WORLDPOST

Europe's Grown-Up Moment

02/27/2014 02:55 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2014

The last thing Ukraine needs now is paternalism. They need an understanding and helpful West. One that sees the big strategic picture, its own interests and the interest of the Ukrainians in cohesion. However, at this time the interest of Ukraine has to take center stage. We need to help them, we need to stand by them to get through a very difficult and threatening phase in their transition to a full fledged democracy. Taking care of Ukraine's interest is taking care of our own.

We know Ukraine needs expedited financial help. They are smart and in return know they can't expect just donations in the range of tens of billions of Euros and Dollars. However, in our own interest we must be magnanimous and generous about our demands. The strings attached must be adjusted to the realities. This is a serious country, a country of dignity and self confidence, a great European nation of the future. Therefore they must be treated that way.

We must get out of our post cold war mindset of a happy world, which will get even happier by the day, because that world does not exist. We Europeans must also see the facts eye to eye: pushing back democracy in Ukraine is a threat to the Eastern Members of the EU. Hungary and perhaps others might wrongly be encouraged to continue to look at the Putinesque model of governance, and it will not stop there.

Putin, wrongly, feels invulnerable, at the top of his game after a successful Olympic Games, which is his grand misunderstanding. Sochi was ages ago, it doesn't matter. Russian threats, the military maneuvers, stoking fire, encouraging extremists is the post-Sochi face of Russia. That was a show, "holiday on ice", as it were. This is the real world. For us, it is the world of the future, of unstoppable change and Mr. Putin does not seem to get it. It's a real shame, because he might just as well have surprised us all and could have embraced this reality.

He should let go of the Ukraine. He is desperate for more influence, and might end up with less. He must understand that the overwhelming majority of that country is sick and tired of his logic of governance. He should remember 1956 (the invasion of Hungary), 1968 (the invasion of Czechoslovakia), the Russian pressures on Poland in the eighties. All got stuck in the throat of the Soviet system and ultimately lead to the demise of the Soviet empire at the desire of its peoples.

The big picture is important, so are the happenings on the ground. Ukrainians will not give in. Some aspects of the Maidan Revolution were overlooked, which proves that Maidan was really about values, it was about a cause, it was genuine and could be repeated.

There was no looting, in or around the Maidan, while there would have been plenty of opportunities. Food was for free, provided by the citizens themselves, spontaneously organized. Well dressed citizens provided blankets, mattresses, food and beverages.There was no garbage on the square, volunteers were sweeping the streets took away rubbish. Small donations of simple citizens provided for the mobile toilets. Medical tents set up by volunteers were operated in by doctors 24/7, who took formal leave from their day jobs to be at the square. There was no central command, instead lots of spontaneity, but at all times disciplined and well organized. Suggesting an air of civility. This says a lot about the identity of Ukrainians. They proved that they are indeed one of us.

The military stayed away. It is a tribute to the Ukrainian armed forces and to NATO's Partnership for Peace, which has always had a component of educating partners about democratic and civilian control.

This is Europe's grown up moment. This is the time to show resolve and nerves of steel. Lessons learned in how we got here, but we must move on. The European Union, Germany, France and Poland in particular need to remain in the drivers seat on behalf of Europe (no way of denying: Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, has done a great job). While we need the US to help out, and it is crucial that Russia sees that there is a transatlantic resolve here, Ukraine is part of Europe, hence most of the burden is on Europe. It's a great moment to show Russia that we see them as partners, but that's all they are: partners. Let them know the harder truth of interdependence. We believe in a win-win-win solution. Leaders of Europe have the chance to make us Europeans all proud.

We Europeans are perhaps not as powerful and sometimes as smart as our politicians are telling the world (and perhaps their citizens), but we are a lot stronger and smarter than perhaps the world, including Russia thinks. Even if we have made a lot of mistakes in the process, Vladimir Putin should not count on the incompetence of the West. In the end we will get it right.