Ukraine 2017: 5th Youth Security Forum

The Organisation Open Ukraine invited me to speak at the 5th Youth Security Forum in Kiew. The forum was predominately attended by students and other young activists from Ukraine but also from other Black Sea countries. Of course – as in general in Ukraine - the sentiment was very anti - Putin and partly anti – Russia. A climate in which it was and is difficult to argue for a moderate and rational attitude in the process of finding peace. This was underlined by all interlocutors in Kiew.


Stephanie Fenkart, the director of the International Institute for Peace and myself took the opportunity of the Open Ukraine conference to make some additional contacts, especially for our project which aims to enable and enhance the dialogue across the internal border in Eastern Ukraine. This project or rather a program of projects was initiated with other organizations and individuals in Austria.


The IIP and these organisations and individuals have in common, that we can't accept people to suffer and to find death in the heart of Europe despite efforts of the OSCE to implement a truce and give people a chance to live a decent life, even on a very basic level. With the help of the International Red Cross and many other caritative organizations does the OSCE a great job. Furthermore should the Minsk process help to stop the war and support elections in the occupied and not by the Ukrainian government controlled areas. Nonetheless is progress very small and often interrupted by new killings.


The conflict as such is very strange when one considers the close interrelationships between Ukrainians and Russians. In the evening before the conference started we had dinner with a couple who showed clearly the absurdity of this conflict. He was a business man who also runs an internet radio station and an art gallery for avant-garde artists. While being Ukrainian, grew the man up near Moscow and speaks therefore nowadays mostly Russian as he understands but doesn't speak the Ukrainian language well. His wife on the other hand is Russian, but never lived in Russia and speaks perfectly Ukrainian. Both of them reject the Russian propaganda proclaiming Ukraine to be a country run by fascists. And it is this propaganda which in addition to what happens in Eastern Ukraine which -probably even more than these events - provokes and enhances nationalist feelings in Ukraine. In the following I have collected some ideas, which were the basis of my arguments at the discussion at the conference of Open Ukraine. 


The speciality of the hybrid war

Solving hybrid wars and conflicts like that one in the Ukraine is particularly difficult. There is no single authority to whom one can speak. And even if Russia is the bigger and mightier power opposing the legitimate government in Ukraine, there are further difficult players in the occupied areas: the Donetsk and Lushansk region.


Divisions inside and unity of the Ukraine

In addition there is also a partly divided public opinion and political scene in Ukraine outside the occupied areas. This concerns for example the question of "more independence" of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions after returning back into a United Ukraine. But also the question of EU and NATO memberships is seen differently. But we can recognize a growing wish to join NATO and a slightly decrease - and more realistic - wish to join the European Union. But still in the East and South there're is also a strong attitude towards joining the Eurasian Economic Union. In addition it is important to integrate the IDPs (internally displaced persons) in a way which enables the unity of the country to be strengthened.

A strong security policy needs also a strong commitment of the political class towards meeting the desires and aspirations of the citizens for reforms. Especially the fight against corruption and the exchange of oligarchic structures with more democratic patterns is necessary. Economic reforms with the creation of new jobs is another important task where the EU - Ukraine economic and trade agreement can help. A process which needs time and a permanent dialogue with the public.


The lack of social considerations and its foreign policy consequences

One also has to learn from the dissatisfaction of the citizens of many former Eastern block countries which joined the EU with the extreme neo-liberal policies after the Communist period. The nationalistic policies in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia but also in some Western EU countries are at least partly a reaction to the neglect of social policies supporting and accompanying the economic reforms. Unfortunately many so-called experts and officials of the EU and IMF still don't see that necessity of supporting these, even if some political leaders like Madame Legarde do recognize the importance of a stronger social policies.

The countries of the EU and especially the European NATO countries experience a growing tendency of concentrating on "domestic" affairs. In many countries one can also recognize a growing wish to improve relations with Russia and come to a peaceful settlements of conflicts. The extreme right wing in Europe is using social concerns of ordinary citizens for their domestic aspirations but also for a Putin friendly policy. Additionally became the USA under Trump a very uncertain partner.


Economic connectivity

Inside the OSCE there is - especially with the German initiatives - a discussion taking place if and how economic ties across conflict lines can reduce the growing violence and separation. A discussion without a conclusive answer. Nonetheless is one thing clear, connectivity reduces hardship of people in conflict zones and enables them to realize a minimum of their daily necessities.


Furthermore would the development of areas which are adjacent or in the neighbourhood of the conflict area show the difference between areas developed by the legitimate government in peace and safety and those areas occupied by rebels and foreign forces.

Dialogue as part of the security strategy

The big question in all the conflicts and especially concerning the hybrid war is the question if, how and with whom a dialogue can be part of an active security policy. Separatist and terrorist movements have a strength which is going beyond the numbers of the insurgents – even more strengthened by "outside" (Russian) help.

History teaches us that there has always been the time for talks and dialogue - often to late for many innocent people who got killed. IRA in Northern Ireland couldn't have been beaten without a difficult and long lasting dialogue. The same is applies for the defeat of ETA in Spain. Columbian President Santos and his government had to start talks with the terrorist FARC movement. Turkish government, who always denied there exists a Kurdish problem, started negotiations with the PKK and with the end of these talks started terrorism again. Even Israel has from time to time talks with HAMAS.

Talking with the enemy, inside or outside the country, is not a question of morality or false compromises - it is a question of avoiding death and suffering. Even though the time for talks might not have yet arrived, would it not be wise to silence the voices from the inside which point out the necessity to find a serious and constructive way. Nonetheless is the foundation of a dialogue the willingness of two sides to talk and to find solutions in order to overcome a communication characterized by complain and attack. Precondition for this are contributions of all sides with the aim to establish promising conditions for talks and finally for negotiations.

A process which highly depends on the possibility to come into a comprehensive dialogue with Russia. While many argue that the we need a dialogue on the basis of shared values, do President Putin and the European leaders of today have not so many values in common. Maybe we have certain interests in common to fight terrorism - at least most forms of terrorism. It will be not easy to find platforms and issues where we can have an open and sincere dialogue. However is Europe not complete without Russia. Therefore Europe need to be strong and united to have a constructive dialogue with Russia. Only from such a position the dialogue can lead tosolutions in the interest of our citizens.