EU Should Focus on Kiev

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The war in Georgia has clearly exposed the security vacuum in the surrounding region, as well as a lot of raw nerves. Russia's hasty decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a shot across the bow for every former Soviet country and has intensified speculation about who might be next -- and how to prevent Russia from multiplying the supposed "Kosovo precedent" in other ex-Soviet countries.

Having established itself as the main broker in the conflict, the European Union has many urgent priorities in Georgia itself. But it should also be thinking ahead about how it can demonstrate a stronger commitment to security, democracy and prosperity in the European neighborhood. The most effective way of dealing with a newly assertive Russia will be for Europe to issue a collective refusal to accept a bipolar Europe of distinct Russian and EU spheres of influence.

The place to start is Ukraine. Fortunately, the EU-Ukraine summit on Tuesday in Evian, France, provides the perfect opportunity.

Many Ukrainians now hear domestic echoes of the lead-up to war in Georgia. Ukraine has its own potentially separatist region in Crimea, and the country's Russian minority numbers some 8.3 million, the largest minority in Europe. Half of Ukraine's population is Russian-speaking in various degrees. Although the Ukrainian Constitution bans dual citizenship, the government has had to launch an inquiry into alleged covert Russian passport-holding in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Ukrainians note that Russia justified its invasion of Georgia, as the Nazis justified their dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, as being necessary to "protect" a minority to whom they had just given citizenship.

Russia has begun a war of words over Ukraine's supply of arms to Georgia. And the conflict itself has shown that the Black Sea Fleet, based in Sevastopol, can operate with impunity, whether Ukraine likes it or not.

Based on its analysis of Ukraine's Orange Revolution as a foreign-backed "NGO revolution," Russia has also been quietly building its own network of Russia-friendly nongovernmental organizations in Ukraine since 2004. Ukrainians also talk of a "kickback economy," in which Russian money percolates throughout the Ukrainian elite.

The European Neighborhood Policy is worthy enough, but it does not address the pressing concerns about maintaining and securing Ukraine's independence. Many member states will worry about leaping straight to the contentious issue of ultimate membership for Ukraine, but the EU already recognizes Ukraine's theoretical right to join once it has met the Copenhagen criteria; and it cannot be beyond EU leaders' verbal dexterity to play up the prospect. What Ukraine would value most is a real sense that it is being treated distinctly. The key words are "association" and "partnership," in whatever order or combination.

The EU has more scope for short-term measures and should develop a multidimensional solidarity strategy as a signal to both Ukraine and Russia. For example, the EU's foreign ministers should invite their Ukrainian counterpart to give a briefing on Ukraine-Russia relations at their next meeting. Ukraine should be offered a road map for visa-free travel. The new EU-Ukraine agreement should include a beefed-up solidarity clause, building on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, whereby the EU would consult and assist Ukraine in case of challenges to its territorial integrity and sovereignty. And the EU should back Ukraine if it insists that the Black Sea Fleet leaves on schedule in 2017.

The EU should also launch a comprehensive study of all aspects of Europe's reliance on Russian energy supplies, including transit, energy security and conservation, supply diversification, and the impact of "bypass" pipelines like Nord Stream and South Stream. It should consider linking the opening of the Nord Stream pipeline, which would allow Russia to cut off gas to Poland and Ukraine while maintaining deliveries to Germany, to the opening of the White Stream pipeline, proposed to bring gas from Azerbaijan directly to Ukraine via Georgia, bypassing Russia.

Ukraine faces a crucial presidential election in 2009 or 2010. After getting its fingers badly burned at the last election in 2004, Russia is clearly tempted to intervene again. The "Russian factor" will strongly influence the campaign. Greater Western engagement is needed to ensure that the "Europe factor" is equally prominent.

Andrew Wilson is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. © Project Syndicate