The World

Russia and Europe’s Tug of War Over Ukraine

Protesters attend an opposition rally at European Square in Kiev on Nov. 25, 2013, on a second day of protests over the government’s decision to scrap a key pact with the European Union.

Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine is currently seeing some of the largest protests since the 2004 Orange Revolution, with more than 100,000 people on the streets in Kiev (including boxing champ-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko) and jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko declaring a hunger strike.

The protests are over the government’s decision last week to suspend talks on a bilateral trade pact with the European Union. The agreement had been in the works for over six years and the hopes are that encourage the development of the rule of law in Ukraine by incorporating EU regulations into the country’s legal code.

European leaders are blaming a last-minute intervention by Russian president Vladimir Putin for the breakdown of the deal. “It is the first time that the West has lost a soft power contest with Russia” one analyst told Gideon Rachman. (If so, it’s a somewhat expansive definition of “soft power.” The FT reports that “Russian officials had warned Kiev that outside its nascent customs union, Ukraine would face significantly higher gas prices.”)

How the street politics and Tymoshenko’s hunger strike will play out remains to be seen. But with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych—the primary antagonist of the 2004 protesters—seeming to decisively move the country back into Russia’s orbit, and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia leaving the presidency in ignominious fashion, this month does seem to mark something of an end of an era for the “color revolution” countries.