While the European Union insists that the door is still open for Ukraine to join the EU, President Viktor Yanukovych is walking the tightrope between appeasing the wishes of his people and keeping Russian President Vladimir Putin happy.
The timer towards making a decision, however, has been set and the clock is ticking. Yanukovych must act swiftly and wisely before the wheels fall off the carriage and his own political future is curtailed. Putin’s threat to Ukraine is tangible. Russia could stop the flow of Ukrainian exports, and it has so before. This could result in billions of dollars in shortfall to the economy, but Yanukovych should also hear what his people are saying when they come out in thousands urging him to sit across the table with Brussels, which could be the best bet to underwrite the country’s economic progress and political development. Yanukovych is being constrained by his country’s traditional ties to Moscow and Putin is using this to his benefit as he seeks to enhance his influence in the region given Ukraine’s size and wealth of natural resources, as against Europe’s economy which has still shown no signs of kickstarting. Political control over Ukraine would give Putin a bigger say in European issues.
Yanukovych must heed the appeals of his people if he wants to stay in power. A new government will deviate towards Brussels, considering any deal with Russia is of the short-term given the Kremlin’s assertive nature. The president’s domestic human rights record is not helping his case either. Former president Yulia Tymoshenko is in jail on corruption charges. It is clear that Yanukovych’s fate is delicately balanced in the game of Russian roulette he has chosen to play.