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The 12-week political standoff in Ukraine takes a deadly turn as riot police battle anti-government protesters. Diane and her guests discuss escalating violence and political turmoil in Ukraine.
- Andrei Sitov Washington bureau chief, Itar-Tass news agency of Russia.
- Angela Stent Professor of government and director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University and author of a new book, "The Limits of Partnership."
- Christian Caryl Senior fellow, Legatum Institute; contributing editor, Foreign Policy magazine; senior fellow, MIT Center for International Studies.
- Alex Motyl Professor of political science, Rutgers University, Newark.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Renewed violence in Ukraine, the stalemate between anti-government protestors, barricaded in downtown Kiev, and riot police came to an abrupt end yesterday. More than 25 people were killed, close to 250 reported injured. Joining me to talk about what's become an East-West power play for control over Ukraine: Angela Stent of Georgetown University, Christian Caryl of Foreign Policy Magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us by phone from Washington, Andrei Sitov. He's Washington bureau chief for the Itar-Tass News Agency of Russia. Joining us from a studio in New York City, Alexander Motyl. He's a Ukrainian American political scientist at Rutgers University in Newark. I do invite you to call 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome to all of you.
MR. CHRISTIAN CARYLThanks very much for having us on.
PROF. ANGELA STENTGreat to be here.
MR. ANDREI SITOVThank you.
PROF. ALEXANDER MOTYLThanks very much.
REHMGood to have you all. Christian Caryl, if I could start with you, I realize that a great deal of violence has broken out today. Take us back to November, when this all began, and what the spark was that ignited it.
CARYLYes. I think that's an excellent question, Diane. I think it's very important to remember that this protest started off as a very peaceful protest. It began when President Yanukovych backed off from apparently his original plan to sign an agreement on closer ties between Ukraine and Europe. Russia didn't like that very much and made its will known in various ways, including various financial inducements.
CARYLAnd people gathered in the central square of Kiev to protest that decision. These were people who wanted to see closer relations with Europe. But as things progressed, I think what happened was that this initial cause mushroomed into something much larger. The protestors were very, very upset about what they saw as President Yanukovych's increasingly authoritarian behavior.
CARYLThey were very upset about the corruption that's endemic in Ukraine. And so the protest widened and deepened. And, in January, things came to a very serious confrontation when the security forces cracked down quite hard, killed a number of people. And since then, we've just seen a kind of spiral of radicalization on both sides. The protestors have become increasingly set in their demands that the president should go. And, meanwhile, President Yanukovych shows no sign of wanting to leave.
REHMAnd, Angela Stent, talk about the E.U. versus Russia.
STENTRight. This has become really a geopolitical contest between Russia and the European Union, and also the United States which until now has played really a secondary role in this. So Russia, yes, it used carrots -- it also used sticks last summer -- heavy economic pressure on Ukraine to get it not to sign this agreement with the European Union. What the E.U. has offered Ukraine is an association agreement, but what it involves is undertaking painful reforms and the rewards of which will only be clear in a few years, if the Yanukovych government were willing to do that.
STENTAnd the U.S. by now feels -- as I think we've heard from some recorded telephone conversation between our officials and the Ukrainian ambassador --- the American ambassador in Ukraine -- feels that maybe the E.U. didn't offer Ukraine enough.
STENTSo now we're in a situation where the European Union is trying to get all the sides to sit down together to try and find a way out of this violence, but without offering the immediate financial rewards, which Russia has already -- they've just given $2 billion to Ukraine to buy bonds. They've promised $15 billion. And so you really have a competition, but it's not an equal competition.
REHMNot an equal competition, Alexander Motyl. Talk about that, please.
MOTYLWell, for obvious reasons, Russia has a very important and very significant influence within Ukraine. It's close. It's next door. It's a very big country. It was the leading country within the Soviet empire, and Ukraine has historically been subordinate to Russia, certainly for the last several hundred years. So Russia has a kind of proprietary interest in Ukraine. Many members of the Russian elite oftentimes express doubts about the legitimacy of the very existence of something called Ukrainians.
