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Notes for Vienna 2015 Com.Sult Congress: It Is Time to Look at the Ukrainian Crisis in a Broader Context

English Pages, 20. 1. 2015

When I was asked by David Ungar-Klein to speak here today on Ukraine, I hesitated. My knowledge of Ukraine is rather limited and I don´t pretend to be an expert on this sorely tried country. I am not someone who follows the day by day developments there. I also know that my views on that topic are against the mainstream and that they would not be much welcome. I know as well that there are real experts on Ukraine here in this audience (not only foreign observers but insiders), President Yushchenko being one of them.

In spite of all that, I accepted the invitation to address this gathering because with the passing of time I have become more and more convinced that the so called Ukrainian crisis is only mistakenly considered to be Ukrainian crisis or Ukrainian-Russian conflict. It is not so. Ukraine is – to my great regret – only a place where the much more general crisis manifests itself most visibly. I have in mind an evident crisis of the West, which we experience but are not ready to admit. We try to hide it. One method of its manifestation is an intensive and widespread dissemination of Western values all over the world which creates new seeds of tensions. Ukraine is one of them.

Let me develop this point. On the one hand, the current crisis in Ukraine is undoubtedly originally home-made. It is basically the consequence of the evident failure of this country to make a successful transition from communism to the system of freedom, pluralistic parliamentary democracy and market economy, from the passive role in the Soviet imperium to its own statehood and sovereignty.

Ukraine probably failed in this respect more than almost any other Central and East European country. It can´t be denied. To be fair, however, it would be worth seriously discussing whether this was – considering the circumstances – inevitable, or at least excusable, or not. The undisputable fact is that the country was artificially created, was and is deeply divided, and used to have and had even before November 2013 very weak internal coherence. This was an evident obstacle in the difficult transformation process.

On the other hand, the current Ukrainian crisis turned into a problem heavily influenced if not dominantly masterminded from abroad.[1] As a result an initially domestic problem has been gradually transformed into a fight about the dominance in Europe (and the world) and into a conflict between the West and more and more self-assured Russia. The Ukrainians have been trapped in a situation where they are only instrumental and in many respects passive objects. Are they aware of it? At least its politicians and intellectual elites? I am not sure about it.

I was – while attending various EU and NATO summits – always nervous when the debate about Ukrainian EU or NATO membership started. I had the unpleasant feeling that to force Ukraine into making a premature decision whether the country belongs to the West or to the East is a certain and guaranteed way how to destroy it. I formulated it a year ago, in February 2014, quite resolutely: “Giving Ukraine a choice between the East and the West means destroying it… It leads the country into an insolvable conflict that cannot have but a tragic ending.”[2] This is exactly what we see developing before your very eyes right now.

The current geopolitical game started with “coloured” revolutions in the post-Soviet Union as well as some Arab countries, with attempts to export democracy and the Western concept of human rights into unprepared and geographically remote territories and different cultural and civilizational areas. I must admit that I saw the birth of today´s problem already in the – for me unclear and unpersuasive – “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine ten years ago. As I see it, it was only partly a genuine domestic political uprising. It was more importantly an externally organized export of democracy in an attempt to increase geopolitical position of one country or another or hide some daunting domestic problems, if not a gradual loss of its own identity.

Ukraine has been denigrated to the role of an instrument in this much bigger game. The question is how to get out of it. The developments in the last 15 months have proved that a continuation of this dangerous game only increases the costs of the crisis, deepens the division of the country and leads to a further destabilization.

If we look at the developments in Ukraine with open and not a priori distorted eyes, we have to come to the conclusion that Ukraine was trapped in the historical shift of geopolitical positions and that Russia – on the contrary – due to it found its new identity, or at least strengthened its old one. This changing geopolitical setting is the product of the problems of the West, of its loss of identity, of its cultural and civilizational demise, of its economic stagnation.

To my great disappointment, the dominant political forces in Ukraine keep relying on some future external intervention and are not searching for an internal political solution. They haven’t come up with any compromise proposal they could offer to the people of the Eastern part of their country to win their confidence. They rely on repression and on unrealistic expectations of Western economic and military aid. It will not come.

There is no other way out of the current stalemate than negotiations and a compromise. It must be done soon. Preserving the current state of affairs can be neither in the interest of Ukraine, nor in the interest of the West or Russia. In the long run, all of us will be losing.

The recent developments in Ukraine also contribute to the destruction of the existing system of international relations which means that we are losing some proven, however shabby procedures how to tackle other threatening issues – the Middle East problem or terrorist attacks in Europe.

Let me summarize today´s message. Instead of discussing Ukraine or Russia, we should discuss Europe and the West. Thank you for your attention.

[1] See my hearings in the House of Lords about Ukraine, London, November 10, 2014, http://www.klaus.cz/clanky/3656.

[2] “Václav Klaus Institute's public statement on the situation in the Ukraine”, February 25, 2014, http://www.klaus.cz/clanky/3528. More in the publication of the Václav Klaus Institute (in Czech language) “Záměrně plochá diskuse o ukrajinské krizi”, No. 12/2014. The English shorter version is V. Klaus, J. Weigl: “Let's start a real Ukrainian debate”, April 22, 2014, http://www.klaus.cz/clanky/3553.

Václav Klaus, Presentation at the panel “Europe, the Ukraine and Russia”, Vienna Com.Sult Congress, House of Industry, Vienna, January 20, 2015. 

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