Ways to tackle long-term effects of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and to resolve a conflict between the two are in the focus of presidential campaign in Ukraine. But after elections are over, the issue will still remain on the top of the regional security agenda.
For five years geopolitical effects of Kremlin’s aggressive decisions on Ukraine have been downgrading security architecture in Europe. This is not only a problem of Ukraine, but a common challenge. Lack of trust, application of violence, and institutional weakness are making Europe a more dangerous place.
The Minsk format, designed to contain the conflict in the East of Ukraine, has been the basic framework for managing the conflict. One thing is evident so far: it is apparently not enough. It proved helpful in containing Russian advance and freezing the conflict to a level of 100-150 battle casualties from each side annually. On the other hand, at some point it may also have become useful for making the conflict protracted, just like in a number of other post-Soviet cases. Disputed areas, separatists supported from Kremlin, Russian interference are common features of a geopolitical landscape in this part of the world. Seen as instruments for advancing Russia’s geopolitical interests, these conflicts, however, are often utilized by local elites for mobilizing internal and foreign support. But that is a risky game: benefits of that kind are covered by long-term security expenses. Frozen conflicts not only undermine security of home countries for decades, but also affect neighboring countries, which have to share the risks. So far there hasn’t been any reason to believe that Minsk format would be able to resolve the conflict in the East of Ukraine.
A stalemate of Minsk raises the issue of possible alternatives. One of them has always been around: breaking away from the agreement. Supported by hardliners in Ukraine, this option could hardly improve the country’s chances in struggling against Russia and at the same time places international sanctions against Russia under threat. Ukraine remains a weaker side to an asymmetric conflict, which means that a bad agreement is usually better than no agreement at all.
Another alternative has recently appeared on the agenda of Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the favorites of the presidential campaign in Ukraine. It is called “Budapest Plus”, referring to the Budapest memorandum of 1994, according to which Ukraine got security assurances in exchange for giving away its nuclear weapons. The main idea behind Budapest Plus is to engage the US, the Great Britain, France, China, Germany and the EU into an extended format, which would replace Minsk as a principal tool for conflict resolution.
There are at least two advantages such a format could bring about. First, a military conflict in Donbas is a part of a broader problem, which is security deficit in Eastern Europe. For various reasons, the region is facing elevated security risks. This is a problem for many, not just for Ukraine. Expanding a circle of mediators would follow the simple fact that states do care. Moreover, Russia’s actions against Ukraine have damaged mutual trust so much, that now it seems that bilateral issues can be approached only within a broader task of rebuilding security in Europe. This is something major powers can take care about.
Secondly, Budapest Plus may help not only increase pressure on Russia, but also to create a more favorable framework for Ukraine to deal with Russia in the long run, in particular over the issue of occupied Crimea.
Along with providing Ukraine with more leverage, a broadened format could also be more effective in restoring elements of world order, ruined by Russia’s decision to occupy Crimea in 2014. In the end most countries would benefit from restoration of international institutions, recharging of international law, and return of justice. Reference to Budapest memorandum underlines a connection between Ukrainian security and durability of non-proliferation regime, something most major powers are especially interested in.
Getting major powers on board would be hard – probably, the most challenging part of Tymoshenko’s plan. However, it doesn’t seem impossible. Europeans are already in, they just need to be persuaded to get a bit more involved – and get more security on their eastern borders in return. China is expanding its cooperation with Eastern Europe. Even though Ukraine is not taking part in the 16+1 format, the country’s instability and military standoff with Russia is negatively affecting the region in general, especially in areas which are priorities for China: infrastructure and energy. If Beijing wants more presence and more influence in Eastern Europe, it has to consider bigger responsibility for security concerns.
The US strategic goal of deterring Russian revisionism would play in Ukraine’s favor. However, Kyiv must be very precise in calculating its value as an ally for the US. Americans don’t seem to be willing to engage at any terms. Ukraine will have to increase its credibility and effectiveness. That could be seen as a part of preparatory work for launching Budapest Plus.