MOTYLMany consider them to be part of the Russian nation. They doubt that the state is legitimate. They doubt that it should be whole and remain in the form that it is. The E.U., on the other hand, is somewhat distant. It has its own problems. It's expanded. That was about 10 years ago. Now it's experiencing the euro crisis. So for the last five, six, possibly even more years, the European Union has been, at best, indifferent toward Ukraine while Russia, in contrast, has been very interested in developments within Ukraine.
MOTYLAnd of course the resources that they've applied are very different as well. The European Union largely relies on what's come to be known as soft power, the attractiveness of its ideals, possible monetary assistance from the EBRD, investment, things like that while the Russian regime, under Putin specifically, relies on that but is also using significant sticks.
MOTYLSo it periodically threatens Ukraine with trade wars, gas cutoffs, and, last but not least, it's penetrated a significant part of the Ukrainian state with its own agents, security service agents, agents of influence. It provides assistance, material support for radical Russian nationalist groups and things of that sort.
REHMAll right. Andrei Sitov, how do you see the ongoing struggle going on in Ukraine?
SITOVFirst of all, of course, it's a major tragedy. Blood has now been spilled by presumably both sides. But I want to emphasize that police forces have been killed, and government officials have been killed. And government buildings have been occupied for months now. And from my perspective -- and I always stress that I'm not speaking for anyone other than myself. And I am a Russian journalist based in D.C. for the past 18 years. So my vantage point is as a Russian in D.C. rather even than a Russian in Moscow, for instance.
SITOVSo I compare this to the way Americans do business. And, frankly, mostly in the case of the Ukraine, I see the pattern of do as I say, not as I do. Like, for example, yesterday, I did this story about a Catholic nun being sentenced to three years of imprisonment here for a peaceful protest at Elkridge. And while I personally may feel this is an outrage against an 84-year-old woman, a Catholic nun, to pass such a sentence -- but this is democracy.
MOTYLThis is American democracy. This is American legal system in action. And I respect that. And I think what most people at this point in Ukraine are interested in is the restoration of some order on the streets. I think what the revolutionaries, both in the Ukrainian main capital city square and, I think, to some degree here in Washington, D.C., tend to forget that some government is almost always better than no government at all. And we can look at Iraq, and we can look at Syria. And we can look at Afghanistan.
MOTYLWe can look at any number of examples in recent times where this has proven to be the case. Maybe South Sudan is the most recent one. So, again, I feel that the crux of the matter at this point is restoring a semblance of order and then giving the Ukrainians themselves, and no outside power, not Russia, not the United States, has the right to interfere in their choice.
REHMAll right. Andrei…
MOTYLIt should be a real choice.
REHMAndrei Sitov, he's Washington bureau chief for the Itar-Tass News Agency of Russia. And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Angela Stent, is this a small group of Ukrainians protesting? Or does this group represent the larger population? Or is there any way to know?
STENTWell, first of all, there are several different groups that are protesting. And they have different reasons. We should also point out the protests are not only in Kiev. They are all around the country, particularly in the western part of Ukraine where they've occupied different government buildings. And even in the eastern part of Ukraine, which is supposed to be Russophile, pro-Russian, there have been protests there, too.
STENTThe opposition people range from those that would like to be integrated with Europe, that would like to share Euro-Atlantic values, and then there are more nationalist groups. There are more radical groups on the right, on the left. And there are clearly some people in the Maidan Square who are protesting for the sake of protesting and engaging in violence. So, as Andrei Sitov said, there's been violence on both sides.
STENTIt's very hard to generalize, but I think what we do see is a majority of Ukrainians -- it looks as if -- who would like to have a more honest, a less corrupt government, and would like to see their future with the West and to have Ukraine become, as many of these protests have said on their bloggers, a normal country.
REHMAngela Stent, she's professor of government at Georgetown University. Short break here. We have many callers waiting. We'll get to you as quickly as we can. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the ongoing riots not only in the capital of Ukraine Kiev but spreading around other parts of the country. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Angela Stent is here, professor of government at Georgetown University and author of a new book "The Limits of Partnership."
