The crisis in Ukraine came to a head on Saturday with the ouster of the country’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
As The New York Times’ David Herszenhorn explains, the conflict in Ukraine (which used to be part of the Soviet Union) stems from a conflict between pro-Russian and pro-Western European forces in the country.
Tensions in Ukraine began to flare this fall when the president reneged on a promise to sign onto free trade deals with the European Union. For Ukrainians, stronger ties to Western Europe would have distanced the country from the corruption of Russia.
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer explained the attraction of Europe for Ukrainians in a Dec. 2 interview with PBS:
Polls show more than 50 per cent of the Ukrainian population now would like to get closer to Europe.
And it’s because of the living standards, but it’s also because of rule of law. For a country where there is corruption, where crony politics, they would like to have a more normal democratic system, and that is the attraction of Europe.
As the president distances himself from the EU, there are also signs that he’s getting closer to Russia. Orysia Lutsevych, an expert on Ukraine, told USA Today that “tensions have soared as Russia has said it is ready to resume providing loans that President Yanukovych’s government needs to keep Ukraine’s ailing economy afloat.”
Ukrainians also feared that the president would choose a Russian loyalist to be his new prime minister.
In the fall, the people’s anger against his government was exacerbated by police violence against peaceful demonstrators, The New York Times explained.
Opponents of Yanukovych were further angered in January, when his loyalists passed sweeping restrictions on protests including outlawing tents in public spaces.
“The people of Ukraine have been deprived of civil rights and liberties,” Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Udar Party, reportedly said at the time.
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