Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 11.06.2018
Donald Trump from the United States and Viktor Yanukovych from Ukraine have a lot in common. Both men were propelled into power largely through negative campaigns against their female opponents. Both Trump and Yanukovych are backed to the hilt by Russia, expecially with money and the powerful instruments of Kremlin information warfare. Kleptocracy and nepotism became the norm when they achieved office. And for both men their hubris and self-aggrandizement drove their countries into constitutional crises.
Beholden to Russia as they are, Yanukovych and Trump always seek to give Putin “something for nothing.” Yanukovych did not let the lease on Sevastopol expire in 2017 as it was supposed to do. Instead of reverting Sevastopol to the sovereign control of Ukraine – like Hong Kong to China – Yanukovych gave away a lease to Russia until 2042 in return for an insignificant discount price on natural gas for a few years. Yanukovych did this in 2010, immediately after he was elected President of Ukraine after a six year effort of rehabilitation of his political career by Paul Manafort and Putin. Having weakened Ukrainian sovereignty through Yanukovych, Putin used Sevastopol to launch his invasion of Ukraine four years later, in 2014.
In June 2010, Yanukovych forced Ukraine to abandon its ambitions to join the NATO alliance for collective security. Outside of any defensive alliance, Ukraine was alone when Russia invaded in 2014.
Yanukovych went beyond the toleration of the Ukrainian people when he suddenly pulled out of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (AA) in November 2013. The EU-Ukraine AA, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, had been in the works since 2008. The promise of the EU-Ukraine AA was that Ukrainians were at last able to choose their European path and achieve true independence from Russian domination and the legacy of Russian occupation. When Yanukovych withdrew from the EU-Ukraine AA – with no coherent reasoning behind his decision – the disappointment of the Ukrainian nation was visceral and was expressed immediately.
A continuous protest began in central Kyiv which was called “EuroMaidan.” Shortened to “Maidan,” it evoked the Orange Revolution of 2004 but had broader objectives: a return of the EU-Ukraine AA, an end to the corruption of the Yanukovych Clan, and the achievement of a normal life for Ukrainians. Eventually Maidan became known as the Revolution of Dignity.
Yanukovych tried to suppress the peaceful protestors with violence by state security services and “titushky” mobs for hire. The Revolution of Dignity got bigger and bigger, and spread to all cities of Ukraine. By 20 February 2014 Yanukovych had snipers – including and assisted by Russians – shooting at Ukrainians in the streets. When even mass slaughter did not stop the protest movement, Putin ordered Yanukovych to flee Kyiv. Days later, in an act of treason, Yanukovych called for Russia to invade Ukraine, and Putin was doing exactly that in Crimea.
After failing to foment an “anti-Maidan revolution” in Kharkiv and then Crimea (to give cover to the actual Russian invasion that was going on), Yanukovych fled to the Russian Federation, where he remains.
Trump is trying to give Russia “something for nothing” when in recent days he has repeatedly proposed that Russia be readmitted to the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations club. Trump does this without any reference to Crimea: Russia was kicked out of the G8 (the G7 +1) because of its invasion and illegal occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Trump has never criticized Russia for its aggression against Ukraine or for its interference with and manipulation of the US election of 2016.
The other members of the G7 – Germany, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, and the European Union – were united in supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and opposing Trump’s plan to reward Russian aggression. The final communiqué of the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada reflected this solidarity with Ukraine, a commitment to a rules-based international order, and a condemnation of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Trump committed the US to supporting the final communiqué, but then he left the summit early and went back on his word. Moreover, Trump began to rage against Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, in a series of tweets. Trump called Prime Minister Trudeau “very dishonest and weak” and accused him of making “false statements.” What Trudeau had done was give the traditional end-of-summit press conference where he expressed the consensus of the group of leaders. Trump continued to send anti-Canadian tweets on June 9, 10 and 11. On a Sunday morning news program in the US, a trade advisor to Trump, Peter Navarro, said there is a “special place in hell” for Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau for his “back-stabbing.”
Canada and the United States have been at peace for over 203 years. This kind of violent language against the US’s northern neighbour has not been heard since the War of 1812, when Canada was a colony of Great Britain. Canadians were of course shocked by this unexpected and unjustified verbal assault on the leader of their government. But Canadians don’t vote in US elections. Americans do, and they were shocked as well. The ties between Americans and Canadians are broad and deep and go back generations. The term most often used to describe the relationship is “cousins”: not living in the same household, but family nonetheless. This explains why Trump had no success rallying his supporters by vilifying Canada as a “threat to US national security,” which he did when he imposed punitive tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. Americans largely united in support of Canada, and distanced themselves from Trump’s and Navarro’s ugly verbal assault on a trusted friend and ally. Chancellor Merkel of Germany and President Macron of France rallied to Canada’s defence. Canada, the EU, and Mexico are united in their efforts to bring in countervailing duties against American goods and services that will be equivalent to the damage done by Trump’s illegal and unjustified tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Yanukovych withdrawing from the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was the trigger event to his downfall. The contributing cause was Yanukovych’s loyalty to Russia and to Putin. What brought about the fall of Yanukovyh was the direct democracy spirit and people-power action of Ukrainians.
Trump attacking the US’s truest and strongest ally, Canada, may trigger his downfall. The contributing cause will be Trump’s loyalty to Russia and to Putin. What will bring about the fall of Trump will be American litigiousness and the Byzantine political-legal machinations of inside-the-Beltway Washington, D.C..
Getting rid of Yanukovych was not the end of troubles for Ukrainians. As Yanukovych was fleeing Kyiv the Russians were invading Ukraine in Crimea. They followed this up with an invasion of Ukraine in Donbas. Putin’s War has been raging for over four years. Ukrainians are more united than at any other time in their modern history, and they’re fighting the Russian invaders tenaciously. When Americans succeed in ridding themselves of Russia’s agent of influence, Trump, they still must deal with Russia’s hybrid war against the West. If the American people can recover the goodwill of all the countries Trump has insulted, then there will be a unity of the West that has not been seen since the Atlantic Charter was signed in 1941 which began the path to victory over Nazi German aggression. Let us hope that Trump’s attacks on Canada are his “Viktor Yanukovych moment” and that they herald his downfall. The real fight is yet to come, as a united West begins on the path to victory over Putin at war and Russian aggression.