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What's Happening in Ukraine? Steven Pifer Explains

People supporting EU integration attend a rally in Kiev, Ukraine, December 2, 2013.

Ukraine is experiencing its largest anti-government demonstrations since the Orange Revolution in 2004. Hundreds of thousands of protestors are voicing their anger at President Viktor Yanukovych's decision in late November not to sign an agreement with the European Union that would bring Ukraine closer to the EU, and also at the authorities' use of force against demonstrators on November 30.

Steven Pifer, a Brookings senior fellow and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, explained to PBS's Judy Woodruff what is happening in Ukraine and what the prospects are for Yanukovych to change course.

"I think Mr. Yanukovych," said Pifer, "certainly wanted to sign the agreement.

And there were reports that some of his advisers were saying, if you sign this agreement, you could then campaign for reelection in 2015 as the man who brought Ukraine into Europe. I'm not sure he understood what all of the implementation would require, but that was sort of a longer-term consideration, and he tends to think short-term.

Pifer explained why moving toward the EU is so important for so many Ukrainians:

Europe has a lot of attraction for Ukrainians. Polls show more than 50 percent of the Ukrainian population now would like to get closer to Europe. And it's because of the living standards, but it's also because of rule of law. For a country where there is corruption, where crony politics, they would like to have a more normal democratic system, and that is the attraction of Europe.

Get the full interview here or watch below:

Pifer also told NPR's Robert Siegel that "Russia was pleased to see Ukraine basically pause in its push towards Europe." He continued:

But the Russians didn't get the big prize because the Ukrainians, for the last 10 days, have also been consistently saying they will not join the Moscow-led customs union. Russia would like to bring Ukraine back into its area of influence. And for many Ukrainians, and I even think for President Yanukovych, that's not where they want to go.

Pifer also has written in The Guardian that Europe's foreign ministers should boycott this week's OSCE meeting in Kyiv, "to underscore that Ukraine's government must observe OSCE's human rights norms, including the right to demonstrate peacefully."


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