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Feb. 4

Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on the U.S. and Europe have an opportunity to mitigate the Kremlin’s bullying of Ukraine:

Russian President Vladimir Putin must be understandably tense about now. The Winter Olympics, on which he has staked his government’s prestige and $51 billion of its money, are about to begin in a locale notable for its proximity to an area infested by terrorists who have vowed to disrupt the games.

Longer term, his plans to haul Ukraine back into the Russian orbit show signs of unraveling. Last fall, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was on the verge of signing a political and economic deal with the European Union, one that had considerable popular support. At the last second, he reneged after Russia threatened economic reprisals if Yanukovych signed. Yanukovych caved, and his countrymen took to the streets in their thousands. A heavy-handed attempt at a crackdown only riled the protesters, further causing them to up their demands. Putin’s Kremlin postponed indefinitely the next installment of a $15 billion aid package, slowed Ukraine’s exports to Russia, its largest trading partner, to a crawl and threatened to cut off its natural gas supplies.

The European Union has an opportunity here, but only if it acts fast and acts big with the United States promising monetary and moral support while staying in the background. Secretary of State John Kerry did meet over the weekend with protest leaders. Catherine Ashton, the E.U. foreign policy chief, has promised financial aid to Ukraine that “won’t be small.” The European Union, with U.S. help, must make good on its promise of aid and commit to make up for any trade sanctions the Russians impose. The West has a rare opportunity to be of genuine help to a country that has been treated badly by history and even worse by the Kremlin.