But whether the EU likes it or not, that is precisely what has
come to pass and the future of Ukraine — its 46 million people and
its faltering economy — hangs in the balance.
In a speech to a security conference in Munich last weekend,
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy laid out the nature of
the struggle in simple terms.
The EU, he said, had offered Ukraine a free trade and association
agreement to help it build bridges with its neighbors to the west.
That offer still stood, as long as the conditions agreed between
Kiev and Brussels were met.
"Some people think Europeans are naive, that we prefer carrots to
sticks," Van Rompuy told the conference, whose delegates included
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a leader of Ukraine's
"Now I am not saying that we cannot sometimes play our hand more
strongly. But surely it is a bad idea to let foul play undercut the
very values that constitute our power of attraction in the first
place — a power of attraction that brought down the Berlin Wall," he
"Our biggest carrot is our way of life; our biggest stick: a closed
The targets of Van Rompuy's words, without being named, were
Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich,
who sparked the crisis by abruptly turning his back on an EU free
trade deal and throwing his lot in with Moscow.
Yanukovich's security forces have cracked down on pro-EU
demonstrators — at least five protesters have been killed — while
Russia has enticed Kiev away from the EU with the promise of $15
billion in cheap loans and cut-price gas.
Some diplomats expected the EU to wash its hands and walk away. It
cannot match Russia's inducements on either the financial or
energy-security front. Instead, it appears to be playing a long
After EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was quoted as saying
Brussels and Washington were working on assistance for Kiev, EU
officials were quick to say there was no new plan apart from the
promise of financial help that Brussels had held out if it signed
the trade agreement.
Even without the impact of the last four years of financial crisis,
EU leaders are not about to open their coffers and disburse huge
sums to Ukraine. It was hard enough to do so for Greece, Portugal
[to top of second column]
And, dependent on Russian energy themselves, EU member states cannot
hope to provide Kiev with the gas it needs, especially as much of it
flows to them via Ukraine.
What Europe has to offer is more conceptual: rule of law, democratic
accountability, civil liberties and long-term trade and investment,
as long as certain objectives are met.
Next to the sugar rush of money and cheap gas, it may not seem
particularly attractive, especially given the costs Ukraine faces if
it is ever to meet EU standards on judicial, industrial and
But as Van Rompuy pointed out, the course of history is not decided
in a matter of weeks or months. The Berlin Wall may have collapsed
almost overnight and the Soviet Union crumbled quickly, but those
moments were years in the making.
"Sometimes in the heat of events, in the stream of declarations and
tweets, we lose sight of the time factor," he told the Munich
"We frantically look at hours and days, forgetting the years and
decades. We lose sight of slow evolutions, of subtle trends. Subtler
than the 'decline of the West' or the 'rise of the Rest'."
Moscow views Ukraine as a heartland of Russian culture and identity,
a country that should never have left the Soviet Union. Russia
remains Ukraine's biggest trading partner.
Putin wants Ukraine to join his Eurasian Union, a new economic and
trade bloc he hopes will some day rival the EU. In that regard, he
sees Brussels' overtures to Kiev as a threat.
In an arm-wrestle with the EU, Russia has the muscle. But in a
long-run contest involving a way of life and integration with the
global economy, the EU hopes it has a persuasive case — and one it
says is not to the detriment of Russia.
"The offer is still there," Van Rompuy said of the agreement
Yanukovich rejected last year. "We know time is on our side. The
future of Ukraine belongs with the European Union."
(Editing by Mike Peacock)
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