In the night of 21 November last year, more than 2,000 protesters gathered in Kiev at Maidan Square. Today, almost three months later, we have seen what in effect has been a re-launch of the 2004 Orange Revolution. A battle of the Ukrainian people for a stronger democracy, a fairer economy and closer ties to the European Union.
In fact, they are fighting the battle that we also should be fighting. Europe lacks economic growth and democratic participation. We need change as much as the Ukrainians do. That is why we need deep and structural reform of the EU. The major difference between us and them is that they are out on the streets we stand idly by on the sidelines.
Crucially, it seems that we are not prepared to defend ourselves against the geopolitical challenge Russia has put forward. The Ukrainians on the contrary are not only defending their rights and their dignity. They are defending Europe and our European values.
The notion that the EU is having any impact on the Ukrainian crisis lost its final shred of credibility when US diplomat Victoria Nuland, in what she thought was a private conversation said: "F*** the EU". It is never nice to hear such a thing, but it is hardly surprising. The EU indeed is becoming irrelevant on the ground. We lack a strategy and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton lacks the mandate to act. To be credible you need a credible plan. Not just empty words, but a strategy that is consistent with the change that Ukrainians want.
First of all, we have to be prepared to take targeted sanctions against individual members of the regime. That should include the threat of banning them from traveling to Europe, restricting their visas and most importantly, hitting them where it really hurts by freezing their assets in Europe. These three sanctions should go hand in hand with positive measure like a visa-free regime for ordinary Ukrainians.
The second step of the plan must be that, once the 'sanction gun' is loaded, we have to be prepared to use it, unless Victor Yanukovich complies immediately with the rules of democracy and commits to political reform. This should include releasing imprisoned protesters without further conditions, organizing early elections, and restoring the constitution of 2004 which will bring back the democratic balance of power between the Parliament and the President.
Finally, the EU strategy should include providing a substantial financial assistance package to support the Ukrainian economy. This package has to match the negative impact that Russian pressure will have on Ukraine, its people and its economy. The Ukrainian people are fighting for our values and for the rights we take for granted. They are many and they are very determined. This should command more than just our respect. They deserve a real, tangible European response, and they deserve it now. Because the last thing we want is for them to start repeating the words of Mrs. Nuland.