commitment to Ukraine. It would be paramount for Ukraine itself and for the European common history and peace. The fact is that the Ukrainian revolution was transformed into an international conflict, threatening sovereignty and integrity of not only Ukraine but also many other democratic and independent states as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. 

History repeating itself?

By sending his troops, Vladimir Putin is in clear breach of international laws, including the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances 1994 and the United Nations Charter. What is the guarantee that after capturing part or whole territory of Ukraine he will not move further towards the Baltic States? During one of the conferences held in February Vladimir Putin said that he is obliged to “protect Russian minorities in Ukraine”.  An almost identical phrase was used by Adolf Hitler in 1938 as an excuse to annex Austria. It’s worth mentioning that the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria) was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. The fact that western powers including United Kingdom and France decided not to take any military action in the case of that clear  breach of Treaty of Versailles definitely boosted Hilter’s confidence and encouraged him to continue his imperialistic approach which effected  in annexation of Czechoslovakia and Poland, which in turn caused the outbreak of the Second World War. If Russian military intervention in Ukraine is not be stopped, history can repeat itself.

Nevertheless, the situation in Ukraine is a complex one; we need to keep in mind that, especially in the eastern part of Ukraine there are a lot of Russian-speaking people, who were not happy with overthrowing Yanukovych. Repealing to the law “On the principles of the state language policy”, which put hardships on Russian speaking Ukrainian population,  by the newly formed government, was certainly very controversial and was met with great disdain in Crimea and Southern and Eastern Ukraine, provoking waves of protests against the Maidan installed government. 

Some of the protesters went even further and decided to fight and try to abolish the new government, which they claim to be illegal. The legality of Yanukovych’s removal from the president office is indeed questionable; many jurists agree that the constitutional procedures listed in article 111 of Ukraine’s Constitution was not followed.

Overthrowing the president Yanukovych- legal or not?

Under Articles 108-112 of Ukraine’s Constitution, there are four ways a sitting president may leave the office before elections: resignation, incapacitation, death, and impeachment. None of the first three happened, so that leaves the fourth, impeachment. According to Article 111, impeachment must follow a specific set of procedures: the Parliament must vote to impeach and then convene a committee to investigate. That committee must investigate and report back to parliament, which must then vote to bring about the charges. A final vote to conviction may only come after receipt of a judgement from the Constitutional Court that the acts, of which the President of Ukraine is accused, contain elements of treason or other crime. But it was not the case for Yanukovych’s system of government, following the constitutional law. Therefore, it can be said that Yanukovych became the victim of his own actions. Ukrainians had the right and the privilege for changing the political situation, just like Poles and Germans did over 25 years ago, when they became democratic states after the abolition of communist governments.

All things considered, we should not forget that the Ukrainian revolution had started after President Yanukovych refused to sign an agreement for closer cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union, after promising to do so. Ukraine is simply asking for a chance to be another European democratic state, fully independent from Putin’s decisions. It is our duty to help our friends in need and not pretend that nothing bad is happening out there.

 

Edited by Laura Davidel

Photo credits:  mapYves Herman / Reuters