Exasperation is the fully justified response of the European Union to the on-again-off-again diplomacy of Viktor Yanukovych, the President of Ukraine. On Thursday, he assured EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that he was still willing to sign a trade association agreement with the EU. Then, on Friday, Mr. Yanukovych once again turned back toward Russia, with talk of co-operation with a customs union led by Russia.
Nonetheless, Europe is right not to shut the door. On Sunday, Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy, said that further work on the agreement would be on hold, because Mr. Yanukovych’s “words and deeds are further and further apart.” Consequently, there would have to be clear signals before a resumption of negotiations.
Meanwhile, the three-week-old demonstration continues in Independence Square in Kiev, punctuated by police violence.
There is no inherent contradiction between a Ukraine-EU trade agreement and a comparable Ukraine-Russian agreement – just as Canada is a member of NAFTA and has also reached a provisional free-trade agreement with the EU. The goal of the frustrated EU-Ukraine association agreement is to bring Ukraine closer to a democratic, free-market Europe. But that need not mean poor relations with Moscow.
Mr. Yanukovych, for all his many faults, is not simply a puppet of Vladimir Putin. But his steps have given many of his countrymen the sense that he intends to move Ukraine away from the West, and back into the orbit of Russia, the country’s former occupier. The protests in Kiev are pressuring him to change course. And the door to Europe remains open, unless and until Mr. Yanukovych firmly shuts it.