Three Panels in April in the North and South of Germany
With crises from other parts of the world dominating the news in Europe, the crisis directly at our European front door is no longer in the headlines. Two years after the Revolution of Dignity ended in the ouster of (ex-)president Yanukovych, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom highlighted the lasting importance of political and societal developments in Ukraine. While the revolution has voted the old guard out, the system has not yet been broken. Three panels in Hamburg (April 15th), Kiel (April 16th) and Bad Homburg (April 26th), the last in cooperation with the Karl Hermann Flach Foundation, addressed the crisis and the war but also some promising perspectives and examples for sustainable modernization and change in Ukraine on its way from a post-Soviet “corruption-state” to a state under the rule of law.
Mr Pradetto and Mrs Kosmehl on the Panel in HamburgIn Hamburg and Kiel, journalist Boris Reitschuster, political scientist August Pradetto and the project director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Ukraine, Miriam Kosmehl, faced questions from the moderator, Jan Puhl from the German magazine Der Spiegel(Hamburg), and from Stefan Hansen of theInstitute for Security Policy (Kiel) on how to interpret the political stalemate in Ukraine caused by the resignation of the reform-minded (ex-)economics minister in February as well as how to solve the deadlock to the implementation of the Minsk peace agreement and deal with Russia’s unpredictable assertiveness on the world stage. It was underlined that freezing the war in eastern Ukraine implies that it can be ‘unfrozen’ at discretion, a tactic which has already been used before to the detriment of a frozen war’s ‘mother country’ and which reduces that country’s Western orientation – which is why such conflicts must be solved, not just frozen.
Bad Homburg PanelIn Bad Homburg the focus was more clearly on Ukraine, with the Moderator, Christoph von Marshall of the German daily Tagesspiegel, asking the panel guests, Sabine Adler ofDeutschlandradio, political scientist Thomas Jäger, vice-chairman Karl-Heinz Paqué and Miriam Kosmehl of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, for traits that make Ukraine particularly vulnerable during its reform trajectory. Discussing reform processes and the differences between old and new elites in detail, the main message was that financial and technical assistance to Ukraine should be tied to Ukraine staying on the reform path and to firmly support the well-coordinated network of Ukrainian civil society experts with reformers in the executive and in parliament during their big challenge against what has turned out to be an oligarchic counter-revolution. Foreign partners tend to underestimate the harm being done by combining (justified) pressure for reforms with (unreasonable) claims linked to the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Since the political troubles and difficulties with respect to achieving lasting reforms in Ukraine are not directly related to the problem of war with Russia, both must be kept separate. Otherwise, reformers are being discredited, which plays into the hands of the Kremlin and its intention of destabilizing Ukraine. Therefore, targeted reform from above in the key areas of justice and in respect to the still mighty apparatus of the public prosecutor’s office must remain in the centre of the foreign partners’ significant but unambiguously conditional support.
As for European action towards Russia, everyone agreed that at least displaying a unified position when it comes to targeted sanctions against Russian decision-makers must remain at the core of the Western partners’ basic strategy in order to counteract the dire human rights and humanitarian situation in the occupied territories of Ukraine. There, a culture of impunity is spreading that will deepen the gap between Ukrainians living in different regions, further hampering future conflict resolution and providing an area of instability.
Panel discussion in Bad Homburg (in German):
- Moderator: Dr. Christoph Marschall, Tagesspiegel
- Prof. Dr. Paqué, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Vice-Chairman of the Board
- Sabine Adler, Eastern-European Correspondent, Deutschlandradio
- Miriam Kosmehl, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Kiev
- Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger, University of Cologne
Parts of Ukraine’s territory remain threatened by war like conditions with Russian backed separatists and the EU is losing its patience indicated through the Dutch referendum in May 2016. This discussion aims to shed light on the current situation in Ukraine and portray the obstacles on its path to Europe. The panelists who came together represent different perspectives and examine the situation from divergent angles.
Positions of the panelists on the Ukrainian path towards Europe
Miriam Kosmehl examines the Ukrainian situation with a profound and well balanced attitude domestically. From her point of view the oligarchic counter-revolution is responsible for decelerating reforms. These reforms are needed in the realm of Justice, prosecution and political system. During the last two years a lot has happened, but if in these major areas nothing will change, other areas will fall back and no reforms will be implemented.
But the Ukrainian civil society stands not alone and is supported by Western institutions. Above all is the US embassy criticizing acts of cautious and reluctant reforms. Additionally, Mrs. Kosmehl argues for a top down approach by the EU where it propagates steady conditionality. This top-down approach aims at diminishing corruption and help build a constitutional state, supported by a strong civil society. This is one way of replacing the former soviet elites, who divided the resources among themselves and replace them with new personal. One needs to take into account that the transition by reformers takes time and that we are talking about dimensions of 10-20 years.
Prof. Dr. Paqué examines the issue from a European perspective. For him one problem is the EU losing motivation with Ukraine, because of a slow integration process. One might interpret that Ukraine is not capable of implementing reforms and therefore stuck. Consequently, European leaders are less willing to invest Ukraine integration. An additional factor is the sanctions against Russia and that some start reasoning about solutions with Putin, which is worsening the base line of the political acceptance in Europe.
Sabine Adler, who has a well-founded insight into the Ukrainian society, due to her work as a journalist, considers the discrepancy between civil society and political leadership as the main problem. The social society has a clear understanding how the state has to be reformed. The division between the two becomes evident in the case of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. People want to help their fellow citizens in the seized regions, but Kiev’s politicians regard the population in the contested areas as pro-Russian and therefore hostile towards Ukraine. Another obstacle is the difficulty of reforming in war times, which Russia is exploiting. Russia is trying to prevent Ukraine from getting closer to Europe.
Prof. Dr. Jäger is examining the current situation in Ukraine from the bird’s eye perspective, highlighting Ukraine’s important geopolitical position. Since the US is not interested in Ukraine, it did not demonstrate its willingness to engage in the Ukrainian conflict militarily. Consequently, Russia does not fear to intervene violently as it is doing at the moment. The EU provoked a conflict where one could have known ex ante how Russia will react. What is going to be crucial in the future, will be the interplay between inside and outside forces. This is leading him to the assumption that disinterest will diminish the advancement of reforms. In the end politics is relentless and no one will be willing to let the conflict escalate with Russia over Ukraine.