12 June 2019

The security forum from Kiev- Ukraine

Cristian Eremia

Europe is concerned with Ukraine’s internal vulnerabilities. Russia continues the militarization process and attacks Europe’s security priorities. There is no military solution for the conflicts at European continent’s periphery coming neither from EU, nor the involved states. The West did not help Ukraine enough. Europe’s future will be designed in Ukraine. EU and NATO’s accession process, a catalyst factor for Ukrainian nation’s unity. Ukraine should not focus only on EU and NATO, but develop other foreign partnership relations. West’s patience for Ukraine’s slow reforms’ process reached the limit.

Image source: Mediafax

The 12th edition of Kiev’s Security Forum took place between 11th and 12th of April. This political and analytical platform on international and regional security issues was launched back in 2007. It has approached, during time, several European security and defence problems, local conflicts, energy security, borders’ management, international terrorism, conventional and mass destruction armament’s proliferation or illegal migration. After the 2014 Crimea event, Ukraine’s officials decided to focus more on national, regional and European security estimations, in order to draw West’s relevant international actors’ attention on the Ukrainian foreign and security policies imperatives in terms of Ukraine and its proxy states’ serious involution security, mainly the Black Sea Region.

This year’s forum program[1] was conditioned by Ukraine’s difficult political, social, economic and security condition and the fact that 2019 is a complex electoral year, to have both presidential and parliamentary elections that are extremely important for the future of the Ukrainian state and the multidimensional confrontation evolution with Russia. Hence, all the attention was on Ukraine’s serious security issues, possible solutions and Russia’s new profile in the regional and European security and foreign policies.

National, regional and European security

Ukraine’s biggest concern is that Russia will not stop the complex militarization process and will destroy Europe’s security priorities. Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council Secretary, O. Turchynov, has noticed that Moscow is investing a lot in military infrastructure projects (airfields for the offensive military aviation, a great number of military mobility systems for many military units at the Ukrainian border, new military bases and weapons and equipment deposits etc.). Turchynov gave some details about Russia’s possible military forces in a war with Ukraine: “In the east of our state, we are opposed by the 8th Army of the Southern District of the Russian Federation, in the north - the 20th Army of the Western District of the Russian Federation. And the Russians consider this not enough as they keep the 1st Tank Army in reserve, the 49th and the 58th combined-arms army - and this is not enough. To ensure the offensive, which is being prepared by the Russian Federation, the 6th and the 4th aerospace armies will be used. They have deployed eight guided missile brigades along our border". He talked about the reinforced forces of the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Sea (that can be used in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea) and the 22th Army Body placed in Crimea. The Ukrainian official ended by saying that they are talking about a huge military strike power, which suggests that Russia is getting ready for massive military operations, including a large-scale continental war.

“Any attempts to negotiate war’s end with Putin’s Russia are useless and a waste of time if you do not come with proper strategies and serious pressures”, stated the founder of “Open Ukraine” Foundation and former Ukrainian prime-minister, Arseni Yatsenyuk. He thinks that Ukraine’s situation is quite clear today, Putin’s plans with Ukraine are not finished yet and, consequently, the East war is not done, because Putin does not want peace, as he is able to challenge the entire world: “Putin has a conflict not only with the West, but with world’s and Ukraine’s democracy”. Yatsenyuk also added that, given these circumstances, Ukraine’s security should be both Kiev and the international community’s concern. And Ukraine is definitely confused, because it did not receive enough help, like serious Western sanctions, able to make a difference (energy and hydrocarbons sanctions, blocking “Nord Stream 2” or the Russian companies and technologies’ accounts, personal financial sanctions for the Russian nomenclature). The Minsk agreements need to be reviewed and upgraded in order to match the nowadays realities. Ukraine should ask for financial-material compensations within the international court after Russia’s damages, as well as indemnifications for Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea’s “illegal annexation”.

The West did not help Ukraine enough. It was noticed a sort of skepticism on West’s future involvement in solving the Ukrainian file, especially because the West did not actually have a “univocal agreement” on Ukraine’s situation. They are calling on how the solution for Azov Sea’s crisis would have, in fact, create another crisis, if there would have been serious sanctions imposed over the Russian port waters.

