Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Fareed Zakaria
Last year seemed in many ways to be the year of Vladimir Putin. The Russian president had consolidated power in his country, crushed any possible opposition, kept his ally in Syria from being toppled and brokered a deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons.
This year was also going pretty well for Putin. The Sochi Olympics was not the disaster many had suggested it might be and, above all, Putin had maintained Russia's historic relationship with Ukraine, outmaneuvering the European Union, which had made Ukraine a complicated and conditional offer that Ukraine's president turned down in return for cold Russian cash.
That's what it had looked like until just a few days ago. But now, on the central issue of Ukraine, Russia does not look so triumphant.
Ukraine's President Yanukovych, who is now its former president, overplayed his hand. Putin assumed that force would solve the problem and disperse the protests. Western observers were despairing and assigning blame for all that had happened from Washington to the European Union.
And then things started to change. President Yanukovych and the opposition made a deal, brokered by the Europeans, calling for a coalition government, national elections and a new constitution. But even that was not enough for the protesters, who have managed to achieve change much faster, ousting the president and beginning the process of transformation right away. In this long and complex situation, it is the people on the street who have shown determination, courage and persistence.
Now, one has to be cautious; everything we know about these kinds of revolutions is that this is the thrilling moment that is often followed by turmoil, tension, violence and chaos. Destroying the old order is a lot easier than building a new one.
This is going to be particularly true in Ukraine, which is riddled with corruption and, in many ways, is on the brink of economic collapse. The opposition will have to act with wisdom and include those whom it despises, including the supporters of former President Yanukovych.
And Russia will not allow Ukraine to slip completely from its grasp. One of its main fleets is based in the Black Sea in Ukraine. Russian pipelines crisscross the country, carrying natural gas to Europe. Russia will demand a say in what happens there as it has for 300 years. That's why the Ukrainian opposition turned government needs to approach things with caution and a sense of national unity.
But Russia, too, will have to be careful – as the last few weeks have shown, it has created a deep sense of opposition among tens of millions of people in Ukraine, and their hostility to Russian domination might well grow.
For now at least, let's just marvel at the spirit of the Ukrainian people, let's keep our fingers crossed for their future and let's note that 2014 is not looking quite as good for Vladimir Putin as it did a week ago.