Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine’s Maidan Echoes through South Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 25 – The impact of the Maidan on the Russian Federation, Belarus and Moldova has attracted the most attention so far, but the victory of the Ukrainian revolution is reverberating in other parts of the former Soviet space, including in particular the three countries of the South Caucasus.

            There, according to participants in a Tbilisi conference this week, what has happened in Ukraine is affecting calculations of both leaders and peoples in the region, uniting the Georgian nation still further, prompting Yerevan to reconsider its policies, and leading Baku to conclude that it must continue to pursue integration with the West (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/238608/).

            Ilya Beroshvili, a Georgian journalist, said the Euromaidan had united Georgians in a way that even the advance of Russian tanks into the heart of their country in August 2008 did not. At that time, some Georgians protested against Mikhail Saakashvili; now, all the demonstrations in Tbilisi have been in favor of the Ukrainian revolution.

            Zafar Guliyev, a leader of the National Council of Democratic Forces, an opposition group in Azerbaian, said that in his country, “not only the opposition and democratic orce to which [he] belongs but the structures of power as well have followed the events in the Euro-Maidan with heightened attention.”

Official Baku, he suggests, is especially concerned about what is going on in Ukraaine because “in recent years, Moscow’s pressure on the GUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) has intensified.”

President Ilham Aliyev has sought to balance its relations with Moscow with its relations to the West, Guliyev said, even as the Azerbaijani leader’s policies have pushed the Azerbaijani opposition “to the periphery of political life.”
“For me,” Guliyev continued, “the Euro-Maidan is a reaction to the neo-imperial course of Moscow.”  If the Ukrainian revolution fails, Moscow will likely put additional pressure on Azerbaijan.  If the Maidan succeeds, then “this will be an inspiring example for Azerbaijani society, for both the opposition and for the Azerbaijani authorities.”

According to Guliyev, “the pro-Russian lobby” is not strongly represented either in Aliyev’s government or in society.  Society today is focused on Turkey and on the West.  Consequently, “the fate of the post-Soviet space is being decided in Kyiv,” and it is clear that Baku will be affected.

The Ukrainian events are also having an impact on the people and government of Armenia, Zaven Vardanyan, a Yerevan journalist, said.  Armenian interest in Ukraine has remained “at a stable but high level.”  Because the Maidan reflects the Ukrainian desire to join Europe, many Armenians support it, despite Yerevan’s decision to begin joining the Moscow-led Customs Union.

As many Armenians recognize, he said, their country’s accession to the Customs Union is not a fait accompli and “does not promise a serious improvement” in their lives.  Constantly, “the experience of Ukrainian colleagues can help in the definition of a program for rapprochement between Europe and Armenia.”

The events in Ukraine have already shown the Armenian nomenklatura that “if it wants a peaceful life without Maidans,” it will have to change course, and these events have provoked discussions in Yerevan about how “Armenian politicians should work with the new authorities in Ukraine.”

            The Armenian journalist concluded that “no country in the world can be indifferent to what is taking place in Ukraine.  ‘Each country has something to learn from it.  The lessons of the Euro-Maidan would be a useful subject of discussion not only for politicians and political scientists and journalists but for ordinary citizens’” as well.

            Ukraine today, he said, “is a contemporary political university which has shown the deepest contradictions in the country.”

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