What is at Stake in Ukraine
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its efforts to destabilize the transitional government in Kyiv have reframed the relationship between Europe and Russia in Europe’s eastern neighborhood from an uneasy geopolitical balancing into full-on systemic conflict. The competition over Ukraine also puts the rest of the eastern neighborhood at significant risk. The EU together with the United States must now do what it takes to protect Ukraine’s right to choose its future path. The Europeans will have to pay a price for Ukraine’s transformation, and some EU member states will be more vulnerable than others to pressure from Russia. But the cost of not countering Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine would be even higher. Germany will be a key player, given its economic and political power in the EU, its geographical location, and its special ties with Russia.
The immediate task is to stabilize the transition in Ukraine. This will mean incentives and support for Ukraine; effective, targeted sanctions against Russia; and protection for vulnerable states in the neighborhood and in the EU. For the medium-to-long term, the West should prepare for two possible scenarios for its relationship with Russia: a de-escalation scenario, and a “Cold War II.” In both cases, the EU should overhaul its Eastern Partnership policy, providing much stronger political and economic backing for democratic transformation and association with the West. In the latter scenario, the EU should reduce its own vulnerability to Russian action and increase its capacity to project soft and hard power in the region. The external threat has the potential to give decisive momentum to European integration, e.g. in the areas of energy and defense.