Ukraine is at a crossroads. The largest and the most pro-European nation in the Eastern Partnership could achieve associated partnership with the EU and the dream of millions of genuine Europeans in Ukraine could come true.
Yet the same applies to the EU which also finds itself at a crossroads. If we miss this opportunity to have a true ally, a faithful friend, and a would-be full-fledged member of the EU close to Russia, we could lose an historic chance to change the entire political architecture of Eastern Europe. In doing so, we would risk missing a chance to turn the last page of 20th-century history which found Eastern European nations with their dramas and despair isolated from the rest of the continent.
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Conversely, if the EU allows a fast track for Ukraine with the latter's flaws and problems, like selective justice and endemic corruption, a precedent will be set tempting the EU to turn a blind eye to any future, potential member's shortcomings. Lowering standards and seeking easy and tempting catches at the expense of principles and political ethics might be seen as suicidal for the EU whose principal strength lies in diplomacy, soft power, and firm dedication to human rights, civil liberties, human dignity, and all modern sensibilities in general.
To cut a convoluted story short, Ukraine is a litmus test for the EU making a difficult choice between Realpolitik and European values. The eventual accession of Ukraine to the EU would be a turning point in world politics or even in world history. As Andrei Piontkovsky insisted for a long time, this would deal a mortal blow to the Putin regime signifying the end of Byzantine Russia. Such a turn would inevitably force Russia to embrace European politics and to abandon its ambition to restore an empire, as Russia cannot be one without Ukraine.
However, the big geopolitical game and the security of neighbouring countries are not the only issues here. (With no exaggeration, Ukraine’s accession would be as critically important to the national interests of the Baltic States and Poland as was their own accession to the EU and NATO.) With its unquestionable political and cultural presence in Eastern and Central European history, along with a fundamental legacy which is pivotal for Russian identity and culture, Ukraine itself would become a symbol of the final unification of Europe.
I’ve heard critical and rather skeptical remarks by some Western European and American commentators on the need for Ukraine to build its modern European identity and to make up its mind about whether Europe is Ukraine’s top priority.
What can I say to this? I had enough when Lithuania was mockingly counted among "quasi-European countries where Europe ends". Time flies, and one has to be foolish today to categorize Estonia as a country bearing any real resemblance to Albania or Macedonia, or to describe Lithuania as inferior to Bulgaria, Romania, or even Cyprus.
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On that same note of skepticism, with regard to modern moral and political sensibilities: Can we in the EU claim that Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, or even France, have not had their share of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, racism (especially, anti-Roma sentiments) or homophobia in Europe? No-one is perfect.
Is Hungary spotless with its profound constitutional and political crisis which increasingly appears to be bidding farewell to liberal democracy? Is Romania faultless with its political crooks in power that plagiarize their doctoral dissertations and poke fun at Romanian intellectuals via a private TV channel owned by a documented informer of the Securitate political police in Ceausescu’s Romania?
Was Sarkozy’s France with its deportations of Roma on charges of the spread of crime a model for Ukraine? Or Holland with Geert Wilders’ incredible suggestion to report on Polish and other Eastern European families if they happen to celebrate their feasts too loudly and indiscreetly?
Or is my own country, Lithuania, flawless with its outbreak of homophobia which has led to some noisy and regrettable figures in parliament attempting to pass a bill to protect minors from the detrimental effects of public information (put simply, this was nothing other than a homophobic law)? We raised our voices against this folly; we did not remain silent on this front. Given this fact, what makes us think that Ukrainian journalists, defenders of human rights, and public intellectuals would not do the same?
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Is Ukraine likely to become an asset or a liability for the EU? I say it will be nothing but an asset and a success story – a thousand times I say yes. Ukraine's joining the EU would dramatically and irreversibly change the political landscape of Europe. It would end the division of Europe and close the saga of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. It would put a well-situated, diverse, rich, and talented nation in the club of European democracies. Last but not least, the EU would substantially invigorate its historic and political narrative, sending a message to the world that big and powerful nations choose democracy.
Ukraine is at a crossroads, and so is the EU.