Europe has learnt some important lessons. Sadly, the people of Ukraine are paying for this education. The first lesson is that dealing with corrupt, thuggish elites requires toughness and clarity. The EU approached Viktor Yanukovych as if he was a sincere and patriotic leader, who needed some help in bringing his country towards its natural European destiny. This approach worked fine with the governments of the Baltic states and Central Europe, who desperately wanted to join the EU, but needed a road map to follow. It did not work well with the Yanukovych clan, who want money and power above all.
The second lesson is that whether Europe likes it or not, it is engaged in geopolitical competition with the Kremlin. Even on the eve of the Vilnius summit, some European leaders and officials were still under the mistaken belief that if only they could communicate the nature of the Eastern Partnership to the Russian leadershiop, all would be well. What I hope Europe has now understood is that the Kremlin does not want “win-win” outcomes. It prefers win-lose ones. Russia wants a geopolitical hinterland of countries that are economically weak and politically pliable. The Eastern Partnership would make them economically strong and politically secure. Therefore it must be resisted.
The EU must now do everything it can to help the Ukrainian people integrate with Europe, bypassing the gangster regime around Mr Yanukovych. Easier visas, scholarships, trade facilitation, cultural outreach and cooperation with friendly municipalities all require political willpower and creativity. But they are all possible. What a shame they didn’t do it earlier.