Event Report: Battle for and in Ukraine: Debating Global and Regional Security Architecture

February 20, 2018

On 20 November 2017, CEU’s Center for European Neighborhood Studies hosted an international conference titled “Battle for and in Ukraine: Debating Global and Regional Security Architecture”. It was co-organized with the Bratislava-based STRATPOL Strategic Policy Institute and with generous financing from the International Visegrad Fund.

Guests and speakers were welcomed by CENS director Professor Péter Balázs, who also recalled the Vilnius Eastern Partnership Summit four years ago with its surprising turn. He also highlighted that Ukraine is now a key issue of the European security architecture. It is also a demonstrative case of hybrid war with all elements present: a major external intervention, external support for separatists, “green men” and undeclared war, cyber warfare and fake news. However, Professor Balázs, added the optimistic message that Ukraine could, in connection with all the other crisis, become the basis of new security. It is intertwined with other post-Soviet conflicts as well as Syria and we need a very careful step-by-step approach.

Richard Turcsányi, director of STRATPOL, also welcomed the audience as co-host of the event and outlined the key rationale of the IVF funded program of which this conference was a key component: to support the development of security studies as a discipline at Ukrainian universities.  Finally, Her Excellency Liubov Nepop, Ukraine’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Hungary, delivered introductory remarks for the subsequent panels. She described the conflict eastern Ukraine as three years of aggression and occupation as well as a battle over the future and over the basis on which it will be built. The Ambassador also pointed out that many are still afraid to call out Russia’s involvement or others even justify it. She further argued that Russia tries to change, step by step, the perception of Europe and its map regarding Crimea and is also using Ukraine’s democratic European institutions against Ukraine itself. With regards to hybrid warfare, the Ambassador highlighted that the tools with which Russia threatens Europe are old. Even those who see a potential Russian threat among European policy-makers she reminded that Russia is not preparing for war, it is already waging war and it is necessary to find solutions to the problems we are facing.

The first panel, chaired by CENS research fellow Maryna Vorotnyuk, discussed Ukraine as a hotspot of the transatlantic security complex. She highlighted that the first point of departure for the panel is that security transcends hard military capabilities. There is also a normative battle for Ukraine and she explained that the main aim of the panel is to capture developments in strategic perspectives of and on Ukraine, including those in Russia, the European Union and NATO.

The first speaker on this panel was Volodymyr Dubovyk, Director of the Center for International Studies at the Odessa Mechnikov National University, who opened by expressing his support for CEU in its current situation. He highlighted that the conflict in Ukraine is ongoing, while even some in Ukraine itself tend to forget that the fighting and killing continues. Furthermore, he argued that Ukraine cannot give up on Crimea and Donbas while at the same time there is also no will to let the dying go on. This, he argued further, requires a discussion about how to solve this situation and there is no answer so far. He considers the Minsk agreement not good, but equally the best thing there is and there is not much choice. Dubovyk stressed that those responsible for what is going on in Luhansk and Donetsk are in Moscow and the West fails to recognize Russia as a conflict party. With regards to the internal situation, he explained that the ongoing militarization of Ukraine is detrimental to democracy and human rights as well as economically. As for ways forward, Dubovyk warned about a possible desire to regain nuclear weapons, which Ukraine exchanged for the now violated territorial guarantees in the Budapest Memorandum, even though it is widely considered a bad idea by experts. Becoming a non-NATO US ally is a non-starter and also not a sufficient security safeguard. Thus, he argued, the best way forward is to join NATO, but there is no invitation and Ukraine is not banging on the door either. However, in the long run he does not see an alternative course of action and Ukraine should not be left to itself as an unlucky smaller neighbor of Russia. On Western sanctions, he highlighted the symbolic effect they have in assuring Ukrainians that they are not alone in what he called a delayed war of independence. Dubovyk also dismissed the notion of a new Cold War, arguing that while Russia is in Cold War mode, the West is not and tries to avoid it. Finally, he commented that NATO is waking up and gaining coherence on its role and expressed the hope that NATO will protect the Black Sea region as it defends the Baltic region. In contrast, he assessed that the EU has failed to act coherently and foreign policy is renationalized toward the big member state capitals.

