WORLD AFFAIRS.  The Euro Revolution and the Yanukovych regime’s shameful deal with Putin’s Russia are as momentous conceptually as they are politically, requiring a new way of thinking about what has transpired in Ukraine and how Ukraine may be best understood. Now more than ever, as the regime attempts to redefine reality according to its twisted Orwellian categories, calling things by their rights names is imperative. Here’s a brief primer. The key terms are: declaration of independence, social contract, freedom, legitimacy, tyranny, occupation, colony, resistance movement,and national-liberation struggle.

First, in taking part in mass anti-regime demonstrations for more than five weeks, Ukrainians declared that the Yanukovych regime was ruling without their consent and was therefore illegitimate. In effect, Ukrainians made a declaration of independence from the regime, using the same logic (and oftentimes the same language) employed by American revolutionaries in 1776. Because Yanukovych systematically abused the Ukrainian people, neglected their interests, and violated the social contract between democratically elected rulers and the people who elected them, he ceased to be their “sovereign.” Once the sovereign turns against the people and acts tyrannically, he transforms himself into a usurper and the people are no longer obligated to obey him. Indeed, like the American revolutionaries, they have both the right and the obligation to defend themselves from his predations.

Second, in standing up for their rights, Ukrainians demonstrated to themselves, to the regime, and to the world that they are free and will fight for that freedom. The demonstrations began as protests against the government’s decision to snub the European Union; but they quickly morphed into assertions of the dignity and autonomy of the self. Now that Ukrainians have freed themselves from the fear, impotence, and self-denigration that many decades of Communist and post-Communist despotism promoted, there is no going back. Free Ukrainians—and they are now a majority of the country—have also sent a clear signal to the regime: that the Euro Revolution is only the first stage in what is likely to be a protracted struggle to replace an illegitimate regime with popular sovereignty.

Third, in violating the people’s trust, Yanukovych lost all the democratic legitimacy he had acquired in the 2010 presidential election. Some analysts continually invoke Yanukovych’s democratic election as if it were an unconditional mandate. It is anything but. A democratic election is not a mandate to abuse the people who elected you. A democratic election is an obligation to protect the people and promote their welfare. By violating that obligation, by systematically exploiting the people and enriching himself in the process, by undermining their very security and safety, by breaking the social contract, and ignoring the people’s legitimate demands that he step down, Yanukovych nullified the election and the legitimacy it bestowed on him and ceased to be president. He embraced tyranny—and thereby became a tyrant—and transformed his rapacious regime into an occupation force and his Party of Regions and their oligarch supporters into a collection of collaborators.

Fourth, in mortgaging Ukraine to Vladimir Putin in exchange for his temporary financial support, Yanukovych began the process of Ukraine’s transformation into a colony of Russia. Having torn up his social contract with the Ukrainian people, Yanukovych signed a new one with Putin. Yanukovych accepted the status of a lowly satrap in exchange for the ability to continue exploiting Ukraine economically and brutalizing Ukrainians politically. Yanukovych’s cultural policy is already determined in Moscow. Now his economic and foreign policy will also be determined in Moscow. Were he logically consistent with his own actions, he would shut down Ukraine’s embassies and consulates, return the buildings to the Ukrainian diaspora that bought them, and disband the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or rename it the Ministry of Liaison with the Kremlin.

The Yanukovych regime’s transformation into an occupation force and Ukraine’s creeping transformation into a semi-colony mean that Ukrainians, who now know that they too are fully human beings fully capable of self-rule, are engaged in a pro-democracy movement that is also a resistance movement and a national-liberation struggle. The Euro Revolution, a.k.a. the Maidan people’s movement, established in Kyiv on December 22nd, is just such a broad-based movement with the potential to become some combination of Poland’s Solidarity, the American civil rights movement, the black struggle against apartheid in South Africa, and Gandhi’s nonviolent movement in India. Brutality, violence, and repression are ultimately powerless against such a potent mix of invigorating ideas, uplifting morals, just causes—and millions of people.

Ukrainians have demonstrated their confidence, humanity, autonomy, and maturity during the Euro Revolution. As expected, Yanukovych has displayed his desperation, incompetence, and weakness; unexpectedly, Putin has revealed a proneness for strategic miscalculations. Yanukovych is certain to be as unreliable a satrap as he has been rapacious as a sultan. Worse, Putin apparently doesn’t understand that Russia lacks the economic resources and state strength to dominate a country as large and unstable as Ukraine. The costs of imperialism will prove too great for Putin’s economically stagnant and crumbling petro-state to bear—especially as a popular movement that supports democracy, human dignity, resistance to occupation, and national liberation is too powerful a contender for an illegitimate satrap to contain. Ukraine’s neo-colonial status will be short-lived and the collapse of Putin’s neo-imperial project may mean the collapse of Putin. And without Putin, Yanukovych will have nowhere to turn and nothing to do but run for the hills. This time, Interpol is likely to be on his heels.

Alexander J. Motyl's blog

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