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Keeping Europe’s Eastern Promise

KYIV – For many years, the European Union’s eastward expansion seemed unstoppable. But with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin appears to have succeeded in ordering a halt to Europe’s efforts to extend democracy, the rule of law, and open markets throughout the continent.

The EU must not kowtow to his demands. Ukraine’s fate has become Europe’s fate. Indeed, Putin not only wants to stop European political, civic, and social norms from taking root within Ukraine; he wants to roll them back in the Baltics, the Balkans, and anywhere else in Europe made politically brittle by economic crisis and/or demagogic populism.

The EU Eastern Partnership summit in Riga can and must demonstrate Europe’s determination to defend its unity, security, and values in the face of Russian aggression. And it must do so in concrete ways, not simply with quickly forgotten official communiqués for which the Kremlin and its Ukrainian separatist proxies have only contempt.

Of paramount importance is to make the new policy a true partnership among peoples. The citizens of the partner countries must become the real beneficiaries if this partnership is to become more than the inert agreement that it has been. Generous EU commitments on mobility, aid to SMEs and entrepreneurs, and a vast increase in educational opportunities are among the key ingredients that could make such a partnership politically popular for a vast majority.