Georgians, Moldovans and Ukrainians are united in their desire to become part of the European Union. Pressure from Russia has only strengthened this feeling and prompted the EU to act, writes DW's Bernd Johann.
Democracy, prosperity and peace: this is what the European Union stands for, even though it is sometimes rocked by financial crises and political conflict. And probably nowhere else is the EU as appealing right now as in Ukraine, where Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to mark out geographically strategic zones in a neo-imperialistic manner. He also doesn't shy away from using military force, which is driving his neighbors into the arms of the EU.
For a long time, the EU maintained an indecisive stance towards countries like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, not providing them with any prospects for EU membership. But since the annexation of Crimea and the start of Russia's mission to aid separatists in eastern Ukraine, Brussels has been signing all sorts of association and free trade agreements with the three ex-Soviet republics. Russia's behavior has triggered a sense of solidarity in the EU that could transform Europe.
EU offers support
While Moscow continues to threaten and intimidate, the EU is acting responsibly. It has already reacted to Russian provocations with sanctions and does not exclude the possibility of further penalties. At the same time, it is offering Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine political and economic support. These countries aim to adopt European standards and need to push through reforms to achieve this. This isn't going to be easy, as the three nations require large-scale reforms and are politically and economically unstable.
All this already makes Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine difficult partners. Brussels will need to give them a major leg-up, both politically and financially. But the countries will need to solve their structural problems themselves, with only a bit of help from the EU. Legal clarity, anti-corruption measures and economic modernization are the key to achieving European standards. Only then, will mutually beneficial economic successes be possible.
Democracy instead of authoritarianism
The relationship with Russia will remain tense, though. Putin has been trying his best to intercept Georgia's, Moldova's and Ukraine's path towards Europe. His Eurasian Union is his version of the European Union, reflecting his desire to create stronger bonds between Russia and authoritarian states like Belarus and Kazakhstan in order to isolate his political system from European freedom and democracy. The model is neither politically nor economically appealing, but this is Moscow's way of creating political and ideological divisions that could split Europe into two camps again, more than 20 years after the Cold War.
Just like Georgia and Moldova, Ukraine has also been resisting Russian pressure. The people of these three countries want democracy and prosperity, as well as an end to Moscow's political paternalism. Taking big risks to achieve this has been a brave decision. After all, they pay a high price for getting closer to Europe. The Russian-steered conflict in eastern Ukraine threatens the country's unity, while Georgia has had problems with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Moldova with Transnistria and Gagauzia.
In all these countries Russia has been supporting separatist activity, putting extra obstacles in the path towards the future. Europe's new associated partners are making an effort to escape the Russian grip - but they will also get help from the EU. In this way, Europe is defending its democracy, its prosperity and peace.