4 aprile 2014

The neighbourhood: Ukraine, the EU and the "Russian problem"

Brussels, Workshop at Renaissance for Europe, Massimo D'Alema, president of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies

I think that
this workshop is opportune and very timely. It offers us an occasion to reflect
on events that are taking place not far away from here, and that bring back on European
land something that we deluded ourselves into considering a thing of the past: territorial
change of borders by means that are unacceptable according to the international

And this is
happening in a moment in which the European Union is wondering about its own future,
its tasks, the scope of its own mission, its global role and the very same meaning
of sovereignty, a term that has clearly different interpretations here and in Moscow.

Plenty of words
have been used to discuss the recent Ukrainian political developments, the massive
protests that broke out in Kyiv, former President Yanukovych’s escape and his removal
from power, and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The crisis has been even described
as the most dangerous confrontation between Russia and the Western countries since
the end of the Cold War.

Indeed, if our
response to the events in Eastern Europe is not appropriate, Russia’s annexation
of Crimea might represent a real turning point for the international order, reshaping
Europe’s geopolitical map and jeopardizing relations with Moscow for years to come.

Certainly, events
in Crimea are another piece of evidence of Russia’s recovered assertiveness and
sense of empowerment. Perhaps, and to a certain extent, they might be understood
as the act of self-­- determination of the Russian majority living in the small
peninsula. But the way they took place makes them objectionable, to say the least.

The Crimea’s
Parliament has, unilaterally, decided to declare independence from Ukraine and to
join Russia, and a referendum has been held to ask the inhabitants whether they
approved or not the parliamentary vote – a referendum that, as we know, has produced
an overwhelming result in favour of annexation.

parliamentary vote and referendum have occurred under duress of military intervention,
under conditions, according to witnesses, that did not allow for a completely free
vote, and under the influence of extremely aggressive Russian television propaganda,
available also in Russian speaking Crimea and portraying protesters in Kyiv as violent
nationalists that represented a threat to Ukraine Russian population.

Of course, President
Putin has repeatedly asserted that developments in Crimea were legal. And he has
mentioned the principle of people’s self-­-determination and the independence of
Kosovo – which, as it has been noted ironically, Russia has strongly opposed and
never recognized – to justify Crimea’s secession.

However, I would
like to recall here that Moscow never allowed for Chechnya’s self-­-determination
and always advocated the principles of the inviolability of borders and non-­-interference
in other countries’ internal affairs. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, major
differences between Russia and the Western countries concerned exactly this postulate
(let’s just think of Iraq, of the above mentioned Kosovo, or of the more recent
intervention in Libya).

In fact, I think
that the principle of self-­-determination is only a smoke screen to disguise the
Kremlin’s wish for its past grandeur, for the recovery of the old sphere of influence,
re-­-establishing its control over political and economic developments in neighbouring
countries, therefore for a world order based on different principles, as President
Putin’s rhetoric about Russia being “cornered for centuries”, or about the Russians
having become the world’s largest “divided population” after the fall of the USSR
would suggest [Putin’s speech before the Duma on March 18].

The European
Union cannot abide such confrontational stance. Yet, it is not in our interest to
go back to a Cold War climate.

 Last September, I attended a very interesting forum
in Poland, where I had been asked to tackle the question of the relations between
NATO and Russia. Let me repeat here what I affirmed in that occasion. We do not
want the Cold War back, but we are still called to deal with some of the unresolved
questions of the Cold War period. And this is happening twenty-­-five years after
the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in spite of the dramatic changes that have taken
place in the international order.

The world is
ever more multipolar; the United States is less and less a “European power”, in
fact, it is increasingly shifting the centre of gravity of its international interests
towards the Middle East and the Pacific. Yet, despite the urgency and our ¬– more
or less – good intentions, the mood of distrust that permeates the relations between
Europe and Russia has not been overcome; the much expected re-­-design of our mutual
relations never occurred. Today they resemble more a “controlled confrontation”
rather than the “structured cooperation” we aimed to achieve.

And Russia,
as mentioned, it is now acting on the global scene with a new aggressiveness, describing
its own political system as a “sovereign democracy”, a definition that it is little
appreciated by the West, but underlines, in my opinion, the fact that Moscow will
never accept interferences in its internal affairs.

 I think that the emphasis on the term “sovereignty”
have repercussions also on Russia’s foreign policy, and implies its aim to consolidate
its position as an independent centre of power and influence.

This said, let
me be frank, I do not think that it will be possible to “recover” Crimea. But I
think it will be essential to preserve the territorial integrity and the actual
independence from Moscow of the rest of Ukraine and of the other countries that
risk falling under Putin’s definition of a divided Russia, strengthening their relations
and partnership with the European Union.

More sanctions
will probably be inevitable. But we must take into due account our reciprocal interdependence.
Yes, many European countries need Russian gas. But Russia – whose economy is not
in great shape (its growth rate has declined to only 1.3% in 2013, compared to about
7-­-8% of the last decade) – needs even more our markets and our technologies. Nevertheless,
Putin might decide to opt for even riskier actions in order to divert attention
from its internal economic weaknesses, or it could think that it is worthier to
do it, counting on the well-­-known European divisions when the member states have
to formulate a common approach towards a third country.

Moreover, we
must consider to what extent Russia’s isolation is in our interest. We need to cooperate
with Russia in other critical scenarios: let’s just think of Syria – a conflict
that, I am afraid, has been almost completely shadowed by the outbreak of the Ukrainian
crisis – or the nuclear deal in Iran. Without a fully involved Moscow, solution
of these international conundrums will be more difficult. Maybe impossible. So,
we must maintain some room for dialogue with the Kremlin.

 I think that Europe needs above all to reset its
relations with Moscow. And to do this, it needs, first of all, to decrease its dependence
on Russian gas supplies, in order to reduce Russia’s capability to use gas a geopolitical
tool and the EU member states’ differences when it comes to dealing with Moscow.
To this aim, we shall increase energy diversification, increasing security of supply
and competition. This will enhance Europe’s strength and would consequently limit
President Putin’s reasons for assertiveness. From this point of view, I consider
unacceptable and humiliating that negotiations on the future of Urkaine between
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are
taking place without a representative of the European Union, and even without a
representative of the Kyiv government.

 This said, Europe shall make a major effort to
encourage the democratic and institutional development of its neighbours. Because,
I think, it is a fact that Ukraine would not have been such a vulnerable target,
if it had not been plagued by internal instability, poor governance, economic mismanagement
and corruption.

Ukraine’s elections
will take place in less than two months – on May 25. Therefore, in the short term,
we must ensure that these elections will be fair and transparent. And to this aim,
we must do our best to allow that objective information is available to Ukrainian

I think that
at the base of a European strategy towards the crisis in Ukraine, there must be
a clear understanding and a broad agreement among the EU member states of what the
European Union’s projection abroad shall be. It is high time we ask ourselves hard
questions. Are we ready to take on a more active role in our own security? Are we
ready to take on our international responsibilities? I think that the Ukrainian
crisis has once more highlighted the fact that the EU is called to play a more effective
role on the global scene. And this time, we cannot waste this opportunity.

Thank you.