A Roundtable Discussion: Why is Kyiv Burning?

February 24, 2014. Harvard University.

Why is Kyiv Burning? The Turn to Violence in Ukraine’s Protest Movement and Its Political and Geostrategic Implications

Timothy J. Colton, Department of Government; Jarek Domanski, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; George G. Grabowicz, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures; Nadiya Kravets, Ukrainian Research Institute; Olga Onuch, Ukrainian Research Institute; Thomas Simons, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

kyiv burning

Revolution, pro-EU demonstration, mass protest, fight for genuine independence, birth of a modern European nation, geopolitical earthquake—all of these characterizations have been applied at one time or another to the momentous events unfolding before our eyes over the past three months in Ukraine.

We all feel the need to make sense of the onslaught of dramatic and rapidly changing news from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, not only for its effect on the country but also for its long-term global implications.

For this reason, on February 24, 2014, HURI held a roundtable discussion on the issue, inviting scholars, political scientists, and experts on Eastern European diplomacy to explore the nature and possible outcomes of the current Ukrainian crisis. In view of the fluidity of the situation in Ukraine the organizers of the roundtable had to rethink and change the title of the event several times.

The first speaker, Dr. Olga Onuch, a graduate of the University of Oxford and a current Shklar Fellow at HURI, spoke about the Maidan as a moment of mass mobilization. She presented abundant data on the chronology of the mass protests, as well as the sociological portraits of its participants, their age, ethnic background, linguistic preferences, and political affiliation.

George Grabowicz, the Dmytro Čyževs´kyi Professor of Ukrainian Literature, who was in Kyiv in November 2013, shared his opinion of the values represented in the Maidan, and spoke of the unifying effect that these events exerted on all their participants. He also showed two short but unforgettable videos of the recent fighting in and around Independence Square in Kyiv.

Dr. Nadiya Kravets, a graduate of the University of Oxford and currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Davis Center at Harvard, focused attention on the domestic policy of the Yanukovych regime and the enormous tasks facing the new Ukrainian government.

The next speaker, Jarek Domański, is a specialist in international affairs who has worked at the Directorate General of External Relations of the European Commission in Brussels. He served as a political officer in the European Union's delegation to Ukraine and currently is a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He shared his insights into the state of European Union-Ukrainian relations, the challenges both sides are facing, and the geopolitical implications of Ukraine's eventual accession to the EU.

Thomas W. Simons, Jr., is a visiting scholar at Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and a veteran American diplomat, whose thirty-five-year career has included service in Warsaw, Moscow, and Budapest. Dr. Simons offered his view of the events unfolding in Kyiv and his perspective on the Ukrainian position vis-à-vis the US, the EU, and Russia.

The last speaker, Timothy J. Colton, is the Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies and the chair of the Department of Government at Harvard University. Prof. Colton, a renowned expert on contemporary Russia, discussed the Russian attitude toward the Euromaidan and a number of possible scenarios, given the volatile situation in Ukraine and the looming possibility of an economic and financial meltdown.

This roundtable discussion was unique in that neither the speakers nor the audience claimed to have a final say on the matter. However, there was a consensus that it would ultimately be up to the Ukrainian people to choose the right path for their country.

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