REHMChristian Caryl is contributing editor to Foreign Policy magazine. Andrei Sitov is Washington bureau chief of the Itar-Tass news agency of Russia. Alexander Motyl is a Ukrainian American, professor of political science at Rutgers University at Newark. And, Christian Caryl, I know you wanted to jump in.
CARYLYes, thank you. I just wanted to make a point. I agree with a great deal about what Angela just said, but I think it's very important to emphasize here that Ukraine is a very deeply divided country. It's divided very sharply along regional ethnic and a variety of other lines. Most of the people protesting the Maidan are from Kiev or the western parts of the country. I think that they do very much want closer relations with the west. I'm not sure if that is true with the majority of Ukrainians though. I think it's probably true with a plurality.
CARYLSome of the recent polls give differing results, but you see some polls giving something like half of the population approving closer ties with Europe. The problem is that President Yanukovych, like the presidents before him, was elected by slightly more than half the population of the country. He has a very, very strong following in the eastern mostly Russian-speaking part of the country. He's a very problematic fellow. I wouldn't deny that for a second. He has amassed a great deal of personal and financial power since he became president. This is one of the reasons why people are so opposed to him.
CARYLBut he actually, despite all that, still has quite a strong following in the east. I just looked at the latest poll from the leading Sociological Research Institute in Ukraine. And Yanukovych is still the presidential candidate with the highest approval rating in the country. If there were an election, he would probably get through the first round. And then in the next round, probably if the opposition could agree on a candidate for the whole opposition, then they might beat him.
CARYLBut the problem is that there are a lot of Ukrainians who actually voted for Yanukovych in the last election who maybe aren't so keen on closer ties with the west. So we've got a situation of deep polarization here, and this is one of the things that makes this very, very threatening and difficult.
REHMAlexander Motyl, would you agree with that?
MOTYLThere are a whole series of points that I'd like to take issue with, if I may. For starters, this business that there's violence on both sides, well, yes, it's true. And if you recall, in September of 1939 when Germany attacked Poland, there was also violence on both sides. And then on Sept. 17, when the Soviet Union attacked Poland, there was also violence.
MOTYLOne has to distinguish between the aggressor and the side that has unlimited violent resources and the individuals on the Maidan on Independence Square who were simply trying to defend themselves in the face of consistent daily violence that began in November and has continued until today. These outbursts of violence are just that, outbursts. But there have been disappearances. There have been killings. There have been beatings. There have been fire bombings that the regime has been engaging in for the last three months.
MOTYLPoint one, in terms of the people on the Maidan, there's actually a whole series of studies. Roughly a little more than half are from western Ukraine. About 20 percent are from Kiev, which is to say about 30 percent are from the rest of the country. This is extremely significant because that means they're from the east and from the south.
MOTYLIn terms of their language preferences, about 55 percent speak Ukrainian. About 45 percent speak Russian, which is to say that's reflective of the country as well. There are Russians, there are Jews, there are Crimean Tatars and many others present on Independence Square as well. This is a movement that is pretty much representative of the country. I don't want to suggest that everybody supports it, but the bottom line is it's largely representative of the country.
MOTYLIn terms of Yanukovych, every public opinion survey that's been coming out over the last one to two years shows that he would get into the second round of an election. He would get into the second round by winning roughly 25 percent in the first round.
MOTYLAnd then every public opinion survey also shows that he would lose to almost -- well, actually to every potential candidate in the democratic opposition. And he would gain at best 35 percent of the vote. All the others would get roughly 60 to 65 percent of the total vote. The man has no future. His only political support is confined to that narrow base, 25, 35 percent of the electorate which is located primarily in three provinces. Ukraine has 27.
REHMBut here is the question, Angela. To what extent does this violence sort of point to the weakness of both the U.S. and the E.U. to take steps to quell that violence, to calm the situation?
STENTWell, as the other speakers have already said, neither the United States nor the E.U. has that much leverage in this situation. The E.U. probably has more leverage in terms of if they impose sanctions on some of the oligarchs who support Mr. Yanukovych. Those people wouldn't be, as one likes to say, able to visit their bank accounts in Europe. They want to still have those lines open to Europe.
