Today, the Future of Europe is Being Decided in Ukraine

A future author of the history of Europe in the twenty-first century will perhaps conclude that the most consequential event of the previous decade for our continent was the refusal of the Ukrainian President at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union in November 2013.

What comes to mind is an analogy with Czechoslovakia’s Communist leader Klement Gottwald, who intended to sign an agreement with the Americans to adopt the Marshall Plan, but was told in Moscow that he could not.

Yanukovych learned this in Sochi, in a face-to-face conversation with Vladimir Putin. “He was told three things. First, if you sign the association agreement, you will not get any loans from us and your economy will collapse. Second, if you sign it, do not count on any re-election help. And third, if you sign it, we will show the world where your money is, what kind of money it is and how corrupt you are,” former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski told me. “I think the third argument appealed to him most.”

According to Kwaśniewski, Yanukovych intended to sign the deal—not in order to join Europe, but to win the elections again. He realized that this was what Ukrainians expected. For them, the Association Agreement with the EU was a chance for the closest integration with the West since the seventeenth century.

Vladimir Putin also knew this. His goal was to rebuild Greater Russia, and this was impossible without subjugating Ukraine.

Kwaśniewski heard this from Putin in a conversation in the Kremlin in 2002. “I admit that I took his words as an expression of ambition or a dream of a relatively young man; Putin was 50 at the time,” Kwaśniewski told me. “Not as a plan of action or an obsession. The plan began to crystallize in 2004, in response to the Orange Revolution. Since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, it has been an obsession on his part.”

During the Revolution of Dignity, Ukrainians overthrew Yanukovych and thus saved their country from the fate of Belarus. Russia responded with the illegal annexation of Crimea, the establishment of the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, the ongoing armed conflict in the east of the country since 2014, and finally the armed aggression against Ukraine in February 2022.

It is likely that the war will continue for many years to come and a significant part of Ukrainian territory will remain under Russian occupation. This is all the more reason, however, for the European Union to do everything possible to ensure that a free Ukraine joins it as soon as possible, within this decade.

This would not be an unprecedented event. The northern part of Cyprus has been occupied by Turkey for almost half a century. That did not stop the Republic of Cyprus from joining the European Union in 2004. Residents of the divided island are allowed to cross the demarcation line, and European tourists can legally visit northern Cyprus as long as they arrive on the island somewhere in its southern part. If Turkey someday becomes a member state of the European Union, the island may be reunited.

Aspen Review Central Europe is celebrating its tenth birthday this year. The magazine was established to describe events and processes taking place in our region in a way that readers around the world can understand, while presenting global processes from the perspective of Central Europeans. Since the inception of the magazine, we have published texts by prominent Ukrainian authors, including Mykola Riabchuk, Yaroslav Hrytsak and Andriy Portnov. We write about events in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

Today, more than ever, we need Central Europe’s voice to be heard in the European Union and the world. More than ever, we need joint initiatives involving Ukrainians or Belarusians. Today, the future of Europe is being decided in Ukraine. Our future.


Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, a Polish bohemist, journalist and author. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Ota Pavel and Isaac Babel. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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