Ukrainian President Yanukovych seems to be able to do whatever he wants without fear of consequences from the European Union. This passiveness on the part of the EU has to stop, says DW's Christoph Hasselbach.
Sometimes it's possible to hold the door open too long - and now there is a frosty breeze from Moscow blowing through the door the European Union has kept open to Ukraine.
Nothing shows how much the EU's self-confidence has suffered more clearly than Catherine Ashton's trip to Kyiv. While the EU's high representative was in the Ukrainian capital in an attempt to negotiate a deal between the government and opposition, security forces violently attempted to clear protesters from the public squares where they are demonstrating.
In a statement, Ashton said she observed with "sadness" the measures taken against peaceful people and went on to tell Ukrainian leaders that "I condemn the use of force and violence which cannot be the answer to peaceful demonstrations and I call for utmost restraint." She said she would stay in the city to engage in further talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Mockery of the opposition
The reaction of EU Expansion Commissioner Stefan Füle when Yanukovych announced he would not sign the Association Agreement with the EU was similarly unsuitable. On the same day as the announcement, Füle took a flight to Kyiv in an attempt to change Yanukovych's mind because the EU simply does not want to accept being rebuffed by the Ukrainian president.
Meanwhile, the bloc's high representative for foreign policy is only able to find a few weak words of concern when the government takes violent measures against protesters while she is still in the same city. It seems as if Yanukovych has free rein when it comes to dealing with the European Commission. As well as showing Yanukovych that the EU accepts his maneuvering between Moscow and Brussels, these responses are also a mockery of the opposition.
Yanukovych knows how to play the game
By now, the Ukrainian government understands how to play with the EU. Yanukovych blows off association agreements but then happily meets with EU heads of government and state in November in Vilnius - where the agreement would have been signed - to raise expectations for a new deal.
He said he wants Ukraine to move closer to the West but then adds that Brussels will have to make up for the expected losses in trade with Russia that would result from such a shift. The official word, at least according to Ukraine's NATO ambassador Ihor Dolhov, is that the protesters on Maidan have the same goal as the government - namely approaching Europe. The opposition just hasn't realized it yet.
Meanwhile the bargaining continues: Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said it would take a sum of 20 billion euros ($27.5 billion) for Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Take a minute to imagine the uproar that would come out of Brussels if a country in the western Balkans had tried to issue conditions like that for its association with the EU.
Forcing a decision
Ukraine is, of course, important to the EU not only because of its size and strategic significance for the entire region, but also because it serves as a role model for other former Soviet republics. But the dependence the other way is exponentially greater. And it's also a matter of principle: The EU can't be led around by Yanukovych any longer. The bloc made its conditions clear long ago, and those conditions shouldn't be changed. If the Ukrainian government doesn't want to agree to them, then the EU has to shut the door, at least for now.
Only then would Yanukovych be forced to make a decision, which he wants to avoid and which he has so far been able to avoid thanks to European permissiveness. He will see just how attractive the path to Moscow really is for him when the door to the West is shut. The more likely scenario, however, is that he comes back knocking, cap in hand, at the EU's door - if his political career manages to survive the current wave of protests in Ukraine.