Events - 04.12.2014 - 00:00 

“A hard winter for Ukraine”

Ukraine continues to suffer from unrest. Russia is increasing its presence on the border, thus provoking a tightening-up of sanctions. The St.Gallen Security Policy Forum devoted a public panel discussion at the HSG to the Ukraine crisis.


4 December 2014. The panel was made up of Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schmid, the University of St.Gallen’s Russian expert, Tuomo Talvela, Counsellor and Head of the Political Section at the EU Delegation to Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein, and Maksym Butkevych, journalist and human rights activist from Kiev. Dr. Carmen Scheide, Executive Director of the Center for Governance and Culture in Europe at the HSG, chaired the discussion. The English-language panel discussion was organised by the student association, St.Gallen Security Policy Forum.

Danger to political equilibrium

Maksym Butkevych spoke for the reform-oriented forces of the Maidan protests in Kiev and emphasised that an end to the conflict would not be in sight for a long time. “The Ukrainian independence movement is still very strong, but the coming winter will be an acid test for the forces of the voluntary independence activists,” he said at the beginning of the discussion.

As a journalist and blogger, he repeatedly noticed that perceptions of the Ukraine conflict differed greatly depending on people’s points of view. The propaganda of Russia’s mass media was effective. In many Russian programmes, emotions were used in a manipulative way for the pro-Russian mobilisation of TV viewers. Russia called the conflict a civil war, whereas Ukraine itself regarded the clash as a war between Ukraine and Russia. “The conflict does not wear down Ukraine alone,” said Butkevych. In the long run, the war also constituted a danger for the political equilibrium for neighbouring regions and Europe.

War on the basis of domestic policy considerations

Carmen Scheide explained that it was not for lack of trying that no representative of Russia could be attracted to the panel discussion. “This, too, is a sign of Russia’s perception of Ukrainian concerns: for Russia, an autonomous Ukraine does not exist,” said Butkevych.

The advocatus diaboli was played by Ulrich Schmid, Professor of Russian Culture and Society at the University of St.Gallen. He summarised the conflict and the conditions surrounding it as follows: “There is no division of Ukraine into a pro-European west and a pro-Russian east. The war in Ukraine primarily also serves the Kremlin’s domestic policy interests: the conflict has triggered off a wave of patriotism in Russia. Putin wants to show the Russian population that any mass protest inevitably leads to chaos and civil war.”

The EU was taking on a role which it did not want in this conflict originally, said Ulrich Schmid. “Any peace compromise in this conflict is already a war objective attained for Russia,” said the HSG professor in view of the OSCE’s role. The international security organisation was being instrumentalised by Putin in order to win the hybrid war.

"The annexation of the Crimea is illegal" 

Tuomo Talvela, Counsellor and Head of the Political Section at the EU Delegation to Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein (EEAS), said that the EU had provided Ukraine with financial and institutional backing. Beyond this, however, Talvela emphasized that the EU is not willing to influence political decisions of the Ukrainian government. The EU and its member states, he pointed out, use sanctions as one tool within their comprehensive approach of working towards a peaceful resolution. This, in Talvela’s view, is the common denominator of the EU's measures.

Talvela rejected the argument that sanctions aim at an isolation of the Russian Federation. Instead, he explained, the EU’s restrictive measures are "not punitive but an incitement to bring about a policy change“ on the Russian side. He emphasized the peace-making intention behind these measures, and agreed that the poor investment climate in Russia and the weak rouble have a particularly strong impact at the moment. “The annexation of Crimea is illegal,” said Talvela, quoting the EU’s official position with regard to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

During the discussion with the audience, it was mentioned that the EU had waited for too long to intervene in the conflict. At present, as the representative of the West, it was completely abandoning the pro-European forces of the Maidan movement. EU representative Talvela countered that the EU had agreed on an appropriate package of measures for the support of Ukraine. This also applied to entry requirements. It was understandable that the pro-European forces of Ukraine were “not amused” when their neighbouring regions already enjoyed better access to EU countries than their own region did.

Disillusion and hope for the end of terror
Citizens of the Republic of Moldova have been able to enter the EU without a visa since April 2014. This decision was accelerated by the Ukraine crisis. Blogger Maksym Butkevych expressed his regret that Ukraine was left out in the cold, which disillusioned Ukrainian pro-European forces in many places. Making it easier for Ukrainian citizens to enter the EU was not foreseeable in the short term. He hoped that the Maidan movement would not be worn down either by the cold of winter or by Putin’s terror, and that an autonomous democracy would evolve in the long term. In his concluding statement, Ulrich Schmid hoped that the sanctions imposed by the market on Russia would have an effect.

Photo: Photocase / kallejipp

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