STOCKHOLM – How Ukraine’s profound crisis will end is impossible to predict. We in the European Union and the United States are doing what we can to secure a peaceful transition to a more stable democracy, and the implementation, at long last, of urgently needed reforms. And the agreement now concluded between President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition should create a new possibility for this.
If the agreement is not honored, Ukraine could well continue its descent into chaos and conflict, which would be in no one’s interest. That is why Ukraine’s crisis is a European crisis. And, though we cannot know how the crisis will end, we should be very clear about how it started.
For years, Ukraine sought a closer relationship with the EU. Its leaders warmly endorsed the promise of enhanced ties under the EU’s Eastern Partnership, and pushed for an EU Association Agreement, together with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. When those talks, which began under the previous Ukrainian government, were concluded, the agreement was endorsed by all four presidents and all 14 prime ministers to hold office since Ukraine achieved independence in 1991.
But, as the EU and Ukraine were addressing remaining issues ahead of the November 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, where Ukraine was to sign its Association Agreement, something suddenly changed. From August onward, Russian policymakers embraced the openly declared aim of knocking Ukraine off the course that it had chosen. A political campaign against the agreement was launched, and the Kremlin mixed targeted sanctions with threats of harsher measures against the already-weak Ukrainian economy.