Austin Bay

Last week, as three months of escalating "Euromaidan" protests ended in violent turmoil, Viktor Yanukovych, Russian president Vladmir Putin's Puppet in Kiev, fled the Ukrainian capital.

As I write this column, the toppled Ukrainian president's whereabouts remain a mystery. The Internet runs rife with speculation, some of it informed by a knowledge of Ukrainian-Russian historical frictions, Ukrainian demographics and the potential hideout's territorial proximity to Russia.

All three factors influence Ukraine's current crisis; they have influenced Ukrainian crises past and will influence future Ukrainian crises as well.

These factors also help British bookies set their betting line. Brit gamblers regard the eastern Ukraine's Donetsk area and the Crimean peninsula as "best bet" locales for a Yanukovych hidey-hole. Both are predominantly ethnic Russian and hence pro-Yanukovych Ukrainian regions.

Eastern Ukraine borders Russia. During czarist times, the Russian Orthodox church held sway among faithful eastern Ukrainian Slavs. Western Ukrainians tended to be Catholic, like their fellow Slavs to the west, in Poland. Western Ukrainians overwhelmingly favor European Union integration.

The Crimea is disputed territory. As an act of Communist brotherhood, in 1954 then-Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine. Twenty-three years after the Soviet Navy fragmented, Sevastopol, Crimea's major seaport, still doubles as the home port of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet.

Communism's legacy of kleptocrat corruption and economic stupidity does contribute to Ukraine's current economic fiasco. Ukraine is deeply in debt. Its acting finance minister estimates it needs $35 billion in loans to meet minimum government obligations through 2015. The country's reputation for rampant bribery, financial fogginess and its failure to meet past loan obligations make it a poor credit risk. Little wonder lenders balk.

Last fall, Yanukovych backed out of an EU association agreement his government made in March 2012 in favor of a suspect deal with Putin that allegedly involved $15 billion in cash. Yanukovych also disliked EU condemnation of his blatant mistreatment of his main political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

But reneging on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement and his Putin-esque taste for jailing political opponents spurred the "Euromaidan" demonstrations.

Last week's violence in Kiev pitted protestors armed with wooden clubs and slingshots against pro-Yanukovych police truncheons and sniper rifles. The demonstrators claim that pro-Yanukovych snipers killed 100 protestors.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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