Putin and Merkel at a news conference in Berlin, November 26, 2010.
Pawel Kopczynski / Courtesy Reuters

The last few weeks have revealed some important truths about Europe. Prior to the crisis in Ukraine, most Americans and Western Europeans had become used to a Franco-German Europe. In this version of Europe, which was designed after World War II to dampen one of the greatest state rivalries in history, France and Germany made the decisions, and Europe’s center of gravity was squarely in the West. But, these days, the real action happens further east. Ukraine, looking to overcome its Soviet past, was taking its first steps toward becoming one of the European Union’s largest and most populous members until Russia made its move to derail those plans. And Poland, for years considered a junior member of the European team, has risen as a leader by shepherding negotiations between former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych and the Ukrainian opposition. In this new Europe, the Franco-German engine has been replaced by a Russo-German one: as the European Union moves eastward, settling its future borders and borderlands, it is Germany and Russia that will decide who is in and who is out -- and under what terms. 

To a large extent, the battle for Ukraine has become a battle over

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  • MITCHELL A. ORENSTEIN is professor and chair of the political science department at Northeastern University and an associate of both the Minda de Gunzberg Center for European Studies and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. Follow him on Twitter @m_orenstein.
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