Perhaps coincidentally the final meeting of the Strategic Discussion Club on the subject “Post-Vilnius: Diagnosis of National (In)security” took place in a revolutionary situation, above all prior to President Yanukovych’s visit to Moscow where he is expected to sign a number of agreements and memorandums concerning bilateral cooperation. Viktor SHLINCHAK, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Institute of World Politics who presided over the sixth meeting of the club, said in his opening statement that one shouldn’t worry about signing the Association Agreement, about the president returning from Moscow with a scenario that would divide Ukraine into three parts the way it happened back in 2004 when Russian spin doctors brought precisely that kind of scenario.
Shlinchak stressed that the main question for the experts present (along with government officials) was which direction Ukraine would take after resolving this crisis.
Andrii Olefirov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, forestalling questions about what would happen if and when Yanukovych signed the accords in Moscow, said he would resign if he saw any threats to European integration. He added that he had seen the draft agreements and memorandums, that they had nothing to do with Ukraine’s Customs Union membership and concerned economic trends, mobility, measures to develop border checkpoint facilities. “The biggest threat is big expectations followed by disillusionment,” he stressed.
Vytautas LANDSBERGIS, President of Lithuania (1990-92), member of the European Parliament, said his country had to build its sovereignty in a hostile neighborhood, and that it succeeded because there was a democratic movement aimed at creating a true democracy, a nation-state, and because that movement was supported by most of the people: “For us the main thing was to rise to a higher level. Problems appeared later when we proceeded to implement this course. In Ukraine, the process turned out to be one-legged, probably due to your worldview – you had your memories of national independence before WW II and your [armed] opposition to Soviet power that lasted for 10 years.”
Ian TOMBINSKI, head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, explained that the Association Agreement with the EU is meant to help modernize Ukraine while upholding its sovereignty, so this country can get stronger within as well as without.
He added that, strangely, each time the gas issue was on the agenda, it was referred to as a matter of national security. “Therefore, the point is to find the kind of medicine that will make Ukraine stable, because the 20-year-old model has turned out to be incapable of functioning to ensure the safety of the country. The EU, over the 50 years of its existence, has accumulated the experience of settling various crises, including ways of ridding oneself of dependence in the energy sphere. Besides, the Association Agreement with the EU offers guarantees for those who will be willing to invest in this country.”
Arkady MOSHES, director, Eastern Partnership and Russia Program (EU), Finnish Institute of International Affairs, pointed out the fact that Russia knows Ukraine’s weak spots and how to use this knowledge for Russia’s benefit. He went on to say that most Russians still can’t figure out what is happening on the Maidan in Kyiv, least of all its impact on Russia; that the political crisis in Ukraine is taking place against the backdrop of Russia’s domestic economic situation which is on a downward curve; that, characteristically, a commodity turnover decline is also registered between Russia and Belarus, the latter being a member of the Customs Union.
“Even if some in Russia wanted to conquer Ukraine, Moscow miscalculated the outcome of the Vilnius Summit, believing there would be no protest [in Ukraine]. Russia is not interested in Ukraine’s bankruptcy because developing relations with that country is important, especially in the energy sphere. Russians have also realized that Ukrainians can’t pay for gas supplies. And so the Kremlin is prepared to rewrite the contract and preserve the existing system. Large subsidies to Ukraine won’t be popular in Russia,” Moshes said. He believes that both sides realize the weakness of Ukraine. This may well be used during the election campaign in 2015, but this will not help Ukraine in the long run.
James SHERR, Senior Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, admits that he can’t predict the outcome of the current crisis in Ukraine. He believes that those currently in power would like to achieve a Lenin-like compromise – in other words, an unfair one, and that the EU knows this. He says that over the past 20 years the West has been giving lots of recommendations concerning Ukraine, the way it should be, but that no one has shown how to make this country better, considering that a number of institutions have become unprofessional and demoralized.
Hryhorii NEMYRIA, chairman, VR Committee on European Integration, believes that the main threat is the gap between the government that doesn’t want any European values, only hard cash, and the Maidan that doesn’t care about hard cash but wants all those European values.
Ihor SMESHKO, chief of the SBU secret police of Ukraine (2003-05), says the biggest problem for Ukraine is the weakness of its democratic institutions and the absence of unity in the minds of Ukrainians. He believes the key to the settlement of the crisis is democracy, rule of law, European integration, revival of the parliamentary-presidential system, open-slate elections, and restrictions on the administration, on the part of the general public.
Oleksandr CHALY, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (2003-04), State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Charge of European Integration (2001-03), believes that the current administration has lost its chance of signing the agreement and mobilizing public support of its implementation to counter Russia’s pressure.
Sherr reiterated that the Soviet system was rooted in a divide-and-rule policy, when the opponents were divided and sicked on each other. He said it is important to keep the Euromaidan peaceful and aimed at European values.
Tor BUKKVOLL, senior research fellow with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI), made an interesting suggestion. He said the Ukrainian political elite must get together in 2015 and discuss the rules by which they will live – particularly the rule of law.
Marcin KOZIEL, Head of the NATO Liaison Office in Ukraine, says that what is happening in Kyiv reminds him of Poland in 1980-81. He feels sure that Ukraine will become a European country, sooner or later.