Chris Murphy witnessed history in the making last December in the central square in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Sunday he praised the direction of the uprising’s success there—while sounding notes of caution.
He called “the next 48 hours” crucial in determining whether the popular ouster Saturday of Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych from office will translate into “a government that truly represents the interests of the people in the square.”
Murphy, Connecticut’s junior U.S. senator, was in that square—Independence Square—in Kiev along with fellow U.S. Sen. John McCain as the popular uprising gained force last fall, spurred by Yanukovych’s decision to redouble ties to Russia rather than sign political and trade accords with Europe. Murphy addressed hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters in the square. He told them the U.S. supported their cause.
Over the past week the protests turned violent, as Yanukovych’s police fired on protesters, who fought back. Eighty-two people died. After that the protests swelled, leading Yankuovych to flee (though not abdicating his presidency) and lawmakers to create a new transitional government.
Murphy was in New Haven’s Westville neighborhood helping a fellow Democrat, Gary Holder-Winfield (at left in photo), knock on doors. They spoke with voters about an upcoming special election here in New Haven Tuesday, in which Holder-Winfield is running for state senator.
In between houses, Murphy discussed his take on the latest developments in Ukraine, which have held people around the world riveted—and a bit uneasy about what comes next.
Some key points of Murphy’s take:
• The popular description of a divided Ukraine—between a pro-Europe west and a pro-Russia east—is “oversimplified. There were people in that square from every part of Ukraine.”
• While supporting the overthrow of Yanukovych, “we have to walk a fine line here. Yanukovych was democratically elected. We should not be in the business” of supporting violent overthrows of democratically elected governments. “But Yanukovych lost his right to govern by corruption and violence against protesters.”
• “We shouldn’t be naive about Russia’s intent. They will do everything in their power to make sure the whole of Ukraine doesn’t align with the West. They are running out of tools.” At the same time, “I can’t imagine Russia would use military force. ... I can’t even imagine the descent into madness that would occur if Russian marched into Ukraine.”
• The fate of former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko will play an important role in the course of events. Yanukovych jailed the former opponent after he took office; she became a symbol for the resistance, an example of his corruption. But she also has been out of the picture until she was suddenly released from custody Saturday and landed in the front of the cheering crowds in Independence Square. “A real question is how Tymoshenko gets reintegrated in the opposition. She has never left the consciousness of the country.”
• Yes, as has been reported, violent nationalist right-wing protesters led the charge in the protest’s final days. But, despite fears that they will determine the course of the new government, “the right-wing elements get a lot more attention than they deserve. They are a fringe element of the movement. The protest movement has been defined by peaceful [demonstrators] who want affiliation with Europe and freedom from corruption. ... The violence in the square was started by the violent actions by the Yanukovych forces. He misplayed this at every step.”