Experts: Future relations with Russia should be based on a strategy of containment


The expert community suggests building a strong state from inside Ukraine, encourage the Western partners to provide more support yet their opinions on the Minsk agreements.

Kyiv, September 28, 2016. Ukraine should build its future relations with Russia on the strategy of containment of its northern neighbor. On the domestic level, this strategy should include reforms, economic growth and strengthening the defense and on the foreign level – a more active position, further negotiations and mobilization of the international community to support Ukraine. This opinion was expressed by experts at Ukraine Crisis Media Center during the presentation of the research “Foreign policy audit: Ukraine-Russia” of the Institute of World Policy and its further discussion.

The Institute of World Policy’s research states that the basic premise of the current situation was Russian age-old claim to regional leadership and the perception of Ukraine as an integral satellite. Accordingly, Ukraine’s attempts to choose its own development vector had always encountered a tough response, said Olesya Yakhno, expert of the Institute of World Policy. The first harbingers of 2014 events appeared in 2008, during the Russian-Georgian war and came to the surface after the Revolution of Dignity. This was preceded by a break in the political strategies of Russia itself – the events in Bolotna Square and a turn from the Western vector to the “cold war” after Vladimir Putin started his third presidential term.

Today, it is clear that the state vectors of Ukraine and Russia are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive. In this situation, it is important for Ukraine to carefully analyze the social and political processes taking place in Russia and try to predict its behavior, including long-term, and the impact of the situation on Ukraine. But we should also consider what Ukraine-Russia relations should be after the crisis. “We have to make a set of requirements about what kind of Russia as our neighbor would be acceptable, as this neighbor will not go away – a proactive vision, because when time comes to discuss peace, all these issues will be touched upon,”  said Olesya Yakhno. According to the research, these basic requirements should include Russia’s renouncement of imperial ambitions and claims to regional or global domination; compliance with the contractual basis and rejection of speculation on the themes of language and culture as a pretext to destabilize and blackmail.

Experts are of an opinion of the best position for Ukraine were different. “The key task should be containment of the country-aggressor because it is the only way to make it respect international law,” stated Volodymyr Ogryzko, head of the Centre for Russian Studies, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in 2007- 2009. In his opinion, Ukraine must “break diplomatic relations with the country-aggressor, introduce a visa regime and finally leave what is called the CIS” [Commonwealth of Independent States – UCMC note] and stop hoping that soon Russia will change its policy. Western partners should also understand this. Ukraine should not base its policy on responding to the neighbor’s actions but lead its own political game – implement the strategy of containment of Russia, along with strengthening the defense potential. “Then we will be interesting to NATO, we will be able to offer the Alliance what it has not got now – a strong eastern flank,” he said.

According to Kostyantyn Gryschenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in 2010-2012, we have to choose a more cautious strategy. “Today, our main task is to find a formula of the military conflict cessation that would meet our long-term interests. However, this cannot be achieved without the participation of Russia. It is difficult to propose a formula that would work for all (…), but we understand that it is important to close the issue, which is the greatest threat to economic stability and progress of Ukraine, to continue the path of reforms and democratic society,” he explained. The main challenge is the tactic. Mr. Gryschenko noted that he deems it necessary to maintain some contacts with Russia at least in order to be able to somehow influence the RF leadership’s position.

Volodymyr Fedorin, co-founder of Bendukidze Free Market Center, also noted that “the main thing that Ukraine can do to establish the long-term stable relations with Russia is to build a strong state.” The basis for soft power in relations with Russia should be, firstly, radical reforms, and secondly, strengthening of the defense capacity. Besides, we should take advantage of our position – “front line” of the Western world. “Ukraine can become the leader of the Western world in consolidating the analytical work on the processes in Russia. This requires only the proper corporate governance of projects and institutions, so that our western allies will understand that Ukraine is ready to provide the quality analytics rather than pursues its own ends,” noted Volodymyr Fedorin. In his view, we should maintain contact with the Russian intelligentsia who do not agree with the political line of the government. In particular, Ukraine can help Russia to “recode” their culture, offering Russian students to look at it from the international perspective rather than from the domestic one, and thus it will be deprived of its imperial ambitions, which now make it a tool of aggression.

The experts unanimously agreed that Ukraine should take up a much more decisive and proactive position on the international level in order to ensure the support of the international community and the continuation of sanctions. This is particularly important in view of strengthening of the pro-Russian sentiment in Europe. “It is unlikely that we can change the situation by civil society’s efforts, if Washington, Paris and Berlin do not hear us. It is necessary that the Ukraine’s position is more rigidly and consistently established by those who can articulate it in such a way that the western audience hears it,” stressed Kostyantyn Gryschenko.

As to the prospects of the Minsk agreements, opinions were divided. According to Volodymyr Ogryzko, there is no sense in hoping for a political settlement of the situation within the framework of the Minsk or Normandy format, because the last two years have demonstrated the inability of international treaties and institutions to respond to such challenges. Kostyantyn Gryschenko believes that the Minsk format can still help stop the hostilities and bring the dialogue on the implementation of agreements into practice: “to reject what is threatening our future, but at the same time, to propose formulas that can be used at some stage with the prospect of achieving the result within the legal framework of Ukraine.” Olesya Yakhno noted that the Minsk format has enabled the so-called “Novorossia” to be localized, and now it at least provides a platform for discussion. In her opinion, “only a combination of different platforms, such as Minsk and, potentially, Geneva; economic pressure through sanctions; the   reforms and strengthening of the defense capacity will allow us to withstand Russia.”