Approaches to dealing with the conflict in Donbas can surely be modified and expanded. But they have to bear two key components to be effective: mechanism for compensating Ukraine’s weakness against Russia and a way to include risks Ukraine is facing into a broader security agenda in Europe.
Author: Mykola Kapitonenko
ICPS participated in the Eastern Partnership Conference in Vienna
Expert of the International Centre for Policy Studies Yehor Kyian participated in the conference “Ten Years of EaP: Today's Achievements, Tomorrow's Goals”, which took place on May 28-29 in Vienna. The event was attended by representatives of diplomatic departments, governments and leading think-tanks in Europe. In general, all participants of the EaP Conference supported positive rhetoric and noticed significant achievements in cooperation. The Conference consisted of three closed and one public panel. Participants of the first closed panel “How to keep all stakeholders on board” tried to solve the problems of heterogeneity of the EaP countries. At the same time, the emphasis was placed on the need to avoid the “division” of the EaP countries due to their heterogeneity, but to focus on finding commonalities. The aspect of possible restrictions within the framework of the Eastern Partnership has been discussed during the closed panel “The EaP’s “external relations“ and third-party co-operation”. The emphasis was on increasing trade between countries. It was noted that it is necessary to improve cooperation not only with third parties and the EU, but also with each other within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. During the open panel discussion on general topic of the conference, the representatives of the European Commission and countries such as Austria, Romania, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova have exchanged successful experience in implementing reforms and cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. “It is not necessary to consider the entrance into the EU for the very purpose, because in implementing reforms, countries first of all improve their lives for themselves and should be interested in them,” ICPS expert Yehor Kyian conveys the ideas of one of the participants of the event. - Despite the support and assistance of the EU, some countries have observed bilateral trends - that is, not only the implementation of European values, but, on the contrary, exception to them. First of all, it is about oppression of freedom of speech and media.” During the “Transformation, approximation to EU standards and values, regional cooperation - Experiences and challenges across the wider European region” panel it was highlighted on the experience of the Balkan countries. Their representatives noted that it is necessary to give more clear benchmarks from the EU side regarding the prospects of joining. In their opinion, delaying integration processes can create internal opposition and loss of confidence / support from the public regarding accession to the EU. According to Yehor Kyian, participation in such events by the official Ukrainian delegation will allow our country to better demonstrate its position on the international arena and maintain a close dialogue with Europe.
International conference “Ukraine's relations with its Western neighbors. A chance for rebooting”
On May 22, ICPS conducted an international conference devoted to the analysis of Ukraine’s policy towards V4 countries with the participation of diplomatic missions’ representatives, expert community, think tanks, representatives of the state authorities and media. The conference was organized as part of the project “Ukraine and V4 countries: promoting better understanding” with the support of the International Visegrad Fund and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The International Centre for Policy Studies (ICPS) in cooperation with the experts from Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have analysed the trends of relations development in the region and presented recommendations on implementing the new neighbourhood policy between Ukraine and the countries of Visegrad Group. Ensuring good neighbourhood and stable relations between Ukraine and its Western neighbours is a necessary prerequisite for regional stability, given the existing security threats and challenges in the region. Elaboration of a new, improved approach on the relations between Ukraine and the countries of the Visegrad Group is necessary to improve and strengthen regional cooperation, as well as to prevent new divisions in the future. The experts came the conclusion that in order to limit the scale of problems in relations between Ukraine and its Western neighbours, as well as creating a more favourable environment, countries should discourage aggressive rhetoric towards one another in internal political discourses. Secondly, they should expand mutually beneficial areas of cooperation and try to develop common approaches. They should include regional security, energy security and transnational issues. Thirdly, countries should pay more attention to supporting democracy in the region. And, finally, more attention should be paid to the ways of mutual protection of ethnic minorities. In turbulent times, strong Central and Eastern Europe - in the security, economy, and social development potential - will be in the interests of not only regional states, but also Europe as a whole. The expert recommendations are entailed in a policy research “Ukraine’s neighbourhood policy towards V4 countries: promoting better understanding”.
