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Analysis | Euromaïdan : the sources of Russian aggression | War in Ukraine

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Opposition supporters take part in a rally of the pro-European movement on Independence Square in central Kiev, November 29, 2013.

  • François Brousseau (View profile)François Brousseau

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European leaders traveled to Kiev on November 21 to reassure Ukraine of their continued support, while the world's eyes are on the Middle East and in several countries there are questions about the sustainability of this support.

They did it on the occasion of a symbolic event: the tenth anniversary of Euromaidan – the name given to the opposition revolt, launched on November 21, 2013, to a political project of the government of the time, which turned its back on the European Union and instead chose integration with Russia.

For three months, Independence Square in Kiev (Maidan Niezalejnosti) will be occupied by continuous crowds, sometimes huge, displaying flags of Ukraine and Europe. In the end, the pro-Russian president – ​​Viktor Yanukovych – will resign and flee to Russia.

This 10th anniversary was commemorated soberly, because morale is not at its highest: the UN has just announced the macabre milestone of 10,000 Ukrainian civilians killed since February 2022 by the Russian army. But it is still the anniversary of a founding event.

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People visit the memorial to the “Heavenly Hundred Heroes”, killed during the massive Euromaidan protests, on the 10th anniversary of the start of the protests, in downtown Kyiv, November 21, 2023.

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This November 21, the German Minister of Defense, Boris Pistorius, went to Kiev, like his American counterpart the day before, to announce new military aid, to the tune of more than a billion euros. And the President of the European Council came to tell Zelensky, for this anniversary, that he will do everything to speed up the process of Ukraine's accession to the Union – now officially underway.

Zelensky said that Euromaidan represents Ukraine's first victory against the Russian invader, and that there will be others, such as joining Europe.

Sparking the Euromaidan was a controversial decision by the then president. ViktorYanukovych, narrowly elected in 2010, initially pretended to sign the cooperation agreement with the European Union (an agreement well short of membership, but which at the time had symbolic value)… But suddenly, under obvious pressure from Moscow, he changed his mind on November 21, 2013: No, I will not sign.

This change of heart provokes anger among pro-European Ukrainian activists and intellectuals, numerous in Kiev and Lviv. The first demand of the Euromaidan will therefore be the revocation of this decision, and the signing with the Europeans of the agreement torn up by Yanukovych.

There will be added demands on corruption, police violence against demonstrators… plus the departure of Yanukovych, accompanied by early elections.

For the record, among those who launched the movement, there was a certain Moustafa Nayyem, an immigrant of Afghan origin, who himself gave the signal for the whole first demonstration on the central square.

Also for the record, a certain Volodymyr Zelensky, at the time, still worked for Russian television (yes, Russian) in animation contracts like this Christmas evening on the small screen! This was before his big success in the series Servant of the People, where he played the role of a history teacher who became president of Ukraine.

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A boy wrapped in a Ukrainian national flag and also waving a flag in his hand, stands on a Russian tank on display in downtown Kiev on Independence Square, Ukraine, August 21, 2022. ( Archive photo)

Euromaidan is the moment when, initially, the tearing of the Ukrainians between Russia and Europe. But where, in a second phase, membership in Europe will end up winning in the hearts of a majority of Ukrainians.

Before Euromaidan, this division already existed (in the wake of the Orange Revolution in 2004) between the west of the country, which resembles Poland and has its eyes fixed on Europe, and the overwhelmingly Russian-speaking east, influenced by the former USSR, but tempted by the other side.

The occupation of kyiv's main square lasted exactly three months (Yanukovych fled on February 21), during which peaceful demonstrations were punctuated by sporadic violence. There will be bloody clashes at the end of November, then again at the very end, in February. We are talking about a hundred deaths in total.

During these events, Moscow and the pro-Russians – there are some in Ukraine – but also certain foreign commentators who go in the same direction, say that the Euromaidan is not a popular movement, that it is first and foremost a manipulation of the CIA and the American embassy in Kiev. That far-right Ukrainian ultranationalist activists, and there are a few on the square, are provoking the police and shooting at the police.

They are a very small minority, but Russian propaganda focuses on this small group of extremists and falsely identifies them with the entire movement. This is where, in particular, the delusional accusation comes from that Euromaidan was Nazi, and that by extension the Ukrainian government is a Nazi government

The protesters argued on the contrary that their movement was authentic, that the right-wing nationalist fraction (including extremists) was only one element among others . And that their horizon is European democracy, while the Russian option, according to them, is authoritarianism, submission and economic misery.

In 2013, perhaps 50% of Ukrainians subscribed to such a view. After the invasion, we are in the 80% or 90%.

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Men dig graves in the cemetery of the village of Hroza, near Kharkiv, Ukraine, October 9, 2023. According to the UN, the macabre milestone of 10,000 Ukrainian civilians killed since February 2022 by the Russian army has been reached . (File photo)

Euromaidan and the Russian reaction therefore launched – it is very clear in hindsight – the tragic sequence of the last ten years. It begins with a popular and pro-European revolt, which antagonizes Moscow. Russian revenge – or punishment – ​​quickly arrived: military capture and then annexation of Crimea in March 2014, with a referendum without a campaign, and to conclude with a Soviet score (97% yes).

Almost at the same time, there will be an incursion into eastern Ukraine (by the little green men from Russia who were in fact, as we now know, the embryo of the Wagner Group). What followed, in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk (which became people's republics), was a long, low-intensity war, negotiations without results, stillborn agreements (Minsk I and II), a local purge of the fraction which was favorable to Kiev ( because not everyone was pro-Russian in Donetsk in 2013).

Let us add fanciful accusations of genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Donbass, addressed by Moscow to the Ukrainian army.

In reality, the 13,000 deaths cited in these accusations (often we write 15,000 deaths, a rounder and higher figure) were mainly (75% according to UN figures) armed men, approximately equally distributed on both sides… with a minority of civilians killed (25%), also on both sides of the front line. So much for the genocide denounced by Moscow and maintained by pro-Russian propaganda.

Eight years of rot and propaganda will lead to the general invasion of Ukraine.

So between the aggression of 2022-23, the mind of resistance and the pro-European turn of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians today… and these events of ten years ago, there is clearly a line, a direct link.

Euromaidan was intolerable for Moscow. It was a trigger… delayed signal of the current tragedy.

  • François Brousseau (View profile)François BrousseauFollow

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