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14.12.2013

Europe should be happy: Ukraine wants in 23

17:20, By Joerg Forbrig, The New York Times — Politics

Europe should be happy: Ukraine wants in

Europeans should be deeply grateful to Ukraine.

What makes hundreds of thousands of citizens withstand freeze and force alike is not a plea for help; it is their confident demand for self-determination, lawfulness, prosperity and peace. Ukrainians commitment to these most basic values is a powerful reminder of what European Union integration once set out to achieve, and how much is still to be done. If it is ever to live up to its self-declared ambitions, Europe must succeed in Ukraine.

First of all, the impressive "Euromaidan" movement signals that Europe is still an attractive model of development. To be sure, Ukrainians are not naïve about the benefits of association, they are aware of the crisis in the euro zone, and they have registered the E.U.'s lukewarm attitude toward them. Still, a majority views the path to Europe as the only way out of the post-Soviet slump, its cleptocracy and corruption, stalemate and semi-authoritarianism.

This desire among Ukrainians should improve the E.U.s damaged self-confidence. This is an opportunity to resurrect Europes much-touted soft power. The ability to nudge and assist countries to political, economic and social reform resulted, with the Eastward enlargement, in one of the E.U.s greatest ever achievements. It is now time to ready the same generous and comprehensive support for change to Ukraine, coupled with an explicit perspective of E.U. membership once the country has sufficiently transformed.

Secondly, Ukraines (and Europes) success or failure will determine the fate of the entire Eastern neighborhood of the E.U. If Ukraine, as the largest neighbor by far, moves toward democracy, rule of law, a market economy and European integration, this will reverse a trend that has seen much of the post-Soviet space sink into autocracy, oligarchy and dependency on Russia. The future of budding democracies, such as Georgia and Moldova (and outright dictatorships, such as Belarus), hinges on the direction Ukraine takes today.

Finally and whether it likes it or not, the E.U. is being drawn into geopolitical competition with Russia. Under returnee-president Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin pursues Russian hegemony over the post-Soviet space, a strategy that rises and falls with Ukraine. If Europe takes to appeasement rather than shielding Ukraine and other neighbors from Moscows bullying, it will only embolden a domestically autocratic and internationally aggressive Russia.

In all these respects, Europe finds itself at an impasse no less than Ukraine does. The courage of Ukrainians has handed the E.U. an opportunity to shape the future of its Eastern neighborhood and with it, of the entire European project. It owes it to Ukraine to make sure this opportunity is not squandered.

Joerg Forbrigis a policy analyst at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Berlin and the author of Reclaiming Democracy: Civil Society and Electoral Change in Central and Eastern Europe.

The New York Times

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