Ukraine and V4 countries: promoting better understanding. Briefing for diplomatic missions in Ukraine
International Centre for Policy Studies (ICPS) has conducted a briefing for diplomatic missions in Ukraine as part of the project “Ukraine and V4 countries: promoting better understanding”. ICPS experts presented the analysis of the current state of relations between Ukraine and the V4 countries as well as their expert recommendations on improving the neighbourhood policy of Ukraine. Ensuring good and sustainable neighborhood relations between Ukraine and its Western neighboring countries is crucial for regional stability with a view of the existing security threats and challenges in the region. Elaboration of a new updated approach towards the relations between Ukraine and its V4 neighbors is necessary to improve and strengthen regional partnership and prevent the occurrence of new contradictions in the future. A deeper understanding of mutual interests may open space for compromise and logrolling. Deteriorating regional security is a challenge for all; and cooperation with the view to restore fundamental institutions may bring more benefits rather than continuation of disputes. To achieve this it would be useful to concentrate on long-terms achievements rather than on short-term gains. Spheres of common priority, i.e. energy security, transportation and transit capabilities, security cooperation, should be given special attention. Hostile rhetoric should be discouraged at all possible levels. Strengthening democratic institutions, enhancing rule of law, protecting human rights, improving solidarity, as well as promoting tolerance may become common goals, capable of contributing into a positive agenda of relations between Ukraine and its Western neighboring countries. The project “Ukraine and V4 countries: promoting better understanding” is implemented with the support of the International Visegrad Fund and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
Assessment of security challenges: consequences for Ukraine's foreign policy after the elections
International Centre for Policy Studies presented the analytical paper “Assessment of security challenges: consequences for Ukraine's foreign policy after the elections”. Former foreign ministers of Ukraine, diplomats, international experts participated in the expert discussion. While presenting the research, ICPS Associate Expert Mykola Kapitonenko identified the trends, challenges and threats to Ukraine's foreign policy and national security. In turn, ICPS Chief Adviser Vasyl Filipchuk outlined the tasks and priorities for Ukraine's foreign policy after the elections. “The world is changing rapidly, destroying the traditional notions of international security and the form of interaction between states, - reads the introductory part of the study. - Institutes of multilateral cooperation are in deep crisis. International law and other non-forcible means of regulating international relations are losing efficiency, while the demand for hard power is growing. States have less trust to each other and increasingly accept international politics as zero-sum games. Non-traditional threats are increasing and those that were on the agenda for a long time - for example, the proliferation of nuclear weapons - is becoming more acute. In such conditions, Ukraine is increasingly turning into an object of international relations, as well as losing its influence on regional processes, while non-mention of global ones. The space for maneuver in foreign policy is narrowing; the tools and resources to achieve their own goals are becoming less. The implementation of current foreign policy, characterized by mixing priorities and lack of realistic assessment of the international situation, further weaken Ukraine's position on all key issues: in conflict with Russia, in dialogue with Western partners and in relations with the majority of its neighbors,” the authors believe. According to them, the continuation of this state of affairs will lead to Ukraine's consolidation in the “gray zone” of Europe's security for decades. The authors consider that the only chance to avoid this scenario is the presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine in 2019. Although the results of these elections are difficult to predict, without doubt, one can predict for several years that the urgency of Ukraine's challenges in the field of foreign policy and security will not diminish, and their solution will occupy a priority place among the new leadership of the country. “It is probable that the reset of executive and legislative power will open a window of opportunity to solve existing foreign and security problems, but the external environment will remain as complex or even less favorable for Ukraine, - the research reads. - The domestic institutional or economic weakness of the country, even under conditions of rapid and successful post-election reforms, will continue to aggravate its foreign policy for a long time, and the absence of such reforms will further limit its foreign policy capabilities.” One of the conditions for a successful new foreign policy is an adequate reassessment of the foreign policy and security environment of the country, challenges, threats, its own resources and opportunities to achieve its goals. “No matter what developments have taken place, Ukraine will need much more professional, decisive and flexible diplomacy in the coming years. This diplomacy, in turn, will require a lot of attention and great resources. We will be forced to learn to think about safety issues not as they used to do in the past. And this can prove to be a serious test”, - the authors of the study conclude. During the discussion participants also critically expressed their views on the current work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreign policy of the state as a whole. Both Kostyantyn Gryshchenko and Borys Tarasyuk, other heavyweights of Ukrainian diplomacy and expert environment emphasized, in particular, the problem of weak management in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Research via the link (Ukrainian version): LINK
