The European Union took an important step Friday in signing an association agreement with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine which Russia will undoubtedly find provocative.
It was Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s rejection of such an agreement between Ukraine and the EU which provoked major demonstrations in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
They set off developments that included the street coup which overthrew Mr. Yanukovych, the succession of Crimea from Ukraine to join Russia, and the fighting in eastern Ukraine among government forces, rebels and Russian-supported resistance to the new Kiev government.
Russia said the EU agreement will have “serious consequences.” It had wanted Moldova and Ukraine to join the Eurasian Economic Union that Russia heads.
The 28-member EU’s long-term goal is clear, and associating the three new countries with it is a step toward eventual adherence, although the road to that is long and full of conditions. An EU that includes all European countries, including even possibly Russia, makes at least economic sense if not political coordination.
But the EU’s timing for the agreement raises questions. Russia will almost certainly respond, the EU has an important trading relationship with Russia and EU countries show no desire to spend more on military defense. That, of course, leaves the United States to carry the ball on more economic sanctions against Russia and any flexing of military muscle on the borders with the East.
The state of the EU’s three new associates also raises questions. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have major political problems. Abkhazia and South Ossetia have seceded from Georgia, Transnistria from Moldova, and parts of Eastern Ukraine from Kiev — all with Russian support. The dust should have been allowed to settle, at least in Ukraine, before adding these countries to the list of EU concerns.
However, the association agreement has been signed and it is now up to the EU, Russia and the United States to deal with the consequences. For President Barack Obama it will be a new challenge alongside the current troubles in the Middle East, with America being pushed to put out fires the EU has lit.