It all looks eerily familiar. Throngs of anti-government demonstrators control parts of downtown Kiev this Monday morning while the police are in a holding pattern and the president of the country tries to figure out how to handle the situation.
It’s even the same president: Viktor Yanukovych!
Nine years ago, Ukraine’s so-called ‘Orange Revolution’ was about a stolen election when pro-Moscow candidate Yanukovych was declared the winner of the presidential election while most people thought the pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko won.
After weeks of massive protests under the orange banner of the Yushchenko camp, a re-vote under international observation gave the presidency to Yushchenko.
It was the end of a bitter and violent campaign between the two Viktors which included the macabre accusation that there had been an attempt to poison Yushchenko with dioxin.
Yushchenko’s eventual win was widely perceived as a triumph of the pro-Western half of the country over the influence of the powerful Russian neighbor: Putin’s guy lost and Ukraine would now join NATO and the European Union.
Except, it turned out to be slightly different. The third player in the Orange Revolution was a woman called Yulia Tymoshenko. The “Ukrainian Joan of Arc” sided with Yushchenko in 2004 and was instrumental in keeping the protests going. She eventually became prime minister but then didn’t get along with President Yushchenko who fired her in 2005.
The beneficiary of the fall-out was Viktor Yanukovych: in 2010 he ran against Tymoshenko and won - well, at least sort of. After the vote, Tymoshenko accused Yanukovych of rigging the election and she did not recognize the result.
But instead of leading another Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko became the target of a criminal case, and she’s been in custody since August 2011.
It all smelled too much of Byzantine intrigue: the European Union, the United States, and even Russia voiced concern that the charges against Tymoshenko were politically motivated.
Now, in the latest twist of the story, Yanukovych walked away from a treaty with the European Union and turned toward Moscow instead, presumably at the bidding of Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin.
It is the same fight as in 2004: will Ukraine be a western-oriented country with close ties to the European Union and the United States or an ally of the regional power Russia and a bulwark against EU and NATO expansion?
The EU will clearly be siding with the demonstrators, German chancellor Angela Merkel has already appealed to Yanukovych to “do everything to ensure that the right to freedom of speech and peaceful protests is always protected”.
Yanukovych seems to have turned his back on the West for now, the question now is, will the protesters be able to turn him back a second time?