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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: March 10, 2014 NO. 11 MARCH 13, 2014
The Ukrainian Crisis
Caught between Russia and the West, things will get worse before they get better
By Ding Ying

TENSIONS ON CRIMEA: A local man holding a Russian flag walks beside armed men near a military base in suburban Simferopol, Crimea, on March 3 (XINHUA/AP)

The turmoil now ripping apart Ukraine is not unlike a marital crisis. It has had a frustrated partnership with Russia as well as a romance with the seemingly attractive West. Now the country has sunk into an emotional breakup, being torn between two sides. The potential divorce, furthermore, has a difficult problem to solve: the custody of Crimea.

A divorce case can easily turn ugly. Observers suggest keeping an open mind during Ukraine's current emotional state and waiting for a political solution. Once it becomes strong and independent, it will have enough power and wisdom to choose a side, or say no to both.

Complicated chaos

Ukraine's crisis is a consequence of a series of complicated and interconnected problems.

Domestic protests that lasted more than three months finally escalated into massive bloodshed in late February, leaving hundreds of casualties. Elected President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted and fled to Russia. The country is in jeopardy of separation due to the differing stances among ethnic groups. The Russian Parliament authorized President Vladimir Putin on March 1 to use military force to protect Russia's interests in Ukraine, and the West is now preparing sanctions against Russia.

The crisis is like an explosive that was lit by a spark, said Xu Tao, a researcher on Eurasian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, to Beijing Review. "There were problems in terms of political structures, economic recession and games of big powers," he commented.

"On some level, Ukraine is a tragic pawn in games between superpowers," said Xu. Ukraine, which was once a republic of the Soviet Union, became independent after the latter's disintegration, and has been in a very sensitive geopolitical position between Russia and the West ever since. Maneuvering between the big powers over Ukraine became increasingly fierce after the country's "Orange Revolution" in 2004. The domestic political situation has been unstable as pro-Russia politicians grapple with pro-West ones. The eastern part of Ukraine is primarily Russia-friendly for ethnic reasons, while the western area leans to Europe.

The West showed more influence after the "Orange Revolution" when President Viktor Yushchenko came into power in 2005. In 2010, Yanukovych, who is considered pro-Russia, was elected president of Ukraine, as people sensed going West hadn't brought them practical benefits, said Sun Zhuangzhi, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Yanukovych promised to join the European Union (EU) after he was elected. In November 2013, however, he refused to sign the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. This decision was politically interpreted by the opposition and the West, starting the massive political confrontation inside the country and leading to the current disaster, Sun said.

A country should choose its political regime in accordance with its own situation, said Sun. He explained that the multi-party system expanded gaps between different political forces in the country, while endless political disputes triggered economic depression. Currently, there are over 130 political parties in Ukraine.

Xu pointed out that Ukraine's poor economy, corruption and oligarchy have greatly enraged Ukrainians and were important reasons why Yanukovych was ousted.

Poverty and unemployment among ordinary people lie in a stark contrast with the lives of political oligarchs, governmental officials and their families. Meanwhile, according to statistics from Transparency International, a Britain-based non-governmental organization, Ukraine is among the 50 most corrupt countries in the world. In 2012, its Corruption Perceptions Index ranked No. 144 of 174 nations.

Domestic cultural and ethnic differences are additional reasons behind the current chaos, said Xu, who saw the conditions for himself during his travels in Ukraine. "In eastern cities, including Kiev, I could communicate with local people in Russian. They have deep connections with Russia and Russian culture. But in cities in the west, many people couldn't understand Russian, and they felt no connection with Russia, preferring the Western lifestyle instead," he said.

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