Not Another Iron Curtain
The EU urgently needs to tie Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe as close as possible to the bloc and prevent the continent from becoming divided again.
European leaders and the European Union face a stark choice. They can either fully commit to helping complete Ukraine's revolution or collude with Russia into making Ukraine a failed state.
A year since tens of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets in Kiev and ousted the then-president Viktor Yanukovych from power, Ukraine and Eastern Europe remain highly vulnerable, to put it mildly.
Russia's invasion of eastern Ukraine is surely enough for European governments to unequivocally make the choice in favor of supporting Kiev.
That will demand sustained political and economic assistance for Ukraine's government and, particularly, for the Euromaidan movement, which is playing a fundamental role in pushing for accountability, transparency, and reforms.
This immensely important civil society movement is creating a new kind of politics that runs counter to everything Ukraine's oligarchs (and Russia) want. The group needs all the support it can get from European governments and from the EU. This is about building new Ukrainian state institutions. It is about making Ukraine a modern, democratic country.
Helping complete Ukraine's transition will demand staying power. Any transformation of post-Communist societies takes time. That is especially true in Ukraine, whose state institutions were so degraded by Yanukovych that Ukraine was becoming a failed state.
If, instead, Europe opts to collude with Russia - and allows Moscow to assume that the West has only a halfhearted commitment to Ukraine - then European leaders will have to live with the consequences. They will have to live with a new Iron Curtain of their own making.
The result, over time, will be unpredictable instability in the region and the undermining of Europe's security. Furthermore, the EU's credibility and willingness to defend its values and the principles of a Europe free and united will be reduced to naught.
Between the two choices, there is no middle way-even though several European leaders believe they can straddle the two.
The leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary cling to the idea that they can still do business with Russia. It's as if Russia's aggression against Ukraine were an aberration that had no impact on Eastern Europe or on the EU's own security. Indeed, these leaders seem to believe they are immune from Russia's invasion of eastern Ukraine. That is an illusion.
It is also dangerous, as Eduard Hellvig, the incoming chief of Romania's foreign intelligence service and a conservative member of the European Parliament, wrote recently. Hellvig believes those EU countries that pander to Russian President Vladimir Putin are damaging the interests of the EU and NATO. For example, he argued that Hungary "tends to be a threat to European architecture, a Trojan horse increasingly under the influence of Moscow."
Hellvig, who was appointed foreign intelligence chief by Klaus Iohannis, who against all the odds was elected Romania's president in November 2014, also lambasted other EU governments.
The EU cannot afford the "misbehaving of the British or Greek type" or the "double play in the style of Sofia, Rome or Nicosia," he wrote, referring to these countries' ambiguous attitudes toward Russia. Those positions were even more worrying now that countries such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania were "the main targets of the Russian imperialism," Hellvig added.
Hellvig's warnings coincide with similar views expressed over the past few weeks by the British defense secretary and senior NATO commanders. They all have the same message: Russia is a threat to European security.
Yet what they omit from their analysis is how Russia's aggression has made the security of Europe's Eastern neighbors more vulnerable than ever. Poland, Sweden, Lithuania, and now Romania are acutely aware of the region's weak political and security structures, which struggle to withstand Russian pressure.
Over the past few years, these governments have been providing economic, financial, and political assistance to Eastern Europe. Such support is aimed at strengthening state institutions on all levels, combating corruption, and fostering civil society movements. It is also about explaining to the political elites why the countries of Eastern Europe need to transform.
The somber rallies held on February 22 in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities to mark the anniversary of Yanukovych's ouster showed the high cost but also the determination of the Euromaidan movement to make Ukraine's transformation. Europe must help complete that transition and not allow the building of a new Iron Curtain.