Europe is, among others, concerned with the Ukrainian vulnerabilities which are not related to military actions. Although everyone would have expected for the 2014 events to bring more unity for the Ukrainian nation, in fact, the Ukrainian societies’ realities are facing civil society’s polarization and the deep distrust emerged between society and authorities, uncertainties and disputes in approaching the relation with Russia. These are increasing the idea that Ukraine could easily enter under Russia’s influence sphere, which would destroy the already allocated resources and efforts, including the Western ones, to build a modern Ukrainian state to match the Euro-Atlantic standards. On the other hand, some analyzes have suggested that some of Putin’s wrong estimations have encouraged Ukraine’s citizens to follow state’s Euro-Atlantic orientation (Steven Pifer, US ambassador). A proof to that end are the public surveys which weighs up more on NATO’s accession and Constitution’s amendment that would allow the Euro-Atlantic integration.

Ukraine is still facing an extremely difficult time. Besides Crimea and the Eastern war, there are also serious new political and social-economic issues, as well as a critical humanitarian situation in the conflict regions. The US supports Ukraine’s territorial integration and sovereignty, does not recognize Crimea’s annexation and both Lugansk and Donetsk Eastern republics’ lawfulness, is supporting negotiations’ continuation, the implementation of Minsk’s Agreements and new solutions for an international peace mission (Kurt Volker, US ambassador).

 There is no military solution for the conflicts at European continent’s periphery coming neither from EU, nor the involved states, but there should be a “measures package calling on the civil side and subjected to EU’s decision”. EU’s policy on sanctioning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was fair, and EU’s unity and cohesion have noticed president Putin’s wrong estimations. “He might have won Crimea, but he lost the war for Ukraine” (Nils Schmid, SDP member within the German Bundestag). Germany supports Ukraine, regardless of the new elected president. Eastern Europe’s security regional issues’ prevalence was marked by the relevance the East-European consensus should have over the Pan-European consensus. “Europe’s future will be designed in Ukraine”, because Russia, which is confronting the Ukrainian territory “thinks outside the borders” (James Sherr, Chatham House’s Eurasia and Russia Program). The most important states in the region (Poland, Romania and the Baltic states) have a consensual agreement on the Ukrainian file, as the war in Ukraine is not targeting only Ukraine, because Russia has proved, many times, that its policies does not consider the official borders.

The European community was asked to show Ukraine solidarity: “Europe should not stay behind Ukraine’s back, but lead and support Ukraine in this process” (R. Karoblic, Lithuanian Minister of Defence). Poland wans the Ukraine-Russia conflict to be solved following the Minsk Agreements. The Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry sees it as the most serious and challenging conflict the international community is experiencing, and its solution is a priority as “Europe cannot face a new frozen conflict” (M. Przydacz, Foreign Affairs Minister’s Deputy).

Reforms and the political class

Most of the foreign personalities think that Ukraine should immediately complete the reforms initiated 5 years ago, in order to prove its European integration ambitions. They should stop thinking that “Western partners’ patience over Ukraine is endless”. Both the US and the West are supporting Ukraine, but the slow process cannot end forever. Some of Ukraine’s Supreme Court decisions, taken this year, on the unconstitutional legislative procedures over unlawful enrichment have raised some questions among the Western leaders over Kiev’s determination to end corruption. Other events related to justice have also tested West’s patience (Melina Haring, The Ukraine Alert Editor).

They have also called on Ukraine focusing more on reforms and the implementation of the necessary standards for NATO’s accession “without (politically) forcing the NATO accession”. Ukraine must use the Action Plan on Integration to bring the national standards to the western ones level, but also to increase its military presence in the Black Sea region (Alexander Vershbow, the US Atlantic Council). Also related to reforms, the West wants to see both presidential and parliamentary democratic elections, but also a reform for the political class and the Supreme Rada (the Parliament), because they need guarantees that the reforms will be made following a parliamentary consensus. They recommend more convergent and coherent cooperation between the new Parliament and the new president for the Donbas conflict solving, in order to determine the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the occupied Ukrainian territories, given that the Minsk Format got blocked (the US Atlantic Council).

