Kyiv has announced that Russia’s brief trade war is over, as Moscow had signaled it would be.
The lesson has been given. It is now up in the air how its subjects will respond.
In November, at the current pace and with Ukraine having basically met (or soon to meet) all of the substantive conditions Brussels has attached, Ukraine will sign an Association Agreement to bring the country closer to the European Union and its own European destiny.
Brussels, despite some contrary signs, seems to finally understand what is at stake, and is likely to join Kyiv on this path forward.
The cost will be high. Vladimir Putin is not in the habit of bluffing, and he clearly intends to make Ukraine pay for its Westward tilt. He understands at least as well as anyone that Russia is dying from a thousand wounds, almost all of which are self-inflicted, and if it is to survive and thrive, it simply must have Ukraine as its crown jewel.
It seems clear that there will be more direct reminders before November, and if all goes according to plan in Vilnius, many more after that.
The coming months and years will be a test of leadership in the EU and Ukraine, as Russian intransigence and vengeance will undoubtedly come with heavy clubs. Natural gas cutoffs, trade embargoes, military maneuvers, diplomatic moves — Moscow does not lack for weapons, even if they are not the weapons of old, and is clearly unafraid of using them.
To navigate this treacherous path will show as much will as Kyiv has shown since Viktor Yanukovych became President and set about reminding Moscow that he, and not Putin, is president, and a level of political sophistication and canniness in Europe that has been sorely lacking since the end of the Cold War.
Because what is on the horizon is something less immediately dangerous but in the long run no less deadly than a nuclear-armed Moscow: a dying, desperate, angry, and wealthy Russia, determined to resurrect its old empire and sure that only that way lies national survival. This will be a test of years, and as of today, it is not clear that Europe understands that if it fails, Moscow’s native adventurism will surely return again.
There are promising times ahead; but they are perilous ones as well.
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