This was followed by remarks by András Rácz, Associate Professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Budapest. Rácz pointed out that the situation is a lot more stable in comparison to 2014 and that the Ukrainian Army has undergone a staggering development. This means that Russia cannot win militarily without full commitment, which is not in the interest of the Kremlin at the moment. Equally, Rácz regards it as highly unlikely that Russia would engage the Baltic States militarily. He argued that NATO deployment there means that many nations would be directly attacked by such a move, however, non-military are likely to continue to attempt to undermine the stability of the Baltics. With regards to the Russian commitment to encourage prisoner exchanges, Rácz highlighted that thus Russia admitted it has at least leverage over what goes on in Luhansk and Donetsk. Finally, he closed by arguing that as the flames of war cool, other issues are emerging. First, one needs to observe the developing conflict dynamics as ceasefire violations continue to test Ukrainian defenses and due to the large scale of Russian troop rotation the conflict level could be increased again. Second, one can expect a consolidation of Russia’s grip on Crimea, also logistically, but there might be a decoupling of the Crimea issue from the Donbas issue. Third, presidential elections are upcoming in both countries. Fourth, there remain soft security risk, like the large amount of unaccounted for guns or untreated PTSD. Fifth, it could become a lesson for Russia that using the military for foreign policy goals can be successful and there are first signs of it in policy documents. Finally, on sanctions, he argued that import substitution on worked in agriculture and one should be suspicious of Russian claims that sanctions have no effect.

The third panelist was, Sergiy Korsunsky, the Director of the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine, who called Russia’s actions a total deconstruction of the security architecture by its violation of the commitments made in the Budapest Memorandum. He also highlighted that Russia violated this international agreement as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, which implies that such security guarantees worldwide are not worth anything. Korsunsky exemplified these far-reaching potential consequences by asking how, given Russia’s behavior, the international community can guarantee the security of North Korea in exchange for giving up its nuclear program. Thus, he argued, even if Ukraine receives assistance and the overall situation improves, it should be considered necessary to punish Russia for this broader infringement of international law. Korsunsky also highlighted that the West disregarded the early warning signs, like Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, and the war with Georgia just one year later. He further argued that an asymmetrical war is waged all across Europe to undermine all existing alliance structures. To illustrate he recalled Tsar Alexander III and his statement that the only allies of Russia are its army and its fleet. Thus, Korsunsky suggested, Russia sees no equal partners, has been opposed to any European regional cooperation arrangements, while only being comfortable with isolated nation states it can compete with.

The panel was concluded by, Kálmán Mizsei, the former Head of the European Union Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine. He outlined the linkage between domestic reforms and security by highlighting that governments are concerned about painful reforms at times when they also need to rally the nation. Furthermore, heightened military spending in times of conflict binds resources that could otherwise be used to modernize the country. Furthermore, Mizsei recalled how endemic corruption under the previous presidents Kuchma and Yanukovych amounted to a Mafia-State with parasitic structures in the state body. Therefore, he explained, reform is a state-building exercise and reforms should broadly speaking liberate the economy and liberate the citizenry. Despite the associated difficulties, many reform steps have to be taken even at times of war, and he highlighted the examples of radical privatization as in Central Europe during the 1990s, a significant land reform, the taxation of overseas profits of oligarchs and sweeping anti-corruption measures. Mizsei suggested that the key question, however, is the creation of an independent judiciary, where we are currently witnessing non-reforms. Another important issue he highlighted is decentralization and argued that while Ukraine is on paper a highly centralized state, but de facto it is a negotiated system with patronage and corruption as key mechanisms. He furthermore argued that he sees it as a misconception that federal subjects could be “snatched” by Russia. Finally, he concluded that Ukraine and the international friends of Ukraine need to be smarter and more concerte in promoting reforms. However, we cannot allow ourselves “Ukraine-fatigue” nor undermine sovereignty with excessive conditionality.

