Viktor Yanukovych clearly did not think he was about to end his term of office as Ukraine’s president when he turned down an association agreement offered by the European Union. He went to the signing summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in November 2013; he just didn’t sign – even though he said keeping the door open to Europe was Ukraine’s strategic goal.
Instead, he signed a commitment with Moscow, when President Vladimir Putin offered him cut-price gas and a multi-billion-euro airbag for a Ukrainian economy rolling on seriously loose wheels.
For Yanukovych, it was like being welcomed back into the bosom of the past, as his political upbringing had been close to Russia.
In 2004, the former governor of Donetsk, a Russian-speaking region in the east of Ukraine, and at that time prime minister in the government of President Leonid Kutchma launched his quest for the presidency itself, supported by the Party of Regions.
His adversary was the pro-European liberal Viktor Yushchenko. It was a drawn-out flop for Yanukovych, thanks to massive accusations of fraud, and in the end Yushchenko was declared victor. That was the Orange Revolution.
But Yushchenko and the other key Orange leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, didn’t hold on to power long.
Yanukovych was elected president in 2010.
His programme was ambiguous, claiming neutrality for Ukraine in security terms but negotiating gradual integration with the EU.
Saying one thing, he did the opposite, but his withdrawal backfired. The Orange Revolution had lasted two months and was bloodless. This time Yanukovych applied force, and slammed up against opposition determination and three months of barricades.
Both sides would shoot to kill. But one side was his regime.
Parliament removed his authority, and he melted from public view on 21 February, protesting he had been driven out by a coup.