STENTSo that is the real leverage that the Europeans have. The U.S. has some leverage, too. We too can impose sanctions, but I think they wouldn't be as hard-hitting. But beyond that, on the other side, you have Russia supporting President Yanukovych in the Ukrainian state where there's -- you know, they can use force.
STENTI'm not saying that the Russians would, but they would certainly support a restoration of order there. And they do have these direct links that Alex Motyl has already talked about with a wide range of Ukrainians inside the country who support Mr. Yanukovych. So the west does not have the same amount of leverage. It can try and persuade. It can encourage people to sit down and have a dialogue, but there's a limit to how much it can accomplish.
REHMAndrei Sitov, what do you believe it's going to take to get the protestors to settle down?
SITOVFrankly, the direct answer to that question is the united position of the west, of Western Europe and the United States of saying enough is enough. And of saying this, not to Yanukovych, who I think is not interested in continuing this confrontation for the reasons listed by other participants in this show, but to his opponents. And we all know that the Americans do try to influence their opponents and the European Union, too.
SITOVAnd if there was anything that really surprised me in this situation was when -- where assistant secretary of state here said, go rate the E.U. And the E.U. and the person of Lady Ashton apparently was willing to berate this publicly in the name of the Transatlantic solidarity which I find fascinating. The reason I bring this up though is not, per se, for the story, sensational as it was but to remind everyone that why did not Yanukovych sign the deal with the E.U. in the first place.
SITOVBecause even the participants in this show said that he was willing to. It was because he was not given the terms that he needed from the E.U. to help his people survive through the economic hardship and crisis that they are going on now. And, of course, for me...
REHMIs that a fair statement...
SITOVOne last thing, Diane. If I may, one last thing. I need to leave the show after a minute...
REHMI know you do, Andrei.
CARYLYeah, but I just wanted to say, from my vantage point here, I think the Ukrainians will always be brothers and sisters to the Russians and closest neighbors. But they will always be at best second-class passengers on the E.U. train or probably -- more probably third-class passengers. And I'm saying that just because of what I just described. The way the Americans treat their closest allies with -- that we've seen with Snowden and with (word?). Thank you.
REHMAll right. Thank you. Andrei Sitov, he's Washington bureau chief of Itar-Tass news agency of Russia. I know he has to leave us. Thank you for joining us, Andrei.
SITOVThank you. It's a pleasure.
REHMAll right. Thanks. And to you, Angela.
STENTYeah, I would just like to say I think, in contrast to what was just said and, I think, to what Christian said, I'm not sure that President Yanukovych ever really meant to sign the agreement with the European Union. That has been his modus operandi since he's been president. It's procrastination. It's not deciding to do things. So those negotiations went along, and then he got in the end a better offer from the Russians because they offered him sort of cash on-hand without any sacrifices whereas the E.U. dealed with it being different.
REHMAnd now hasn't the E.U. upped the ante?
STENTThey're now trying to up the ante, but they're still, at the moment, not -- with the international monetary fund, but they haven't quite matched what the Russians offered.
REHMAnd what do you think of that, Alexander Motyl? Do you believe that, in fact, Yanukovych never meant to take the E.U.'s offer?
MOTYLMy guess is that he was actually semiserious about this. I mean, I've had conversations over the last two years with individuals who work within the ministry of foreign affairs. And they've said that they've been getting instructions from the top to devote all their energies to signing the association agreement. My guess is that what happened is, on the one hand, Russia pressured Yanukovych. But, on the other hand, keep in mind Yanukovych is a remarkably bad statesman. I don't think he ever bothered to read the fine print.
MOTYLAnd when he looked at the fine print of the deal, as the deal was about to be signed, he realized not that it would harm Ukrainians. This is a fundamental illusion. It's not -- he's not concerned with helping his people survive, as Mr. Sitov said. He realized that this would be disadvantageous for himself and for his cronies within the party regents, the so-called family. Because, after all, it would impose serious -- the association agreement would impose serious limits on the amount of theft that they can actually engage in.
