After two decades of peaceful transition from communist rule to democracy Ukraine was dragged into a bloody conflict which has abruptly put the nation of 40 million people on the global map of hotspots and proxy wars. The conflict with two eastern Ukrainian regions bidding for independence from Kiev is seen as the most serious challenge to the European security after the Balkan war.
Studio guest Alexander Domrin, Professor at the High School of Economics, Arkady Moshes, Director of Research Program of EU Eastern Neighborhood at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Helsinki, and Jan van Benthem, foreign affairs commentator at The Nederlands Dagblad, the Netherlands Daily, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
Alexander Domrin: Looking at Ukraine, I have a feeling that I'm watching a groundhog day again and again. One coup after another, one revolution after another and people are absolutely desperate. In the end, democracy is a process. I don’t see this process in Ukraine. And I believe that with the support of Russia, with this understanding of Putin, that he expresses again and again, Ukraine will start understanding democracy not as kind of a goal, but rather a process.
You are speaking of one coup after another, but, at the same time, we see that blame game in Russia’s relations with the West. Probably Ukraine is used just as a pretext to put pressure on Russia?
Alexander Domrin: Absolutely! Ukraine is just a tool in some Western strategy. You remember when your colleagues from CNN tried to find Ukraine on the map, they found it somewhere on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Nobody cares about Ukraine in the West, except for probably some people who ancestors lived in Ukraine and then moved to America or Canada.
Is the EU satisfied with the new path that Moscow is taking when it comes to Ukraine?
Jan van Benthem: If you look at the last summit in Brussels yesterday, you see that there is quite a unified position regarding the sanctions on Russia. There is no talk about the new sanctions, it is about the implementation of what the EU had already decided on. And there are some new sanctions, for instance, that the travel operators are not allowed to offer new travels to Crimea, for instance. And so, no holidays to Crimea from the EU.
The position has not really changed. There are some eastern European member states of the EU who want to have another stand. We do have some discussion in Germany also about the economic consequences of the sanctions. But in total the EU was quite unified yesterday that these area the sanctions and we want to maintain them. Donald Tusk, the Chairman of the EU said that we need to have a responsible behavior regarding Russia that needs to be more than reactive and defensive. There needs to be a policy of the EU. And that is new.
I'm quite critical of the Western politicians. I think that the EU and the US have made a big mistake in the first moments of the coming crisis in Crimea. Before the whole conflict really started early I wrote that the Western leaders should recognize the Russian interests in Crimea, because Crimea was Russian historically. I'm a historian and my view is a little different. And the West didn’t do that. And they used the hard and forceful words, and Russia also reacted hard and forceful. And so, the conflict started really there – in this misconception about what the Crimea meant.
But after that, you see that it has evolved to a completely new level. And that level means that you need to think about a new policy. The present policy in the West and in the East doesn’t work. And in the West the politicians up to now have been reacting to the developments. So, without a real clearly described goal we have reacted to the developments, whereas Russia has acted. And that difference is one of the bases of the conflict. There is no talk about what could be a good solution, in my opinion.
Does it mean that in the coming year Russia and the EU have to come up with some positive united agenda?
Jan van Benthem: They should come together. But then there should be no room for blame game.
But that’s exactly what both parties are doing. At the press conference President Putin blamed the West very extensively. The West blames Vladimir Putin very extensively. And both have reasonable arguments to do so, but the West should not say it to the West and the Russian President shouldn’t say during the presidential press conference, they should talk to each other.
Is the EU satisfied with the way Moscow is going now? And do you sense that Moscow is changing its direction with Ukraine?
Arkady Moshes: I think that Moscow is certainly signaling that the new round of escalation is not going to come and it is not interested in it. However, whether Moscow is signaling that it is really ready for a compromise remains to be seen, because the quite important things are not yet happening. Namely the Ukrainian-Russian border is still not controlled by the Ukrainian authorities or even by the OSCE. And the humanitarian convoys do enter the territory, which Moscow said it recognizes as the territory of Ukraine. And that means a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty. So, this is still a very-very long way to go towards even kind of a proper stabilization of the situation in the east of Ukraine.
Is the EU really ready to meet the expectations of Ukrainians?
Arkady Moshes: The EU is certainly not ready for the enlargement and the thing is that we are not talking about enlargement any time in the next twenty or thirty years. We are talking about the need to have the reforms in Ukraine, which would bring it closer to the EU. But the actual question on the agenda is the following: the EU has kind of committed itself to build the relationship of association with Ukraine, which should over time bring about the transformations in Ukraine. Ukraine has committed itself to adopting about 80% of the key communiqué. I'm not saying this is doable, but this is done Ukraine will practically be one step from de facto being a member of the enlarged European economic zone and, hopefully, the prosperity zone as well.
So, maybe, we should be talking about the legal commitments that the EU has already taken before Ukraine, rather than politicize the issue and indeed antagonize the public opinion in Europe by mentioning the words like “enlargement” and “economic assistance”. We are talking about a much more technocratic approach that the EU and Brussels has already chosen vis-à-vis Ukraine. But there is no way to go just back very much from this approach, because it is a legal commitment.