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Bernd Johann
Image: DW/P. Henriksen

Friends in need

Bernd Johann / mll
March 20, 2014

The new beginning in Ukraine needs the full support of the EU. Europe must live up to its responsibility - DW's Bernd Johann says it's about standing up for European values.


The EU keeps its promises. It's prepared to enter into a close partnership with Ukraine. Just a few days after Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, the EU and Ukraine are to sign the political part of a long-planned association agreement. Both sides confirm thereby that they are not prepared to give way to economic, political or even military pressure on the part of Russia.

The brute force deployed by Russia in Crimea shows that Ukraine is facing a serious threat. As never before, it needs the support and solidarity of all the countries of the European Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin does not consider Ukraine to be a sovereign nation, he shows no respect for its borders and refuses to recognize its government. He sees Ukraine, Russia's western neighbor, merely as part of Russia's sphere of influence. Neither Europe nor Ukraine can accept that: with such a policy, Russia not only endangers Europe's political structure, it also endangers its peace.

Ukrainians place their hopes on Europe

Europe has to accept its responsibility in this situation - and the people of Ukraine are expecting them to do so. Hundreds of thousands of people went out on to the streets because former President Viktor Yanukovych wanted to block his country's orientation towards the West. The protest movement led to the fall of his corrupt clique, but it was also a demonstration in favor of European values. The EU should not forget that.

Ukraine's political new beginning is taking place under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. The previous government left the country in a desolate economic situation. The months of power struggle and the revolution which followed have thrown Ukraine into a state of massive uncertainty. Russia is exploiting that to push foward the division of the country.

The new government is overwhelmed by the challenges it faces, but it's responding in a level-headed manner. It's accepted the fact that Russia has absorbed Crimea - it doesn't want a war with Russia and is doing everything to avoid escalation. It deserves respect for that.

Coalition of necessity in Kyiv

The government is a political coalition of necessity made up of highly disparate groups. It enjoys a broad democratic legitimation through the parliament. Radical right-wing politicians who are still in the government must be pushed out, but that can only happen in an election. That's one reason why Europe can't leave Ukraine in the lurch - it has to help ensure that this election is free and fair.

The political association with Ukraine will help give a firm footing to basic European values like democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ukraine doesn't just have to deal with the period of the criminal Yanukovych regime; it must also face the consequences of 70 years of communism and periods of fascism. The experience of other European countries may well come in useful here.

Thorough reform is needed

The important economic part of the association agreement - the planned free trade area - has so far been left to one side by both Brussels and Kyiv. Both want to avoid the danger that such a move could have a negative effect on trade between Ukraine and Russia. But at the same time, there's a need to clarify how the Ukrainian economy could be stabilized if it came to Russian sanctions. They can't be excluded. Above all, in the long term, Ukraine has to become less dependent on Russian energy.

In the short term, though, Ukraine needs massive support from Europe. An aid program worth 11 billion euros ($15 billion) has been agreed in Brussels, of which 1.6 billion will be made available immediately to prevent the country from going bankrupt. The EU also plans to lower tariffs on Ukrainian imports.

But all this aid will only help if Ukraine carries out much-needed political and economic reforms. With the new beginning in Kyiv, now is the time for a thorough reconstruction of the country. But, to do that, Ukraine needs the EU as a strong partner at its side.

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