MOTYLRemember, in the last three years, the Yanukovych family has purloined something in the neighborhood of 12 to $13 billion dollars of Ukrainian resources. And this is all now in Cypress, Austria or other parts of Western Europe. And that's precisely the exact amount that he's getting from Putin, which is to say the money isn't helping Ukrainians. It's helping him.
MOTYLThe other point to keep in mind is this. Mr. Sitov says the United States should tell the demonstrators enough is enough. The demonstrators have been insisting on small demands. First, they wanted a return to Europe. Then they asked for the minister who was responsible for the first crackdown to be punished. Then they requested a technocratic government be appointed. Then they wanted a new constitution, or rather a return to an old constitution. At each step of the way, Yanukovych hasn't just stonewalled them. He's actually responded with physical violence.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Angela Stent, the New York Times reported that Mr. Yanukovych had pledged not to use force but seemed to have changed his mind after meeting with Russia's President Putin at the opening of the Olympics. Tell us what happened.
STENTWell, I think nobody is completely sure what happened there, but he certainly did meet with Mr. Putin. One assumes that the message would have been, you know, we're not going to give you money. We're not going to dole out the $15 billion unless you have the situation under control. And so we have this strange thing -- it looked a couple of days ago as if things were getting better. There was an amnesty. People had left the city hall. And then they...
REHMAnd then what happened?
STENTAnd then suddenly this violence broke out. And, I mean, you know, maybe my colleagues have other insights into this. You know, you watch the videos. It's terrible. Clearly government troops were brought in. And they decide -- it was decided that they had to crack down.
STENTNow, the other thing I should mention is, this week, there are all these discussions that are going on about possibly altering or modifying the Ukrainian constitution in a way that the demonstrators would favor, which would have -- give less power to the president. There are other discussions going on about a possible technocratic cabinet, but this all seems to be on hold now because of the outbreak of violence.
CARYLI think one of the big problems here is precisely one that Mr. Motyl brought up in his comments, which is that Yanukovych -- I don't think there's any dispute among people who follow Ukraine that President Yanukovych is a deeply corrupt president. He and his family have enriched themselves enormously in the course of his term in office. And one of the problems here is that he is so deeply entrenched in power and controls such enormous financial resources that he can only lose by leaving power.
CARYLI remember when he took off a few days claiming illness. Everyone said, oh, he's about to go. He's going to step down. I'm personally very skeptical that he's just going to clear out and leave everything to the control of the opposition. I think that would be very good. Maybe he will yet make a choice like that. I don't know, but I'm very skeptical. One of the things to watch here in the next few days is the role of the Ukrainian military.
CARYLIt is certainly true -- again, I don't -- I'm not sure I entirely disagree with Mr. Motyl about the extent of the support -- about the makeup of the protestors on Maidan Square. I think they do represent a very large chunk of public opinion in the country. What's going to be very interesting in the days ahead is whether Yanukovych can persuade his military to engage in a full-scale crackdown, something like martial law, because I don't think the riot police are going to be enough in this case, especially in the western part of the country. And so we need to watch very carefully what will the military do.
CARYLAnd the United States has actually done a very good job of cultivating ties with the Ukrainian military over the past 20 years. The Pentagon has brought a lot of senior military officers over. A lot of the senior Ukrainian military know the United States very well now. So it's not entirely clear that he can depend on their loyalty. And, in fact, senior officers were recently persuaded to take a loyalty oath to President Yanukovych which suggests that he's a little nervous about this. So we'll have to see what happens on that front in the days ahead.
REHMAngela Stent, if the president were to call out the military and really force them to take terrible action against the protestors, what course would the U.S. have to take?
STENTWell, the U.S. would obviously condemn this very strongly. It would implement, I'm sure, very tough sanctions. I think President Yanukovych would not be welcome at any international gatherings. That's about as much as we can do.
REHMAngela Stent, professor of government at Georgetown University. Short break. We'll open the phones when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones now. We'll go first to Andrew in Louisville, Ky. You're on the air.
