Friday, September 21, 2018

Russia dominates talk on Ukraine's future at annual Yalta European Strategy conference

Mark Raczkiewycz, The Ukrainian Weekly (press release); article contains an additional illustration

Image from article, with caption: At the Yalta European Strategy conference (from left) are: Munich Security Conference chief Wolfgang Ischinger; Richard Haass, president of the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations; Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin; European Parliament member from Germany Michael Gahler; and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker.

KYIV – Russia’s imperial foreign policy and the adverse effect it has on neighboring countries and the world order took center stage at a panel devoted to Ukraine’s future at the annual Yalta European Strategy conference that took place on September 13-15.

Titled, “The Future of Ukraine and Eastern Europe – Beyond Spheres of Influence and Zones of Conflict,” the panel was moderated by Munich Security Conference chief Wolfgang Ischinger.

Discussions centered on how Ukraine can find peace in the smoldering Donbas war that Moscow has waged since April 2014 while increasing the stakes for Russia if it continues occupying Crimea, as well as parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

Moderator Mr. Ischinger set the tone by noting that “trust and the operational relationship between Russia and the West… has reached an all-time low.”

He then asked what can be done three years after the latest Minsk agreement was signed to bring peace to Ukraine to the following panelists: Richard Haass, president of the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations; Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Pavlo Klimkin; European Parliament member from Germany Michael Gahler; and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker.

America’s special envoy [Kurt Volker] noted that the conflict, which has killed more than 10,300 people and triggered the “largest movement of a European population since World War II” by displacing over 1.5 million people, is an “ongoing hot war.”

As during previous visits to Ukraine over the last year, Ambassador Volker said that “this is a Russian-led military force in the Donbas with two political entities created and controlled by Russia aimed at putting pressure on and controlling politics in Ukraine.”

On average, one Ukrainian soldier “is killed defending his country every three days,” he added.

He called for a “big spotlight” to shine on the humanitarian catastrophe that has emerged as a result and that “our publics, our government and all of our media” should not “just fall asleep.”

The failed Minsk peace process is “stuck,” he said. The way forward is to have a U.N.-mandated peacekeeping mission to “replace the Russian forces and create genuine security in the area.”

However, America hasn’t seen much “evidence” that Russia is prepared to allow peacekeepers in the Donbas, Mr. Volker stated.

Fundamentally, he noted, Russia continues to claim a right to determine the affairs of its neighbors.

“We in the West believe the opposite,” the U.S. diplomat said. “This difference in mentality is fundamentally the issue. The solution is that we need Russia to accept that it will live within its borders as a peaceful neighbor alongside Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and others.”

The moderator, Mr. Ischinger, observed that Russia will continue along its current course in the Donbas because it is not paying a high enough price.

“It seems to be relatively low-cost for Russia to simply… keep the conflict burning at this stage because they definitely don’t care for the people who live there or those who’ve been internally displaced,” concurred Mr. Gahler of the European Parliament.

He suggested that the EU show that this “approach is nothing that serves them.” Instead, Russia should be shown the benefits of improving relations with the West via cooperation in technology, innovation and trade.

“Prior to this aggression, we had an ambitious agenda with Russia. We had talks to have free trade from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” Mr. Gahler continued.

At present, it’s paramount that the EU stay united in its support to Ukraine and keep Russian sanctions in place amid ongoing Kremlin aggression, he added.

Minister Klimkin said there was no room for compromise with Moscow because it was a matter of Ukraine’s existence as a state.

His approach veered the discussion to a zero-sum paradigm in which Russia’s aim is to “weaken and fragment Ukraine.” The war isn’t about the Donbas, the foreign affairs minister said, or about soft power like creating a “pro-Russian reality.”

He continued: “Unfortunately, the Kremlin is too smart for that. The Kremlin’s strategy… is basically to constantly raise the stakes, increase this pressure. And the Western strategy, in many cases, was basically to lower the stakes. Whether this asymmetric approach is good, I have strong doubts.”

Mr. Klimkin demonstrably placed his microphone down on the table beside him when he concluded: “To be or not to be is not a point of compromise.”

Absent a domestic economic reform policy, Russia has “an imperial foreign policy,” said Mr. Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Thus, the West must raise the cost of this belligerent approach using three tools, he said. One is to further sanctions, increase public diplomacy [JB emphasis] inside Russia and provide Ukraine with more arms, [said] Mr. Hass.

Specifically, the West should “in detail” show Russians how many of their soldiers are dying in Ukraine and Syria and provide financial figures to disclose how much money is being spent on its foreign policy.

He added that Congress is mulling legislation to help Europe become less dependent on Russian gas as part of a long-term policy to reduce Moscow’s sway in the EU.

As for arming Ukraine, Mr. Haass said that “we’re not talking about NATO entry… Ukraine doesn’t come close to satisfying the conditions – the real issue for now is to enhance capabilities.”

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