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Why Are Europe and America Taking Opposite Approaches to Ukraine?

Agood movie director would use a split screen: on one side, Washington, D.C., bitterly divided and uncertain about continuing aid to Ukraine and, on the other, Brussels, where both the legislative and executive arms of the European Union (EU) are standing firm in their support for Ukraine. Last month, members of European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of €50 billion ($53.4 billion USD) in continued aid, and this week, the European Commission recommended that talks about Ukrainian membership in the EU should begin early next year.

Many Americans are skeptical of the EU and loath to admit it might know something we don’t know. Yet, Washington should take a page from Brussels’ book — not just its support of Ukraine’s fight to defeat Russian aggression, but also its understanding of what’s at stake for Europe — and the U.S. — as Ukraine evolves toward a fully democratic market economy aligned with the West.

Ukraine’s long, hard road toward joining the EU began in earnest exactly 10 years ago, in autumn 2013, when a million people took to the streets to support the Maidan Revolution. Crowds brandished EU flags and hand-printed signs declaring, “We are Europe,” “We choose Europe, not Russia.” Then, in early 2014, 100 protesters died in brutal street clashes defending Western values against pro-Russian militants. That year, Russia invaded and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Ukraine had been independent from the Soviet Union since 1991, but in 2014 it wasn’t ready to join the EU. A significant share of the population and the ruling elite were still pro-Russian. Corruption inherited from the Soviet era still crippled the economy, and old Soviet habits of mind still seemed to hinder a full flowering of democracy. Citizens resented state authority, but they expected the state to have its hand in virtually every aspect of public life, from running the nation’s industries to managing their apartment buildings.

By the time Russia invaded again in 2022, this old, post-Soviet version of Ukraine was close to extinction. Much of the economy was in private hands. Ten years of hard-fought reform had noticeably beaten back corruption and strengthened the rule of law. Democracy was flourishing, including at the local level, where town councils, building co-ops and a vibrant web of civil society organizations had taken over decisions once made by Soviet authorities.

There is still much work to be done to fully privatize the economy and eliminate corruption. But membership in the EU remains an emblem of everything Ukrainians want for their country, and public support for joining Europe now appears inseparable from the determination to expel Russian fighters. It’s no accident that one of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first acts as a wartime leader — on Feb. 28, 2022, just four days after Russian tanks rolled across the border toward Kyiv — was to file a formal application for EU membership.

Today, as in the past decade, most Europeans understand this struggle better than Americans. Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans, are more skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and more likely to see Moscow as a critical threat. Brussels also has a better understanding of what’s needed to support Ukraine as it evolves toward a fully Western democracy. In the past decade, the EU has made a series of demands — conditions for continued aid and progress toward membership — encouraging and incentivizing a wide range of reforms in Kyiv.

Source: The Messenger



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