Ukraine is fortunate, at least in one way. In the end there was a broad consensus in favour of deposing Viktor Yanukovych. Many MPs from his own Party of Regions voted to deprive the president of his powers. Though he had appointed a new commander of the armed forces and may have intended a military crackdown, the leaders of various security branches rightly refused to suppress protests in Kiev and other cities. Most of the business oligarchs distanced themselves from him, too.
Unfortunately, a similarly hopeful moment, the Orange Revolution of 2004, did not turn out well. It looked like the dawning of liberal, rule-of-law democracy, but the years that followed were marked by conflict between Viktor Yushchenko, the president, and Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister. Government was unstable and the economy was stuck.
Ukraine now has a second opportunity to become a democratic, Western country. Some of that will be up to Ukrainians. But the West – and Europe in particular – can help. Mr. Yanukovych’s fall was provoked by his abrupt U-turn late last year, backing out of an association agreement with the European Union and moving toward a closer alliance with Moscow. Europe should reopen talks with Ukraine, and offer something more than the weak association deal that was previously on the table. Give Ukraine what most Ukrainians want: a clear path to membership in the European Union. Ukraine has the potential to one day be the next Poland – a former Soviet Bloc country that in a little more than a decade has moved to a standard of living and a level of good governance far above Ukraine.
Ukraine can move out of Russia’s orbit, but it still needs good relations with its biggest neighbour. In the coming months, there is a real danger of Russian President Vladimir Putin intervening directly and even militarily in Ukrainian affairs. The West and Ukraine’s new leaders should seek ways to keep the bear at bay, including finding minor gestures that might allow Mr. Putin to save face. A Ukraine that turns more democratic, and leans more to the West, is a huge defeat for Moscow.