Ukraine lies on the political and geographic fault line between the European Union and the Russian Federation. It is tearing itself apart — evidenced by recent riots in Kiev — over a difficult decision about its future that has economic, ethnic, and personal elements.
The question is whether Ukraine will apply to join the E.U. at a summit this week in Lithuania. Georgia and Moldova are likely to seek that status as well.
Russia opposes its former partner’s potential relationship with the E.U. It is offering a combination of economic and political promises and threats to try to persuade Ukraine and the other two nations not to jump ship.
The three countries depend on Russia to supply natural gas for winter heating. Ukraine always has trouble paying its gas bills, so a deal would be attractive.
Ukraine’s population is divided into speakers of Ukrainian and Russian. That division tends to carry over to the ballot box; Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich won his most recent election with substantial support from Russian speakers — a fact he is not likely to forget.
E.U. countries have taken up the cause of Mr. Yanukovich’s rival, former prime minister Yulia Temoshenko, whom he has jailed. She is apparently not well, and has attracted public sympathy by going on a hunger strike.
The E.U. wants Mr. Yanukovich to allow Ms. Temoshenko to seek medical treatment in Germany. He doesn’t want her to die in prison, but sees the E.U. position as meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
It’s hard to argue that Ukraine would secure a better economic future by yoking itself to Russia than by pursuing E.U. membership. Still, for the Ukrainians, it’s a tough call.