Expert discussion: “Who will stop the war in Donbas and return Crimea? Foreign Policy and National Security in the Pre-election Strategies of Candidates”
International Centre for Policy Studies presented the analysis of the pre-election strategies of presidential candidates in foreign policy and national security. “Recommendation No. 1 for all of our candidates is to begin by rethinking the current international situation and adequately assessing the current world political processes. We are always ready to help as an expert environment,” ICPS expert Iryna Ivashko said. According to the expert, the main international tendencies in the medium-term perspective are: the crisis of the world order, the return to hegemony of national interests, the lack of security, the growth of force forms of pressure, the weakening of international institutions. In turn, the director of the Institute for Global Transformations, Oleksiy Semeniy, noted that issues of foreign policy in the election race “do not play a leading role”. “The approach for Ukraine - it is necessary to work with people, and by means of experts, and to engage in “political education” in the field of basic foreign policy issues in order citizens to understand what they say to them and that it really means. This is a difficult path, but it is the only one. Candidates respond to ratings: there is a positive for the rating - I will say it; there is no - even if I am convinced, I will not say that,” - the expert said. Semeniy also suggested that the experts agree on two or three main concepts of foreign policy, based on the short-term basis, and suggest to these or other candidates to determine this issue. ICPS research (Ukrainian version): LINK
Expert discussion on Ukraine-Poland relations. Webinar 3
International Centre for Policy Studies in cooperation with the Geremek Foundation (Poland) initiated the conduction of the expert webinar devoted to the analysis of relations between Ukraine and Poland. Bilateral Polish-Ukrainian relations fully reflect geopolitical complexities, social interconnection, and cultural context of the recent century in the history of Eastern Europe. Driven by security considerations and mutual desire for closer partnership – or even alliance – these relations haven’t escaped series of conflicts and misunderstandings. A neighborhood with a tremendous potential remains vulnerable, this time not so much due to big powers’ games, but because of modified regional context and internal political developments. Both states perceive each other as strategic partners, and such a perception survived almost thirty years of ups-and-downs in international environment and internal political transformations in both countries. The stance of bilateral relations between them continues to be one of the key factors to overall regional stability. Poland and Ukraine have enough potential combined to impact regional political developments and put forward a new security agenda. This agenda should be realistic and take into account current political and geopolitical realities. At the same time, issues connected to national identities, including conflicts over history, are not likely to disappear. Rising nationalism will be a political trend in Eastern Europe for several years to come, and Poland and Ukraine should learn to live with it. Counterweighing identity issues with mutually beneficial cooperation in various spheres, introducing regional projects which would enhance joint efforts, concentrating on multilateral regional formats would help minimize risks of another wave of nationalism in the Eastern Europe. Attention should also be paid to improving democratic institutions. The task is crucial for Ukraine, which continuously falls into the “hybrid regime” group in EIU Democracy Index, but also important for other countries in the region, including Poland. More democracy would mean less internal conflicts, more power-sharing, and better protection for minorities – benefits, which any state of the region would welcome. The detailed analysis on the current state of play in Ukraine-Poland relations can be found in the webinar’s materials: ICPS presentation What is happening in relations between Ukraine and Poland? ICPS conducts a series of expert webinars devoted to the analysis of Ukraine’s relations with its Western neigbors as part of the project “Ukraine and V4 countries: promoting better understanding”. Considering potential negative consequences from the current tendencies, the main purpose of the ICPS expert discussions is to elaborate common, effective mechanisms for the normalization of relations and good-neighborliness between Ukraine and the member countries of the Visegrad Group. The project is implemented with the support of the International Visegrad Fund.