With popular protests shaking governments from Bangkok to Kiev, after previously having toppled regimes from Cairo to Tunis, it is a wonder that anyone bothers with guerrilla or terrorist tactics to seize power. Insurgent campaigns are much less successful than popular uprisings. The reason why they are not more widespread, of course, is that guerrillas often do not champion a particularly popular cause. The Taliban, for instance, have no hope of bringing millions, or even thousands, of people out into the streets of Kabul to demand a reimposition of their tyrannical rule. They can only aspire to power by the gun.
The problem that all anti-government movements confront–whether they employ violence or peaceful protests–is what to do if the government actually falls and they manage to seize power.
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood already flunked the test of governance and odds are the military, which displaced the Brotherhood with popular support, will fare little better once the subsidies from the Gulf countries run out. In Ukraine, the Orange movement which toppled Viktor Yanukovych in 2004 had equally little success in jump-starting a moribund economy or eliminating rampant corruption. The result: Yanukovych managed to stage a come back and win a democratic election.
But for Yanukovych, old authoritarian habits die hard. He jailed his political adversary Yulia Tymoshenko and cozied up to Moscow. His rejection of an association agreement with the European Union, which would have benefitted Ukraine economically, was widely seen to have been done under pressure from Vladimir Putin. But while this was a momentary victory for Putin and Yanukovych, it has spurred massive resistance in Kiev that recalls the Orange Revolution. The results are unpredictable and could range from a bloodbath among the demonstrators to the toppling of Yanukovych (again!) or, more likely, some kind of muddled compromise that would allow him to serve out his remaining 16 months in office.
The West has a clear stake in blocking Yanukovych’s attempt to cozy up to Moscow. Secretary of State John Kerry is right to skip an international meeting in Ukraine and instead head to Moldova, another embattled state in Eastern Europe that is resisting Russian pressure. EU ministers should follow suit. But whatever happens with the current crisis in Ukraine, its intractable political and economic and social problems will remain intact. That is why it is so important for Ukraine to affiliate with the EU, which will open up a brighter economic future long-term along with more political transparency. But EU affiliation is no panacea and whoever rules in Kiev will have to make tough political choices, which so far have not been forthcoming from either side.