Ukraine’s Euromaidan: A 'Tillyan Revolution' that can lead to the Second Crimean Waron 4 March 2014
Rubén Ruiz Ramas
The neither legal nor legitimate Russian military intervention in Crimea is the latest and most dramatic chapter in the crisis that began in Ukraine last November. Since the Euromaidan uprising following the decision of Yanukovych not to sign the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU, a sequence of faulty decisions sparked an escalation of tensions. The freezing of the first protest wave over Christmas, which coincided with the Putin-Yanukovych agreement that allegedly would save Ukraine from bankruptcy, was broken by Yanukovych’s first significant crisis management mistake: the passing on January 16 of a set of anti-protest laws. From then onwards he became increasingly indecisive. He passed these authoritarian laws only to abolish them twelve days later after they ignited a new and more violent wave of protests; he confirmed a cabinet and then forced Azarov’s resignation; and, worst, at the beginning he failed to respond in a proportional manner to the protests in the Euromaidan (as might have happened in any EU member state, say), instead eventually unleashing snipers on the crowds. Meanwhile the West’s unquestioning support for the entire opposition movement served to legitimize its more extremist elements: as the Peoples Councils in Western regions issued statements declaring the central government illegitimate, the extreme-right such as the Pravyi Sektor was rapidly empowered.
Hence, when the government and the opposition agreed a preliminary deal (with mediation from the EU and Russia’s Ombudsman) on February 21, there was already a scenario of ‘multiple sovereignty’ - one of the crucial elements in a revolutionary situation according to Charles Tilly[R1] . The maydanivtsiv – the Euromaidan protesters – did not accept any negotiation with the President and demanded his resignation. A day later Yanukovych fled Kiev, and the Parliament impeached him and shaped a new government which was then welcomed by the EU and the US. A forcible transfer of power had been fulfilled – what Tilly would call a ‘revolutionary result.’ The question addressed here is: should we think of this as a revolution in Tilly’s terms, or in Skocpol’s?
What kind of revolution is happening in Ukraine?
To begin with we need to distinguish between the schools represented by Charles Tilly (political conflict theories) and Theda Skocpol (neomarxist and structuralist). Tilly sees the revolution as a specific type of transfer of power, and identifies two stages: the revolutionary situation and the revolutionary result. A revolutionary situation arises when: (i) there are contesters who form claims that are mutually exclusive in controlling the state or a certain segment of it (opening a situation of ‘multiple sovereignty’); (ii) a great number of population join; (iii) the leaders are incapable or unwilling to suppress this coalition. The revolutionary result then comes about if there is a forcible transfer of power. Meanwhile for Skocpol the key characteristic of a social revolution is the transformation of a society’s state and class structures – with her ideal examples being the French, Russian and Chinese cases. However, Skocpol accepts that if a given process produces political transformations it can be defined as a ‘political revolution’, even if it does not entail a social transformation.
So to test if Tilly’s model is applicable to the Ukrainian context we must seek to identify a situation of ‘multiple sovereignty’. In this regard, in the last weeks there has been a clear path towards a revolutionary situation – not only in Kiev but also in the Western regions: witness the seizing of the Regional Administrations, the statements denouncing the authority of regional governors, the ban of parties such as the Party of Regions or the Communist Party of Ukraine, and the creation of regional People’s Councils or self-defense security forces. The real confirmation of the revolutionary situation came, however, with the formation of a Parallel Government in Kiev, and especially with the seizing in Lviv of the Prosecutor’s office and the surrender of the interior ministry police. This was followed by a declaration of independence from the central government by the People’s Council of the region.
In the early morning of February 22 Kiev succumbed to the chaos common to every revolutionary context: the security forces – including the feared Berkut – abandoned the Maidan and the main State institutions were seized by the Euromaidan self-defense groups (controlled by the Pravyi Sektor). The Party of Regions and the authorities suffered a wave of defections, resignations and dismissals, as did the security forces. Eventually, Yanukovich slipped out of Kiev in the dead of night, as if playing the role of toppled dictator in a script written for him. A few hours later the Ukrainian Parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) impeached him, and he was replaced by Oleksandr Turchynov, Timoshenko’s right-hand man for years. Western governments quickly recognized him and the new authorities. The Tillyan revolution had concluded.
