President Vladimir Putin is provocatively overreacting to the Ukrainian political crisis by ordering the military forces in Russia’s western military district to test their battle-readiness. The ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine are not in any danger, but Mr. Putin may be preparing to use them as a pretext for intervening in the affairs of his neighbour.
The other Russian concern – the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol, leased from Ukraine – is also not under threat. Russia’s aspiration to a warm-water port, and access to the Mediterranean, goes back to Peter the Great. Now attained, it will hardly be abandoned – but nobody is asking Russia to do so. The lease runs until 2042, and no Ukrainian government has given signs of wanting to rip up that agreement.
And yet this week, Russian troops have gone so far as to establish a military checkpoint inside Ukraine itself, on the road from Sevastopol to Simferopol, the capital of the Crimea peninsula, which has been part of Ukraine for 60 years. Mr. Putin appears to be aiming to provoke an overreaction, as chaos may be his only hope of regaining his lost influence in Ukrainian affairs.
The new Ukrainian government, still taking shape, should respond calmly. It should seek to re-establish good political and economic relations with Russia, even as it begins to lean toward Europe. And as for Europe, the European Union must make its intentions clear, by offering Ukrainian a clear path toward EU membership – a more definite status than the tentative trade-association agreement that Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president, renegued upon last November.
Ukraine has been in recession since the middle of 2012, and is now on the verge of insolvency. The International Monetary Fund stands ready, but its medicine is apt to be of the rigorous kind; there should also be some optimistic, Marshall-Plan-like reconstruction, with help from Germany and the rest of the EU, and perhaps North America, too.
In the Soviet era, Ukraine was a manufacturing centre. The country can re-emerge from a couple of lost decades of bad governance and asset-looting by an array of oligarchs. Ukraine’s future belongs in the West.