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Diane Francis Headshot

Ukraine Has No Choice But to Join the EU

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In December 2004, I stood shivering on Independence Square with one million Ukrainians during the Orange Revolution. We were fighting the same corrupt politician -- Viktor Yanukovych -- back then. The crowds won, the military backed the people and his fraudulent election result was overturned.

However, the Revolution's darlings squabbled and their intransigence allowed Yanukovych back in and the rest, as they say, is history. The Orange Revolution 2.0 has been underway for months and crowds are now demanding that the President leave office.

Friday's announced deal may bring that about, but it must be remembered that Yanukovych and his Russian pal, President Vladimir Putin, never give up and have chipped their way back into power despite the 2004 Orange Revolution victory. He became President in 2004 and prompted jailed his archrival then seized more powers to become a dictator.

Ukraine's only hope is to join the European Union because its leaders have proven to be corrupt and undemocratic or ineffectual. The EU would, as it has with other former Soviet satellites, become steward and provide a template for modernization of Ukraine.

Fortunately, Yanukovych and Putin alike have overplayed their hand by authorizing snipers to murder innocent people in the streets of Kiev. An estimated 120 people have been slaughtered and hundreds more badly wounded. The Square is in ruins and flames and rebellions have broken out around the country.

I have made many trips to Ukraine, been involved in the Canadian-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and in 2004 covered the Orange Revolution. Partners and I also started in the early 1990s a financial newspaper in Kiev that was unceremoniously stolen from us by thugs. It's upsetting to think that the freezing square has now become a killing field.

At the end of the week, an EU-mediated deal was signed with opposition leaders to limit Presidential powers constitutionally (ban the anti-protest law), to stop violence, surrender illegal weapons and to hold an election by December. But Yanukovych cannot be trusted even though he is now a pariah globally.

The only trump card is that fact that the Ukrainian military will not fire on the people. That's why Yanukovych fired his top general this week and that's what happened in 2004, too. Every night on stage with Orange Revolution speakers was the country's top general and his presence was a signal to the nation that the army was on the side of protesters who wanted to rescind Yanukovych's fraudulent election victory.

But the slippage in the last 10 years has cost the country dearly and now the violence has made governing more difficult. The country's biggest export is people. Ukraine has the highest population decline of any nation in the world. In 1989, its population was 51.45 million in December was 45.4 million or a 13.2 per cent decline. Ukraine's six-million migrants have fled far and wide to escape a life without opportunities or hope for change.

The GDP per capita figures speak for themselves and undermine any argument that Yanukovych, or Vlad Putin, can trot out to convince Ukrainians to join forces with Russia. In Ukraine, incomes in 2013 were $7,600 compared to $16,000 in Belorussia, $17,700 in Russia and $21,000 in Poland or $39,100 in Germany.

This time, the heroes of the resistance are world boxing champions, Vitali Klitschko and his brother Vladimir Klitschko. Both have taken on bigger thugs than Yanukovych but this time they must have the guidance and support of the European Union or Ukraine will once again slip under the waves of corruption.

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