What are prospects for a Skocpolian type of revolution? Firstly, there is little room to forecast a social revolution in Ukraine since no political group with weight in the Euromaidan supports a systemic change. On the contrary, the bulk of the opposition leaders and the demonstrators display a discourse favourable to democracy; although obviously there are groups such as Pravyi Sektor or the Svoboda party that prefer an ambiguous or even directly opposing narrative. If it could achieve the consolidation of the liberal democracy in Ukraine, the Euromaidan revolution could turn into a Skocpolian political revolution. But if we look at facts rather than discourses there is not much reason for such optimism – past experiences (for instance the Orange Revolution) and a consideration of the actors who are called on to lead the transition both serve to dampen hope. Everything points to the Euromaidan revolution being not very revolutionary – that is, there will be a transfer of power with little accompanying social or economic transformation.
From the Prospects for a Civil War to the Fear of a Second Crimean War.
If the chances for such a Skocpolian revolution are remote, the likelihood that events in the Euromaidan will lead instead to the disintegration of Ukraine have increased. In fact since the invasion of Crimea by Russian forces the chances of a war have risen dramatically. This is surprising, since in the days after Yanukovych’s ouster the disintegration scenario seemed to lose ground as his allies made several statements guaranteeing their commitment to Ukrainian unity in Kiev and also in the Eastern and Southern regions. Why has there been such a dramatic change to the situation?
The answer is that Russia played the Crimean card. Russia tends to face any international conflict through the lens of a ‘Big Power’, particularly when it is in what they call the “Near Abroad” (referring to the newly independent republics which emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union). In this way Russia has a level of geopolitical thinking and direction which the EU lacks. Ethnic Russians in Crimea were concerned about the developments in Kiev since early February, and the Crimean parliament even asked Russia to guarantee its autonomy. The Russian response was to seek revenge for what they considered a betrayal of trust by the West, shown by its swift recognition of the new Ukrainian regime. The strategy involved seizing power in Crimea in a way that mimicked what (as Russia saw it) the events in Kiev. First some pro-Russian groups demonstrated in the Crimean capital and forcibly occupied several state buildings, and then the Russian military moved in, to ‘defend’ ethnic Russians in the region from persecution. Kiev’s new authority was rejected, and a secession referendum organized for March 30. This challenge to the new regime has grown to other Eastern regions such as Lugansk or Donetsk, which are also denying its legitimacy and announcing referendums to review their status inside Ukraine.
But what are the prospects for a war? The original Crimean War was an international conflict, and indeed some authors have viewed it as a precursor to World War I. I would bet that there won’t be a multinational war this time, though. The US and especially the EU cannot afford to make more strategic mistakes, or to be kept moving by the inertia of the pro-European Ukrainian opposition. For the West it is time to put pressure on Russia in public, and on Ukraine in private: to construct a way for Putin to avert war without losing face, and to encourage the new Ukrainian government to reign in the unruly elements of the coalition and prevent an escalation of tension. And what about a war between Russia and Ukraine? Feelings are hot but it is difficult to see any gain for either country in an armed conflict. Russia has already shown her neighbour and allies that the game in Eastern Europe cannot be played without its participation. Some broadening of the Crimean autonomy could be enough reward for her backing down. And for Ukraine there will be no alternative but to accept a deal, once it realizes that the West is so constrained in its possible responses to Russia.
Rubén Ruiz Ramas is Research and Teaching Fellow in the Political Science Department at the UNED in Madrid, Spain. His field of expertise is related with the post-Soviet area where he has developed fieldwork in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Ruiz Ramas research concerns are focused on the study of political regimes, electoral processes, political instability, and the persistence of informal institutions. Parallel to his research and teaching, he has also worked as an international election observer for OSCE/ODIHR where he has participated as observer in Kyrgyzstan, (2007, 2010 and 2011), Russia (2012) and Bulgaria (2013). Rubén also coordinates the website www.eurasianet.es.
Image: Jose Luis Orihuela CC BY 2.0