Caught in a Modern Tug of War: Ukraine’s Prolonged Crisis

CEU hosted a conference on Ukraine’s Prolonged Crisis: Security Concerns and Internal Reform on June 6 to discuss the future of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and the internal reforms Ukraine has to introduce.

In his opening remarks, CEU’s President and Rector John Shattuck examined Ukraine’s situation from six perspectives: from that of the shifting geopolitical relations between the EU, Russia and the U.S., the implications of the EU’s eastward expansion, the Ukrainian democracy movement and the driving forces behind it, Russian nationalism, rule of law, and the intertwined Russian and Ukrainian cultural roots. He noted that CEU constantly reflects on all these perspectives. Ukraine’s sovereignty has to be respected, its territorial integrity has to be agreed upon, the country’s future should be based on the principles of democracy and open society instead of nationalism, and Ukraine needs to introduce major economic reforms and gain both internal and external support for them Shattuck said, emphasizing that would be in Ukraine’s best interest. “The main goal of this conference is to see whether these interests are reconcilable,” he said.

CEU's Rector John Shattuck opens the conference on the prolonged crisis in Ukraine. Photo credit: CEU/Daniel Vegel

Associate Professor in CEU’s Department of International Relations and European Studies (IRES) Alexander Astrov started the first panel, “The Future of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine,” by dismissing the idea of great power management as an obsolete 19th-century concept, and called for new solutions that appreciate changes. Astrov claimed the most important aspect of the current crisis is what is happening inside Russia. He discussed the volatility of Putin’s rule, and why Russia’s state identity has to be reshaped. Putin cannot continue being an opportunist, he “has to come up with a ruling ideology.” The way which Russia will go in “is the most unpredictable aspect of the crisis,” Astrov said.

Professor Tetyana Malyarenko of the Donetsk State University of Management discussed what makes the Crimean crisis, and not other Ukrainian crises, so interesting. Since the Orange Revolution in late 2004, recent Ukrainian conflicts “started out as internal conflicts but ended up as geopolitical crises,” she noted. Malyarenko distinguished five dimensions of the conflict in Ukraine, such as the institutional exclusion, the separatist conflict, the low-intensity conflict, individual terrorism, and direct foreign intervention.

Peter Marton, assistant professor at Corvinus University, gave an insight into the Visegrad Four’s perspective on the Ukrainian crisis, or the lack thereof. He said the major weaknessof the V4 countries was in strategic thinking, and discussed how their reaction evolved from “concern” in January to recently offering to deploy a battle group of 3,000 troops. “The Visegrad Group should be more vocal about Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” Marton concluded.

Panelists discuss the neccessary economical and security refoms in Ukraine, Photo credit: CEU/Daniel Vegel

CEU's Kalman Mizsei of the Department of Public Policy (DPP), moderator of the second panel, “Reforming Ukraine - State and Economy,” opened the discussion by claiming “Ukraine is definitely important to the future of Europe.”

Andras Racz, assistant professor at Pazmany Peter Catholic University, discussed the security implications of the Ukrainian conflict, and the need for an in-depth reform of the security sector necessitated by intelligence leaks within Ukrainian security services, coordination problems within the armed forces, the low morale, and technological disadvantages in the Ukrainian army.

Oksana Nechyporenko, coordinator of the Reanimation Package of Reforms Initiative in Ukraine presented the NGO’s work, the reform it has already helped to implement, and the reforms they hope to introduce in the near future. The NGO is working with over 150 experts, eight priority groups and 11 reform groups who have already achieved the adaptation of eight laws. Nechyporenko said Ukraine “isn’t in the condition for step-by-step reforms. Everything has to happen simultaneously.”

CEU IRES Professor Laszlo Csaba painted a depressing picture of Ukraine’s economical present, saying that “even with all the reforms and civil society initiatives, Ukraine still has problems.” The country is struggling with its national identity and to maintain its economy.

Following a brief but heated Q&A session, Director of CENS Peter Balazs remembered the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and said that the reforms in Ukraine are the test of the Western values of market economy and democracy in his closing remarks.

The conference was organized by the Rector’s Office, the Center for EU Enlargement Studies (CENS), the Department of International Relations and European Studies (IRES) and the Department of Public Policy (DPP).