Ukraine's Maidan Revolution: Five Years Later

We're now five years on from the mass protests on the Maidan, Kiev's central square, where Ukrainians with widely diverging values and visions of their country's future braved bullets to oust then-President Viktor Yanukovych, Moscow's man in Kiev. My friend and fellow Signal author Alex Kliment was in Kiev at the time, and you can see some of the photos he took here.


During weeks of demonstrations, more than 100 were killed and 2,500 injured in clashes with police. Yanukovych then fled to Moscow under cover of darkness, and Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Crimea. A continuing Kremlin-backed insurrection in two of Ukraine's eastern provinces has killed more than 10,000 people.

Five years later, what is the lasting impact of Maidan, known widely in Ukraine as the "Revolution of Dignity?" Putin's military response to the demonstrations prevented an imminent move by Ukraine to more deeply integrate with European institutions. But Russian military aggression also made enemies of millions of Ukrainians, many of whom were ambivalent about their country's centuries-old relationship with Russia before Putin's land-grab in Crimea and the Russian-fueled separatist uprisings in the east.

Yet, despite European sympathy with the country's isolation, Ukraine's many internal problems have allowed little progress toward possible membership in the European Union. With an election approaching next month, political infighting, corruption, and public cynicism run deep. The low-level conflict with Russia continues.

A poll conducted in December suggests a sharp division of opinion on what the Maidan protests were all about. In the survey, 52 percent of respondents said they have a positive view of the protests. Some 47 percent said demonstrators were angered by Yanukovych's bid to block Ukraine's integration into Europe, and 35 percent called it an opposition-led coup.

Finally, according to Amnesty International, justice for those killed in the Maidan by police and government snipers has not come. The rights group says 288 individuals have been charged and gone to court. Just 52 cases have produced a verdict. Of 48 convictions, just nine people have been sentenced—and not one of those imprisoned is a former police officer.

This is an election year in Ukraine, and voters will be looking for presidential and parliamentary candidates who can move the country beyond its chronic problems and current stalemate with Russia. Each candidate will face the question of how best to explain the lessons of Maidan and their importance for Ukraine's future.

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As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.