ANDREWI'm a first-generation Ukrainian American whose roots are in Ivano-Frankivsk in the western part of the country. And I've been to Ukraine a number of times in recent years to -- on missions that dealt with utility sector reform, which is actually one of the key points of contention in the relationship with the European Union and the trade agreement.
ANDREWBut my question is this -- and nobody seems to have much stomach for it, or it's kind of an anathemas solution -- but might not the long term solution here ultimately the end game be partition of Ukraine that involves severing those parts of the country which are oriented toward Russia into some separate entity or something that's loosely confederated with the Russians, and the rest of the country becoming a freestanding entity that's turned toward Europe?
STENTWell, of course, that would be a very drastic solution, but it's clearly talked about. We have to remember that, in 1991, the majority of Ukrainians voted for independence in the east and the west. So one has to assume, at least since then, they have wanted to have a separate sovereign united Ukrainian state.
STENTAnd, you know, it's possible that the country could break up again and go back to, you know, the 19th century model of parts of it being in the Russian empire and parts of it being in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. But I think that would be a very difficult solution. And I'm not sure that it's one that the majority of Ukrainians want.
CARYLI agree with Angela. I don't think the majority of Ukrainians want that. And it's -- I think it would be a terrible tragedy, comparable perhaps to the partition of the Indian empire into Pakistan and India which took an enormous number of lives. I think it would be a horrible tragedy. But unlike Mr. Motyl, I do think there is a profound division in the country. And this -- unfortunately, I -- it's hard to see a positive scenario for where this confrontation is going right now.
REHMAll right. To Boris in Deerfield Beach, Fla. Hi there.
BORISHello, Diane. Thank you.
BORISYeah, I wanted to tell a story. My grandparents came from Ukraine. I've never been there. But three years ago, which way before this revolution, I was working in a resort town in Wisconsin. And they would hire a lot of university students from Eastern Europe. But they couldn't get American students to work in the resort facility. And I ended up working with this Ukrainian boy who's a college boy. Everybody was calling him my son because we just hit it off perfectly together. And we had a lot of fun, and we were laughing the whole time.
BORISBut he hate -- I mean, basically he -- the only thing he really wanted to do once he got back was, you know, to get out of Ukraine because it was -- even his father was a professor, and they were totally poor living in a tiny apartment. And he said the corruption was so bad there that when he graduated from college, there was really no hope for him. And then I said, what about -- there's a lot of Pols there, what about all this Polish people? And he said, oh, I'd much rather live in Poland because Poland is part of the E.U. And he could travel all over Europe looking for work.
BORISSo the point I'm trying to make is, you know, this conversation you're having is wonderful. I love it. It's about the politicians and the leaders. Talking to an actual real young man who's probably just like some of the people that have protested, they're doing it because they feel like there's no hope unless they can get into the European Union.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call, Boris. And I just wonder who these protestors are, Alexander Motyl. Do we really know?
MOTYLYes. As a matter of fact, we know -- as I said, we know quite exactly. There was a very serious academic study done just two weeks ago. We know that the average age of the protestors is around 37, 38. About 95 percent of them are male. And, as I said, roughly half of them are from western Ukraine which is a large chunk of the population. The other half is divided between Kiev and eastern Ukraine. There are Russians. There are Jews. There are Ukrainians. About half speak Ukrainian, and the other half speaks Russian. And that's pretty significant.
MOTYLWe also know that they are pretty much all united in their opposition to Yanukovych. All of them -- virtually all of them claim to be supporters of various kinds of democratic or European solutions. There are groups, but those are splintered groups -- they're not significant, they're not setting the tone for the demonstrations -- who have more extreme agendas. But those are -- really, they're not important in terms of the overall profile of the demonstrators.
REHMAll right. To Mary in Cary, N.C. You're on the air. Let's try that again. Mary, are you there? No, I think not. How about Svetlana in Denton, Texas.
