Ukraine’s Euromaidan: A ‘Tillyan Revolution’ that can lead to the Second Crimean War

Rubén Ruiz Ramas

The neither legal nor legitimate Russian military intervention in Crimea is the latest and most dramatic chapter in the crisis that began in Ukraine last November. Since the Euromaidan uprising following the decision of Yanukovych not to sign the Association Agreement (AA) with the EU, a sequence of faulty decisions sparked an escalation of tensions. The freezing of the first protest wave over Christmas, which coincided with the Putin-Yanukovych agreement that allegedly would save Ukraine from bankruptcy, was broken by Yanukovych’s first significant crisis management mistake: the passing on January 16 of a set of anti-protest laws. From then onwards he became increasingly indecisive. He passed these authoritarian laws only to abolish them twelve days later after they ignited a new and more violent wave of protests; he confirmed a cabinet and then forced Azarov’s resignation; and, worst, at the beginning he failed to respond in a proportional manner to the protests in the Euromaidan (as might have happened in any EU member state, say), instead eventually unleashing snipers on the crowds. Meanwhile the West’s unquestioning support for the entire opposition movement served to legitimize its more extremist elements: as the Peoples Councils in Western regions issued statements declaring the central government illegitimate, the extreme-right such as the Pravyi Sektor was rapidly empowered.

Hence, when the government and the opposition agreed a preliminary deal (with mediation from the EU and Russia’s Ombudsman) on February 21, there was already a scenario of ‘multiple sovereignty’ – one of the crucial elements in a revolutionary situation according to Charles Tilly[R1] . The maydanivtsiv – the Euromaidan protesters – did not accept any negotiation with the President and demanded his resignation. A day later Yanukovych fled Kiev, and the Parliament impeached him and shaped a new government which was then welcomed by the EU and the US. A forcible transfer of power had been fulfilled – what Tilly would call a ‘revolutionary result.’ The question addressed here is: should we think of this as a revolution in Tilly’s terms, or in Skocpol’s?

What kind of revolution is happening in Ukraine?

To begin with we need to distinguish between the schools represented by Charles Tilly (political conflict theories) and Theda Skocpol (neomarxist and structuralist). Tilly sees the revolution as a specific type of transfer of power, and identifies two stages: the revolutionary situation and the revolutionary result. A revolutionary situation arises when: (i) there are contesters who form claims that are mutually exclusive in controlling the state or a certain segment of it (opening a situation of ‘multiple sovereignty’); (ii) a great number of population join; (iii) the leaders are incapable or unwilling to suppress this coalition. The revolutionary result then comes about if there is a forcible transfer of power. Meanwhile for Skocpol the key characteristic of a social revolution is the transformation of a society’s state and class structures – with her ideal examples being the French, Russian and Chinese cases. However, Skocpol accepts that if a given process produces political transformations it can be defined as a ‘political revolution’, even if it does not entail a social transformation.

So to test if Tilly’s model is applicable to the Ukrainian context we must seek to identify a situation of ‘multiple sovereignty’. In this regard, in the last weeks there has been a clear path towards a revolutionary situation – not only in Kiev but also in the Western regions: witness the seizing of the Regional Administrations, the statements denouncing the authority of regional governors, the ban of parties such as the Party of Regions or the Communist Party of Ukraine, and the creation of regional People’s Councils or self-defense security forces.  The real confirmation of the revolutionary situation came, however, with the formation of a Parallel Government in Kiev, and especially with the seizing in Lviv of the Prosecutor’s office and the surrender of the interior ministry police. This was followed by a declaration of independence from the central government by the People’s Council of the region.

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