The second panel of the event “Ukrainian Security Strategy Revisited: Regional Dimension” collected panelists who shared their opinions on regional dimensions of Ukrainian foreign policy, namely in the Black Sea region and Central Europe.

Dr. Yevgeniya Gaber, who is affiliated with the Embassy of Ukraine in Turkey, presented a “southern perspective” on the Ukrainian-Russian conflict and its security implications for the Wider Black Sea region. She reminded that the deterioration of the security situation in the Black Sea basin had started long before Russia’s war against Ukraine. According to Dr.Gaber, flaring up a number of conflicts throughout the Black sea region in early 1990’s (Transnistria, Nagorniy Karabakh, Southern Ossetia, Abkhazia), followed by Russo-Georgian war in 2008, illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russian aggression in the eastern regions of Ukraine, intervention in Syria in 2015 to back Assad’s regime, financing Kurdish nationalistic forces in Northern Iraq and Syria, as well as far-right and far-left political forces in Europe, has given Moscow an important leverage to influence both foreign and domestic politics in many countries. Y.Gaber quoted one of the Turkish experts saying that today “Russia is not, as some would like to believe, a revisionist state with limited, well-specified grievances, but a revolutionary state that seeks to dismantle the foundations of a post-Cold war liberal order”, adding that Russia’s growing assertiveness in the region should be regarded, first of all, as a desire to challenge the West and to question the viability of the liberal democracies in the Central and Eastern European countries and their commitment to the Euro-Atlantic values. As an example, she mentioned Russian intervention and bombing of civil areas in Syria, which have led to new waves of migrants to Europe and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that has become a major test for the EU solidarity, created ground for the rise of far-right and Eurosceptic political forces in Europe and led to serious problems in Turkey’s relations with Brussels bringing it closer to Russia.

Dr. Sergii V. Glebov, Dean of the School of International Relations at the Institute of Social Sciences, in the beginning of his presentation opted for the term „war of Russia against Ukraine“ as opposed to the notion „war between Ukraine and Russia“, as in his point of view, this reflects the realities on the ground better. He pointed to the regional dimension of the conflict („We have war in Europe“), but also a pronounced global diomension of it („Russia being the UN SC member, this brings the whole confliot to the global agenda“). Dr. Glebov analyzed the theoretical premises of the Black sea security architecture, showing the competing security spaces in the region – Russia- and NATO-led ones. The Black sea region is not in a full sense „space of interconnetion“ but rather there are ruptures of security in the region, according to him. 

Dániel Bartha, director of Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy (Budapest), analyzed the specifics of Ukrainian-V4 cooperation. He opined that „when it comes to aid, we are not target countries for Ukraine. But when it comes to cooperation, we are“. Mr.Bartha proceeded by analyzing the Ukrainian Security Strategy highlighting that categorization of partners if offers in the text is unusual, in his view, as he sees it as unnecessary ranking. He expressed his belief that there are number of issues where Ukraine and Visegrad states could be equally useful to each other, bringing the example of building up interoperability, also based on existing NATO infrastrcuture. He referred to Ukraine’s participation in V-4 battle group and Ukrainian battle experience as a potential venue for cooperation.  He concluded with saying that if reforms in Ukraine continue, there will be even more space for further cooperation. 

In his remarks,Dr. Péter Krekó, executive director of Political Capital, a think-tank in Budapest, opined that Visegrad-4 as a regional platform still matters. If to analyse the Visegrad states’ reactions to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, one might sum the issue up with the title of the respective publication „Diverging voices, converging policies” – which points to the fact that across the issues these states have often converging policies, even though divergent opinions. As an example of convergence, he brought the issues of the sanctions against Russia, claiming that „none of the dovish states turned down the sanctions”. Another example is, in his opinion, the policy of humanitarian aid. Remarkable divergence in V-4 states’ positions can be seen in public opinion on Russia. He brought up the issue of media landscape and stated that many Russian narratives found their way to the mainstream media in Hungary.