Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Ukraine’s Uprising: More Than an Economic Crisis

by Steven A. Cook
March 3, 2014

An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev (Olga Yakimovich/Courtesy Reuters). An aerial view shows Independence Square during clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev (Olga Yakimovich/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Fortune.com on Friday, February 28, 2014.

Over the last three years, as uprisings and demonstrations have erupted around the world, journalists, pundits, and other analysts have wrongly drawn parallels between these events. When protests broke out in Istanbul last spring, some news outlets wondered whether Taksim Square was Turkey’s “Tahrir Square” — a reference to the now iconic traffic roundabout in central Cairo where Egyptian demonstrations brought an end to then president Hosni Mubarak’s rule in early 2011.

More recently, journalists covering Ukraine’s uprising against ousted President Viktor Yanukovych have made direct comparison to Tahrir Square. These comparisons make great copy and perhaps keep viewers interested, but they are largely superficial. It is true that the protests that brought down both Mubarak and Yanukovych were in squares whose names are derived similarly, but other than at that most abstract level, the political dynamics in Egypt and Ukraine are hardly analogous.

Yet there is one specific area where the Egyptians and the Ukrainians have strikingly similar challenges: Both countries are broke. And this raises the prospects for further political instability.

Neither Egypt’s 2011 uprising nor the recent demonstrations in Ukraine was principally about economic grievances, however. Egyptians poured into the streets wanting to live in a freer and more just society. Ukrainians were responding to Yanukovych’s rejection of an agreement with the European Union in favor of a generous financial assistance package from Moscow. Although the trigger for the protests in Kiev may have been linked directly to trade, finance, and the country’s economic well-being, for many Ukrainians, the demonstrations were about their country’s identity.

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  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    In the Ukraine, there exist NGOs such as the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs that are directly linked to the US government. While these NGOs are billed as taking part in democracy-building ventures by teaching citizens how to mount an effective political opposition to those in power, it is not a leap to suggest that such NGOs may be using their position to undermine the authority of the government in a manner amenable to US geopolitical objectives. This would be effectively undermining the democratic process, in which the people of a country are the sole determiners of the country’s political fate. It smacks of foreign intervention, not for democracy building. Seen in this light (not really a novel perspective, mind you), the uprisings in the Ukraine may well be driven, not so much by indigenous discontent, although one can find that in any country, but rather by American foreign policy designs, strategies and objectives. I would expect Mr. Cook or any competent analyst to address this possibility.

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