The four biggest misconceptions about Ukraine’s protests

Protesters and police clash in Kiev, Ukraine. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Protesters and police clash in Kiev, Ukraine. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of protesters have gathered in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, where they are calling for President Viktor Yanukovich to resign after he rejected a deal for closer integration with the European Union. The crisis has to do with Ukraine's geopolitics – will it lean toward Europe or toward Russia? – as well as its troubled transition to democracy. Colleague Kathy Lally has a nice Q-and-A explainer on the protests.

As you read and hear more on Ukraine's protests, though, it can be easy to fall into some misconceptions about what's happening there and what it means. Phil Arena, an assistant professor of political science at SUNY Buffalo, warned against some of the most common misconceptions on Twitter. Here are some his tweets, reproduced and explained with Arena's permission.

Misconception #1: Most Ukrainians oppose the government. Many actually support it.

 

 

Misconception #2: The protests are driven by pro-Western, pro-democracy sentiment. They actually have a lot to do with simple economics and what Ukrainians think will be in their best financial interests.

 

 

 

Misconception #3: It's all about politics, ideology and Ukraine's national identity.

 

 

Misconception #4: Ukrainian politics are divided between pro-Europe and pro-Russia factions. Arena points to the 2010 conviction of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a rival of current-president Yanukovich. They're from opposing parties but both made gestures toward cooperation with Moscow.

 

 

Of course, none of this is to argue that what's happening is all about simple economic interests or that the protesters are politically insignificant. Ukraine's position between Russia and Europe matters a great deal for the crisis, not least because both Russia and the U.S. are trying to pull the country in their direction. Divisions between Ukrainian political parties over how to deal with that geopolitical tug-of-war are also playing a role. But keep Arena's caveats in mind as you read more about what's happening there.

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