SVETLANAHi. My name is Svetlana. I am Ukrainian. I'm studying art and photography here in the United States. I want to make a comment that, you know, first of all, I want to point out that Yanukovych who never -- I don't believe Yanukovych would ever sign this kind of papers which will bring Ukraine closer to Europe. For one biggest -- for biggest reason is he will not be able to steal money from the Ukrainian nation if he does that.
SVETLANABecause if Ukraine will have any ties with Europe, then Yanukovych and his family and his party just -- they will be without power, and they will not be able to launder this kind of money anymore. I want to make a comment that our president has three castles built around the world, and they are not just homes. They are castles.
SVETLANAAnd second one is he's using not just police, which is like -- you know, like a governmental agency. It's -- he's using against protestors, he's using a special force -- Ukrainian force which is called berkut. They have different uniform. They have -- oh, like, they are different. They are not just general police. And they have three times more authority than a general police officer. And this is usually is not mentioned in the, like, any American audience.
REHMAll right. Svetlana, thanks for calling. Go ahead, Caryl.
CARYLI just wanted to mention, I agree with everything Svetlana just said. I just wanted to mention that, at Foreign Policy, we did a very good piece about the riot police berkut, which she just mentioned, as a very scary bunch of people. And they have been implicated much of the most horrific violence over the past few weeks. Just wanted to make a very quick point which is we haven't talked about -- we've talked about President Yanukovych and his corruption.
CARYLWe haven't talked about the oligarchs in Ukraine, the big tycoons who control the overwhelming majority of the country's financial resources. One of the really interesting things about this story is where their loyalties lie. The richest man in Ukraine is a fellow named Rinat Akhmetov who owns the most expensive piece of real estate in London today. And he's a very close ally to President Yanukovych.
CARYLAnd another big question from me is where these oligarchs, many of whom have been allied with Yanukovych in the past, are now looking to protect their interests. Mr. Akhmetov, this ultra-rich -- the richest man in Ukraine, recently published a thing on his website, decrying the use of violence against unarmed protestors -- peaceful protestors. And so I think that's another thing to watch as we go ahead. Where will those big businessmen decide their loyalties lie?
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Ola who says, "I want to comment on Christian Caryl's assessment about a deep divide in Ukraine. This theory of deep divide is what the current government has been using for the last three years to divide and conquer. I question the basis for this comment and his ability to base it on his firsthand experience. This is simply not so black and white."
CARYLWell, my only response to that is, why then was President Yanukovych elected in 2010 in a presidential election that the opposition also recognized as free and fair? He won a little over half the vote. That doesn't make him a great person. What it shows is that there is a substantial number of people in the country who support what he seemed to stand for. I'm not sure if all of them still do, but, again, it represents -- it says -- it tells you something about the divide within the country.
REHMAnd, Angela, here is an email for you. "How deep is Putin's commitment to keeping this Russian ally? Ukraine is a buffer for Russia, a major supplier to Russia, and a symbol for Putin. Is Ukraine valuable enough to become a hotspot that reignites a cold war with the west?"
STENTWell, we hope there's not going to be another Cold War, but Putin is very, very committed to this. For his third term, his project is the creation of something called the Eurasian Union, which, if it succeeded, would be like, you know, it's a new block facing the west, facing the east. And without Ukraine, this Eurasian Union won't be anything.
STENTHe wants this political economic organization with close ties to Russia. And as far as one can see, he is going to fight as hard as he can to get that. So, for him, this is a number one foreign policy priority. And then I come back to both the E.U. and the United States. It's not their number one foreign policy priority. So it's...
REHMYeah, and the U.S. has been talking with a number of the opposition leaders. To what extent are they working together?
STENTWell, I mean, two of the -- I mean, the leaders of the three main opposition parties have been talking to each other. Two of them, Mr. Yatsenyuk and Mr. Klitschko, the boxer, have been in intense discussions both with the European Union. They visited Chancellor Angela Merkel a couple of days ago and with U.S. officials.
STENTAnd there, you know, the attempt is to get them to sit down. But then President Yanukovych has to be willing to do this and try and work out a transition to a new technocratic government. But so far that hasn't worked because there hasn't been a good response from President Yanukovych himself.
