The last few weeks have revealed some impor­tant truths about Europe. Prior to the crisis in Ukraine, most Amer­i­cans and Western Euro­peans had become used to a Franco-​​German Europe. In this ver­sion of Europe, which was designed after World War II to dampen one of the greatest state rival­ries in his­tory, France and Ger­many made the deci­sions, and Europe’s center of gravity was squarely in the West. But, these days, the real action hap­pens fur­ther east. Ukraine, looking to over­come its Soviet past, was taking its first steps toward becoming one of the Euro­pean Union’s largest and most pop­u­lous mem­bers until Russia made its move to derail those plans. And Poland, for years con­sid­ered a junior member of the Euro­pean team, has risen as a leader by shep­herding nego­ti­a­tions between former Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Victor Yanukovych and the Ukrainian oppo­si­tion. In this new Europe, the Franco-​​German engine has been replaced by a Russo-​​German one: as the Euro­pean Union moves east­ward, set­tling its future bor­ders and bor­der­lands, it is Ger­many and Russia that will decide who is in and who is out — and under what terms.

To a large extent, the battle for Ukraine has become a battle over the shape that this Russo-​​German Europe will take. Russia, through its geopo­lit­ical bold­ness, aggres­sion, and sense of enti­tle­ment, has proved willing to annex the ter­ri­to­ries that it wants, building up a Eurasian bloc to bal­ance against the Euro­pean Union. Ukraine is an essen­tial part of that plan, and Crimea is the leading edge. Russia is very likely to keep what it has now seized, as it has in all other regional con­flicts, and con­tinue trying to use its posi­tion in Crimea to desta­bi­lize Ukraine. That will help Russia as it attempts to draw a sharp line between its values, cul­ture, pol­i­tics, and economy, and the West’s.


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