The Ukrainian parliamentary elections have confirmed the country's pro-European orientation and drawn into government a wide range of representatives of the social forces that brought about the Maidan revolution earlier this year. Not much remains of Ukraine's old politics. The pro-Russian parties have been all but extinguished. The influence of the oligarchs, whose capture of economic and political power was at the root of the corruption that bedevilled Ukraine after independence, has been diminished.
True, the president is an oligarch, but he seems, on his record so far, to be a reformed one. The vote also demonstrated that the far-right elements around which Moscow weaves its dark tales of resurgent fascism remain relatively minor actors on the political stage. Although support for President Petro Poroshenko's bloc was matched by that forArseniy Yatsenyuk's group, which could bring strains and divisions, the possibility now opens up that Ukraine can decisively repudiate both the Communist past and the murky era that followed, and transform itself into a healthy democracy.
The fly in the ointment is President Putin, who has not given up his Ukrainian ambitions. His best case is, over time, to bring Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence. Failing that, he will use his military leverage in the east of the country and his economic leverage in trade and gas supplies to prevent or limit the political and economic consolidation Ukraine needs. All the signs are that it is going to be a long hard winter of continued tensions on the eastern rim of the European continent. The question is, how bad could things still get? Ukraine's territory continues to be the scene of armed clashes in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Next Sunday, the leaders of these entities intend to hold their own separate elections.
The ceasefire accord and a tentative settlement agreement signed last month in Minsk have had little impact. The violence continues, with little respect for international norms on either side. Ignoring a key point of the agreement, Russia still refuses to let Ukrainian border guards patrol the border; Russian troops remain massed there, as well as covertly present inside Ukraine.
There is weariness in some European capitals about the cost of putting pressure on Russia. It is true that sanctions can have a boomerang effect on European business and trade. Why not, some say, just leave it to the downturn in global oil prices to make Mr Putin more amenable to a settlement? The need for Russian cooperation on terrorism and the Middle East is another factor.
But it would be an error to accept a de-escalation on Mr Putin's terms. Sanctions should not be lifted before the Minsk provisions are implemented, including the full deployment of international observers along the Russia-Ukraine border. Continued economic assistance to Ukraine, which is perilously close to bankruptcy, is also vital. Everyone knows there will be no quick fix in Ukraine. But there will be no fix at all, and the problem may well worsen, if Mr Putin sees western resolve fade.