REHMBut, Alexander Motyl, what are the specific demands of the opposition? They want Yanukovych to resign. What else do they want?
MOTYLThey want him to resign. They want early elections, and they want a return to the constitution of 2004 which he rescinded illegally in 2010. And then if and when those things are done, then conceivably the country can move. They're also insisting on -- you know, again, it depends on whom you ask at what particular time. But they've also insisted on the ability to form a reform cabinet.
MOTYLBut that, of course, can only be an effective means of introducing reforms if the constitution is changed. So that's the fundamental sticking point, the constitutional changes and the diminution of Yanukovych's powers. By the way, one point, if I may, on the Eurasian Union, Mr. Putin, who's generally considered to be the Bismarck of Eastern Europe and the strategic genius, has actually placed himself into a very serious bind. We tend to overlook this.
MOTYLThe very last thing that he as a clever statesman should want is a failed Ukrainian state. By the same token, for him to, say, intervene, invade, annex the Crimea or other parts of Ukraine would be the fastest way to subordinating and undermining all his plans for reintegrating the post-Soviet space into the so-called Eurasian Union.
MOTYLOnce he asserts his right unilaterally to annex Russian-populated territories in Ukraine, that will put the fear of God into Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, and Mr. Nazarbayev, the president of Kazakhstan, who have very significant Russian minorities. So Putin is in a bind. The real solution for him would be to stop betting on this losing horse, namely Yanukovych, and to look for a deal with the next government which is likely to consist of the Democrats.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Angela Stent, is there a great deal of evidence that should the Ukraine become part of the E.U., that it would necessarily be a great advantage to Ukraine?
STENTWell, first of all, no one is offering membership of the E.U. to Ukraine. We have to understand the reason why the E.U. is negotiating with Ukraine was precisely to offer it a deal that would never lead to membership at the E.U. Now, some countries like Poland say, well, that's not hard and fast, but basically that's the view of many E.U. members. So that membership is not an offer, and that's part of the problem because you're asking Ukraine to make economic sacrifices and not offering it membership.
REHMSo what specifically is the E.U. offering?
STENTWell, the E.U. offering is to have what they call a deep free trade agreement, which could be and would be advantageous to Ukraine as time goes on, and an association agreement, which the details of which remain to be worked out. But would it -- down the line -- again, but predicated on Mr. Yanukovych undertaking reforms that would, as we've heard from my other colleagues here, really undermine his own hold on power certainly and the economic assets of his family.
REHMWhat about the risks to the Ukrainian people themselves?
STENTWell, I think the risks would be in the short run again. If Ukraine were to undertake these reforms, some people would do badly from them. They'd suffer. I mean, we can see this happened in Poland and other countries before they joined the E.U. So in the short term, they would be paying, but in the longer run, one assumes this would be beneficial for Ukraine economically and would get it out of its extreme dependence on Russia, including on Russian energy.
REHMChristian Caryl, how long can these protestors hold on?
CARYLOh, that's a great question, Diane. They've shown remarkable persistence and zeal so far. I don't know. That's a good question. The question for me is very much now to what extent this very intense use of force over the past few -- over the past day or two will incite a reaction from the protestors and make them more militant and, you know...
REHMAre you concerned about the start of civil war?
CARYLYeah, I'm very concerned about that. I don't think it's a phrase we should throw around lightly, but the degree of intense emotions on both sides, I think, is really threatening. And I hope some way that Yanukovych, who really does bear, I think, the burden of responsibility here, can find some way to climb down. That would be in the best interest of everyone.
REHMDo you see the U.S. stepping in more forcefully, Angela?
STENTI think they will try to. They really want to avoid any more violence. They really want to try and stabilize their common neighborhood with Russia. But there's a limit to how much the E.U. can and will do.
REHMAngela Stent of Georgetown University, author of a new book "The Limits of Partnership," Christian Caryl, contributing editor for Foreign Policy magazine, Alexander Motyl, Ukrainian American -- he's professor of political science at Rutgers University in Newark -- thank you all so much. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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