To be sure, even these ultra-nationalist Russians might recognise that military confrontation with Ukraine, over Crimea for example, would be pointless. Yet, they and their ilk would derive domestic political benefit from escalating tension in eastern and southern Ukraine, a subsequent military intervention by Russia, and the resulting massive confrontation with the West.

The logic of internal political competition between the ideological camps in Moscow might tempt Russian right-wing extremists to inflame national differences in Ukraine with the help of their front organisations and political allies on Crimea or in the Donbass.

Hence, for the EU, the question of Ukraine’s future is more than a foreign policy issue, and closely related to its own basic security concerns. The continuing lack of clarity in policies towards Ukraine – i.e. its rhetoric of “the door is neither open nor shut” – is not only unwelcome in Kyiv. The risks of pursuing this strategy run counter to the interests of the EU and its member states too.

A simple reduction of the complicated controversy around an EU membership prospect for Ukraine to a confrontation between “Ukrainophiles” and “Ukrainosceptics” is based on a lack of understanding of this country’s significance for Europe, as a whole.

The alternatives to a gradual integration of Ukraine into Europe through provision of official prospect of EU membership are uncomfortable. Against such a background, current West European policies towards Kyiv appear as short-sighted. A continuing neutral status, a new liaison with Russia, a formal division of the country: none of these are acceptable futures for the territorially second biggest state in Europe. Were Ukraine to disintegrate, this would surely ignite Russian irredentism and at worst lead to the resurrection of the Russian Empire as being feared by Brzezinski. The consequences for European, or even world, security would be grave.

For these reasons the EU has no alternative but to “take Ukraine under its wing” – and to do so sooner rather than later. The prospect of joining the EU in the not too distant future could unite the opposing camps of the Ukrainian elite, and rally the culturally divided people of Ukraine, under a common banner. The carrot of future membership would also allow the EU to apply the stick of demanding more active constitutional, administrative, economic and educational reforms. In this way, the EU would both render service to its member states and extend the reach of its system of values.

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[1] Elena Gnedina, “EU running on empty in Ukraine”, EUobserver, 16 November 2009, http://euobserver.com/9/2988