By Marilyn Vogt-Downey
February 26, 2014
It’s not just that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was a coward for fleeing in the dead of night from angry and rebellious Ukrainian nationalists in Western Ukraine to what (he hoped) would be a friendlier population in the Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine. Of course, he probably was a coward to run away. However, a coup d’etat had been carried out against him, his government security forces were melting away, and roughnecks with weapons and shields were just outside his door.
But more important than his cowardice is the fact that he is a scoundrel.
He could have easily calmed the rebellion in Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital Kiev early on if he had simply told the crowds the truth about what the Association Agreement with the European Union would mean to their lives and futures, which is one reason he apparently refused to sign it. His refusal to sign this Agreement on November 21, 2013 has been called the “spark” that led to the current crisis and his overthrow. However, if, for example, he had summarized the terms of only one part of it–the Agreement’s “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area”–and explained what it would mean to the Ukrainian people, he would have severely dampened enthusiasm for this Agreement. This Free Trade section alone–removing tariff barriers and export duties–would convert Ukraine into one big “free trade zone,” where the anti-environment, anti-labor, and pro-business laws would prevail.
This is what “European integration” and “joining” the glamorized “West” would really mean to Ukraine’s massive working-class population of 46 million. It would create the economic devastation of the type that NAFTA has created in Mexico.
“You want a free, independent Ukraine?” Yanukovych could have asked, were he a man of integrity. “Well, so do I! That is why I cannot–in good conscience–sign this Agreement.”
THAT is what an honest leader would have said back in November 2013, or even before that. It is not complicated. Then he could have gone on to outline what the pending IMF “financial aid package” would do to further worsen their lives. The last but one paragraph of The February 23 The New York Times report on Yanukovych’s flight and its aftermath summarized very well what the “EU option” will mean.