The president of the Ukraine is a guy named Vitor Yanukovich. When he got elected, he promised closer relations with the EU, even though his party, a party called the Party of Regions, has a reputation as being pro-Russian. A lot of Ukrainians support joining the EU, both because they believe it’ll help their economy, and because they’re worried about Russia, and see this as a counterbalance. So, he got elected in 2010, on a platform of closer ties to the EU and reducing corruption, even though there were a lot of irregularities in voting.
Jump ahead to 2012, when the EU and the Ukraine, as part of the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy, agreed to a framework for a free trade zone, but said that before it could happen, Ukraine would have to pass a bunch of reforms, including setting free some political prisoners (including a former Prime Minister), passing electoral and judicial reform, and a bunch of other things. So, through 2012, and 2013, the Ukrainian parliament went forward, and made some legislative changes. While this was going on, Yanukovich was also negotiating with Russia and Belarus for a customs union, which left the EU negotiators confused. Meanwhile, Russia started getting kind of threatening, banning some Ukrainian products from import “for health and safety reasons”, being more stringent on customs inspections, and warning Ukraine that association with the EU would be “destabilizing”, that Russia could “no longer protect” the country in that case, and that Russia would hate to have to send troops in at the request of pro-Russian Ukrainians…not that this is a threat…they’re just saying.
So, jump ahead to November of 2013. The Ukranian Parliament was ready to pass laws allowing the imprisoned former Prime Minister, who’s sick, to travel to get medical treatment, which was one of the EU requirements, and the EU’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnus, Lithuania was going to be held, where the treaty would be signed.
Suddenly, the Parliament didn’t pass the laws and the government announced they wouldn’t be going to the Eastern Partnership summit. Protests broke out, really big ones. The Ukrainian government made a statement that they had canceled because of Russian concerns and because the deal was a bad one for the Ukraine. Protests, largely peaceful, continued.
In December, the Russian government announced that it was buying $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds, and it was going to reduce the cost of natural gas exports to the Ukraine. They said that there hadn’t been any talks yet about a customs union, but that they were still open to the possibility. The Ukrainian government was non-committal, but expressed hopes that they could have some relationship with the EU. Protests continued. The protesters, led by the opposition party, demanded the President resign, the government sign the EU agreement, political prisoners be freed, and the constitution be changed…
On January 16, the Ukrainian parliament passed anti-protest laws, making it illegal to block streets or buildings, cause traffic jams, gathering and revealing information about the police, wearing masks, defamation or criticism of government officials, and “extremist activity”, and got rid of Parliamentary immunity.
A few days later, the police charged the crowd, and what started as a protest turned into rioting.