WHEN writing recently about the crisis over Georgia I have rather lazily taken to putting “and Ukraine” in parenthesis in order to suggest that the short- and long-term Russian threats to Georgia apply equally to Ukraine. In some ways, they may do so but the meetings held this week between the European Union and Ukraine made clear the differences between the two Caucasus nations. Ukraine is a much larger place than Georgia -- it is almost as big as France and has a population of some 45 million, of whom, crucially, some eight million are Russians. Although it is an active democracy, there is a fault line running through the country that divides the part that looks to Russia and the other that looks westward.

These and many other factors were on the table last week when Ukraine made a bid to be “fast-tracked” for EU membership - no doubt with its vulnerable position in relation to Russia in mind. It was disappointed to be told it must wait its turn in a queue that already contains Croatia, Serbia, Turkey and several others, although it was promised an Association Agreement which is the first step on the long ladder to membership.

There is “enlargement fatigue” among EU members just now as well as uncertainty about Ukraine's political stability but their overriding concern was probably a sense that more time is needed to determine whether EU membership for Ukraine would be the same red rag to the Russian bull as Nato membership.