The EU’s reasons for closer relations with Ukraine
Two great powers are trying to gain global influence and a stronger position through closer cooperation with Ukraine. The European Union (EU) and Russia are each using various means to convince Ukrainians to align with them. The EU wants to conclude an association agreement, a step towards membership in the 28-nation club. After several years of negotiation, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU deal in November. Yanukovych rejected the EU’s demand for the release of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko--but pressure from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was also widely seen as a factor.
An association agreement with the EU could bring Ukraine closer to Europe politically and economically. The partnership would also promote security, stability and good governance. For the EU, a stronger partnership with Ukraine could help grow its influence in Eurasia and provide economic advantages, including access to a market of 46 million people. Since Ukraine is the biggest transit country of oil and gas from Russia and other Asian countries to Europe, the partnership could provide the EU with a more secure energy supply. Furthermore, Ukraine has one of the biggest iron ore reserves in the world and additional raw materials.
Russia’s strive for more influence
Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want Ukraine, once part of the Soviet heartland, to join the EU. Instead he is trying to convince the Ukrainian government to become a member of a proposed Eurasian Union, a political and economic union that would include Belarus, Armenia and former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Benefits to Ukraine would include an end to visa restrictions, access to a monetary union, financial support and cheap gas.
Russia is prepared to open its wallet to get a deal. Yanukovych was wooed away from an EU agreement by Moscow’s offer of $15 billion in loans and cheaper natural gas prices. That deal was put on hold after Yanukovych took “sick leave” Jan. 30 and his government and the opposition try to form a new government.
Klitschko and the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform
Vitali Klitschko is the leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR). A former world heavyweight boxing champion, Klitschko is perhaps the best known protest leader internationally. "If the president does not make concessions, we will go on the offensive," he said, according to Deutsche Welle, a German International News Outlet .
The UDAR won 40 seats in parliament in 2012. The party favors economic cooperation with the European Union and rooting out government corruption.
Pravvy Sektor and the Ukrainian Youth
Pravvy Sektor is a loose conglomerate of nationalist organizations. Often blamed for violence by other opposition groups, Pravvy Setkor organizes through VKontakte, a social networking site in the Ukraine. One of its leaders, Andrey Tarasenko told The Guardian that the group is not for cooperation with the EU or for negotiations with the Yanukovych, but did favor a nationalist takeover of the government. Pravvy Sektor rejects the the mild and lenient tactics of negotiation used by the other opposition groups, and supports a hostile takeover. The size and influence of Pravvy Sektor is not known, but the organizaton has over 50,000 members on their VKontakte group.
Batkivshina, or the ‘Fatherland’ party, is another major opposition group. With 20 percent of parliament seats, the group is Ukraine’s second most powerful political party. Fatherland supports integrating with Europe politically and economically.. The group demands the resignation of the current government, a newly drafted constitution, and the signing of the EU Association Agreement.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, former lawyer and economist, is the head of the Fatherland party. On Jan 27, he rejected an offer by President Yanukovich to become prime minister.
The Fatherland party grew after the Orange Revolution under its leader Tymoshenko. The party remains loyal to Tymoshenko, a rival of President Yanukovich, and has nominated her for the presidency in the 2015 elections, despite her imprisonment.
Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich
Yanukovich, whose stronghold is the eastern pro-Russia part of Ukraine, became president in 2010 after an earlier effort was derailed by the Orange Revolution protests. His presidency has been associated with corruption and economic decline, The Washington Post reported.
Yanukovich has faced months of protests in Kiev and calls for his resignation after refusing to sign the association deal with the EU. His efforts to defuse the protests, by offering a protest leader the post of prime minister, a conditional amnesty for protesters and the repeal of laws designed to criminalize public protest failed to stem increasingly violent demonstrations against his rule. On Jan. 30, he took “sick leave” from the presidency, citing a respiratory ailment.