“It is better for Kiev to focus more on reforms and not on being a victim of Moscow’s aggression. The ultimate goal is to end the occupation of Crimea,” said Ukrainian expert Susan Stewart of the German Institute for International and Security Relations to Pravda. Stewart said.
Photo: TASR / APAnd Ephrem Lukatsky
Veterans carry the national flag on the occasion of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the declaration of independence of Ukraine.
Slovakia was represented at the meeting by Prime Minister Eduard Heger. The Prime Minister promised that his government would participate in the work of the platform. Heger emphasized that Slovakia would never recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
With the Soviet Union slowly ending, independent Ukraine was formed on August 24, 1991. Despite many great difficulties, it is still an independent country. If you look into the past, do you see any political and social trends that affected the country 30 years ago and still influence what happens? Or is Ukraine in 1991 incomparable with Ukraine in 2021?
On the other hand, we are witnessing remarkable persistence in the sense that although Ukraine developed outside the Soviet environment, it did so by failing to overcome some of the shortcomings in the functioning of the state. These problems have evolved and differ when compared to the times of the Soviet Union. But it still exists, despite what Kiev often claims. That is, its goal is a deeper integration with the West. Ukraine has made progress on this, and it must be said that external actors also have an influence on its appearance. But we are seeing a certain disappointment as the country has gone after 30 years. Consider also what Ukrainian elites often say about their direction.
What has been Ukraine’s greatest success in 30 years?
I’ll go back to what I mentioned in the first question. Ukraine still exists as an independent country. If we look deeper into history, we cannot say that this is a common occurrence. Ukraine was often divided by powers. It is a country that is still moving in a kind of gray area. Kiev is not quite sure where it can extract resources for its safe existence, how to take care of it from within and create a stable environment for itself. I have already mentioned that external partners are also important for Ukraine in this case. Nevertheless, the country maintained its independence, although it lost part of its sovereignty and had a problem with its territorial integrity, as Russia annexed Crimea and destabilized some areas of eastern Ukraine.
It can certainly be said that these steps taken by Moscow in 2014 were the worst moments in the history of modern independent Ukraine. Crimea is still ruled by Russia and the war continues in eastern Ukraine. Could the conflict have been prevented seven years ago?
In the case of annexation of Crimea, I am not sure. But it was certainly possible to prevent the war in the Donbass. Basically, small groups of local criminals tried to start the conflict. They spoke of a kind of Antimaydan or Maidan itself and criticized the new government in Kiev. If the Ukrainian state were stronger, had greater control over the police and security forces, and had more will to establish order in the east of the state, there would be no room for Russia to start supporting forces in the region that was only marginal at the time. However, it can be said that Moscow decided to do this as well because it succeeded in annexing Crimea. But in the case of Donbass, there were ways to deal with the situation so that Ukraine would avoid what we have seen so far.
Does Kiev now have any options for conflict in the east?
Ukraine has less room for maneuver than in 2014. Russia has already dealt, so to speak, in the Donbass. I think Kiev should focus on reforming the country. It can also affect what happens in the Donbass. In this region, Russia mainly vetoes what is happening. However, this is no longer the case with regard to the reforms that Kiev should do. Ukraine can demonstrate its ability to act and impose significant changes in the functioning of the state. Then the West could have more desire and incentive to support Kiev. At the same time, it will have an indirect effect on the perception of the Ukrainian state in the occupied territories.
Ukraine created the Crimean podium to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of its independence. Do you think that this diplomatic initiative can change the dynamics of relations between Kiev and Moscow?
I do not expect that, because Russia has not joined the formula and is unlikely to join it. The platform’s ultimate goal is to end the occupation of Crimea. Russia flatly rejects it. It is good that Ukraine succeeds in keeping the annexation of Crimea on the international agenda, so that it can brief its partners on the militarization of the peninsula, environmental issues, human rights violations, and what is happening in the Black Sea region. The Crimean platform is not a bad initiative. But Ukraine’s resources are limited, so I think it is better for Kiev to focus more on reforms and less on being a victim of Moscow’s aggression.
Can EU countries and the West use the platform to push the Ukrainian government into reforms?
I do not think so. The Western parties must show that they have not forgotten the annexation of Crimea. Their support should not be conditional on Ukraine’s reform agenda. International law protects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state. It is possible to support the Crimean program and at the same time remind Kiev that it must focus on specific reforms.
A few days ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky complained that the West weighed in in terms of invitations to NATO, always mentioning corruption when talking about Kiev. Does Zelensky have reason to be frustrated, or would you rather look at his words as a reference to the domestic political scene?
Ukraine has often been in history between two blocs or two powers. This greatly affects the debate in the political landscape, which is related to the fact that Ukraine is subservient to someone or is in danger of having to submit to someone. On the other hand, it follows that Kiev insists that it will not surrender to anyone. But there are also complaints that the West is not sufficiently involved in Ukraine, and is unaware of its strategic importance to Europe’s security. I think this is true. But Ukraine’s political elites are to some extent relieved of their responsibility for the role they can play in achieving what they are talking about.
Germany and the United States recently reached an agreement on the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. From Russia, not only from Ukraine but also from other countries in the region, it was born without them. This is evidence of the willingness of the great powers to conclude agreements without asking the countries of Central and Eastern Europe whether they are satisfied with them. Do you agree with this criticism?
In general, it can be said that this is a problem. There is still a trend in German politics that can be described as being Russia first. German elites, as well as elites in France and elsewhere, must be constantly reminded of the need to engage in dialogue with countries east of the European Union and take into account the interests of countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic states. The question is what could have been done differently about the gas pipeline agreement between the United States and Germany. Perhaps many countries should have dealt with the fate of Nord Stream 2. The current agreement, in particular, is that Washington wanted to show that it was interested in a positive relationship with Berlin. However, I do not support the construction of the pipeline, and we should send completely different signals to Russia about whether and how to deal with it. We should not get involved in a project that is clearly important for Moscow from a political and geopolitical point of view and serves to strengthen the position of the regime in the Kremlin and its supporters.
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