Euro-Atlantic Integration

Ukraine should develop more foreign friendship, cooperation and solidarity relations and focus less on NATO and EU. “The more foreign relations you have, the better, because this way there will be less dangerous scenarios” (Andrew Wilson, the Foreign Relations Council, Great Britain).

The NATO and EU accession brought more unity for the Ukrainian society, because the European values, the respect for human’s rights and the high prosperity standards are values the Ukrainian society believes in. It is on Ukraine to fulfill all the accession criteria, even with all these difficult period, to save the state and transform Ukraine into a “successful country with happy people”. Kiev’s actual regime’s plan involve Ukraine accessing EU by 2023 (after reforms’ supposed end), because only the EU and NATO member status can guarantee Ukraine’s independency. If all the estimations will go as planned, they must quickly organize a referendum on NATO’s accession, when Constitution’s modifications for the delegation of one of the sovereign parts by both organizations will be done, maybe after the autumn parliamentary elections (Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, who called on collective emotions, in full swing for the final round of the presidential elections).

The sociological studies presented at the Forum are showing that after the Eastern war has erupted, the Ukrainians have stopped seeing NATO as an aggressive military bloc, alike the indoctrination that lasted in Moscow for years. In South-East of the country, 89% of the citizens had a negative opinion on NATO, and the number has decreased to 40-50%. Ukraine people’s opinion modification after the 2014 event, called “tectonic move”, is one of the “few positive effects of the armed conflict in the East”, seen as an increase of patriotic and national pride feelings (A. Bychenko, director of Kiev’s Sociology Center). Although the European integration idea is truly dominating the Ukrainian society, studies are showing that Ukrainian citizens do not want to focus on EU and NATO only, especially when talking about an armed conflict that Ukraine would be involved in.

Indeed, there were also some arrogant political statements comparing to West’s insistencies for Ukraine to start the reforms and reach the allied standards for integration. Hereof the reaction of politician Anatoli Gritsenko- leader of the Civil Position Party, who stated that his country, even with the current difficult economic and military situation, is more prepared for the NATO accessions than Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania were when they accessed NATO.” As for the army, he said that Ukraine would have outran many NATO countries. The Ukrainian politician agrees that there are many scarce fields, but he is convinced that NATO will, again, say “homework for Ukraine”, because some NATO states “will not be ready to see Ukraine in the Alliance due to some double-standards policies” or other hidden reasons.

The 2019 electoral year

This year’s electoral process adds some more arguments to West’s estimations according to which there is a great difference between politicians’ speeches and the concrete implementation of the foreign and internal policies. The US is interested in Zelenisky’s vision (to be seen until the final presidential round) on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration because it is a process by which the American part has reaffirmed its availability in cooperating with Kiev, including through creating a national consensus between the political parties. The US does not have a favorite on these elections, but has principles and objectives, like developing the democratic institutions, the consolidation of security and statehood, combating corruption and other negative phenomena (Marie Yovanovitch, US ambassador).

The first round of the 21th of April elections was competitive, calm, has revealed the exact vision of the Ukrainian nation and we expect the next electoral processes, to take place this year, be the same. The Home Affairs Minister, Arsen Avakov, has ensured that elections’ security risks are gone and there were created the proper conditions for a calm transfer of power. However, no one knows for sure if they will be able to keep second tour’s security if there will be small differences on the votes that could be attacked by candidates and the rival forces when they will have nothing to lose anymore.

The Forum was created by the “Open Ukraine” Foundation, supported by the NATO Information and Documentation Center from Ukraine, the German Marshall Foundation, Victor Punchuk Foundation, the Royal International Relations British Institute, Chatham House and the Regional Organization from Kiev of Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

There were no political or military leaders from international states or organizations to have the same international interests or policies as Russia.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] http://ksf.openukraine.org/en/ksf/2019/