“It is better for Kiev to put more emphasis on reforms and less on being a victim of Moscow’s aggression,” Ukraine expert Susan Stewart of the German Institute for International and Security Relations told Pravda. “The ultimate goal is to end the occupation of Crimea,” Stewart said.
Photo: TASR / AP, Efrem Lukatsky
War veterans hold the national flag on the occasion of the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence.
Slovakia was represented at the meeting by Prime Minister Eduard Heger. The Prime Minister has promised that his government will be involved in the work of the platform. Heger reiterated that Slovakia would never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.
As the existence of the USSR slowly drew to a close, an independent Ukraine was formed on August 24, 1991. Despite many great difficulties, it is still an independent state. If you look to the past, do you see any political and social trends that influenced the country 30 years ago and still have an impact on what is happening? Or is Ukraine in 1991 incomparable with Ukraine in 2021?
On the one hand, we are witnessing a remarkable continuity in the sense that, although Ukraine developed outside the Soviet environment, it did so by failing to overcome some of the shortcomings of the functioning of the state. These problems have developed and are different when compared to the time of the USSR. But they still exist, despite what Kiev often claims. That is, its goal is deeper integration with the West. Ukraine has made progress in this, and it must be said that external actors also have an influence on what it looks like. But we are witnessing a certain disappointment where the country has gone after 30 years. Also given what the Ukrainian elites often say about its direction.
What is Ukraine’s greatest success in 30 years?
I would go back to what you indicated in the first question. Ukraine still exists as an independent state. If we look deeper into history, it cannot be said that this is a common thing. Ukraine was often divided by the powers. It is a state that is still moving in a kind of gray zone. Kiev is not entirely sure where it can draw resources for its secure 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. However, the country has maintained its independence, although it has lost part of its sovereignty and has a problem with territorial integrity, as Russia annexed Crimea and destabilized some areas of eastern Ukraine.
It can certainly be said that these steps by Moscow in 2014 were the worst moments in the history of modern independent Ukraine. Crimea is still ruled by Russia and war continues in eastern Ukraine. Was it possible to prevent the conflict seven years ago?
In the case of the annexation of Crimea, I’m not sure. But Donbase’s wars could certainly have been prevented. Basically, groups of small local criminals tried to start the conflict. They talked about a kind of Antimaydan or Maidan himself and criticized the new government in Kiev. If the Ukrainian state were stronger, had more 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 were only marginal at the time. However, it can be said that Moscow decided to do so also because it was successful in the annexation of Crimea. But in the case of Donbas, there were ways to deal with the situation so that Ukraine avoided what we have seen so far.
Does Kiev now have any options for conflict in the east?
Ukraine has much less room for maneuver than it had in 2014. Russia has already dealt with, so to speak, in Donbas. I think that Kiev should focus on reforming the country. It could also affect what is happening in Donbas. In this region, Russia is essentially vetoing what is happening. However, this is no longer the case in connection with the reforms that Kiev should do. Ukraine can show that it is able to act and enforce important changes in the functioning of the state. The West could then have even more appetite and motivation to support Kiev. At the same time, it would have an indirect effect on the perception of the Ukrainian state in the occupied territories.
Ukraine has created the Crimean Platform for the 30th anniversary of independence. Do you think that this diplomatic initiative can change the dynamics of relations between Kiev and Moscow?
I do not anticipate this, as Russia has not joined the format and it is highly unlikely that it will join it. The ultimate goal of the platform is to end the occupation of Crimea. Russia categorically rejects it. It is good that Ukraine is succeeding in keeping the annexation of Crimea on the international agenda, so that it can inform its partners about 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’s better for Kiev to put more emphasis on reforms and less on being a victim of Moscow’s aggression.
Could the countries of the European Union and the West use the platform to push the Ukrainian government into reforms?
I do not think so. Western actors must show that they have not forgotten the annexation of Crimea. Their support should not be conditional on Ukraine’s reform agenda. The territorial integrity of the country and its sovereignty are protected by international law. It is possible to support the Crimean Platform 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 weighs in terms of invitations to NATO, and always mentions corruption when talking about Kiev. Does Zelensky have reason to be frustrated or do you rather perceive his words as a reference for the domestic political scene?
Ukraine has often been in history between two blocs or powers. This significantly affects the debate on its political scene, which is associated with the fact that Ukraine is subordinate to someone or is in danger of having to submit to someone. On the one hand, it follows that Kiev insists that it will not give in to anyone. But there are also complaints that the West is not sufficiently engaged in Ukraine, that it is unaware of its strategic importance for European security. I guess that’s true. But Ukraine’s political elites are then to some extent relieved of their responsibility for what role they could play in achieving what they are talking about.
Germany and the United States have only 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 is born without them. And that this is proof that the great powers are willing 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 tendency in German politics that can be described as Russia being in the first place. German elites, but also those in France and elsewhere, must be constantly reminded that they must engage in dialogue with countries to the east of the EU and take into account the interests of countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland and the Baltic. The question is what could have been done differently about the US-Germany gas pipeline agreement. The fate of Nord Stream 2 should probably have been dealt with much more by several states. The current agreement is, in particular, 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 as to whether and how to work with it. We should not be involved in a project that is clearly important to Moscow from a political and geopolitical point of view and that serves to strengthen the positions of the regime in the Kremlin and those who support it.