“Ukraine needs Europe”

Article published on Dec. 6, 2004
community published
Article published on Dec. 6, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

“Europe must take a prudent but decisive stand in favour of democracy and against the division of the country,” says Dr Klaus Segbers in an interview with café babel

Extensive organisation is involved in the demonstrations in Kiev with over 1,500 tents in the city centre and the participation of tens of thousands of demonstrators waving orange-coloured flags and scarves. Who is supporting the opposition in its protest?

The entire conflict has a marked domestic dimension which should not be ignored and which is independent of the international dimension of the conflict. Yuschenko and Yanukovich each have very strong supporters in the Ukraine. These supporters are primarily not political but economic structures, such as oligarchs and financial-industrial groups. These groups try to look after ‘their’ candidates. It should also be noted that Kiev has quite a strong state bureaucracy – a type of third power that, of course, attempts to secure its own benefits. There are, therefore, several domestic players in the presidential conflict.

How are these demonstrations supported internationally?

In contrast to the American government and the EU, the Russian federal government took a stand at an early stage on the Ukrainian elections. All major national and international groups are sending financial and technical aid. Russia is providing the ‘election campaign technologists’ who are helping in the organisation of the election campaigns and the West is also sending election campaign helpers. Both candidates were advised on how best to stage their demonstrations. The advisors originate from such organisations as the National Democratic Institute chaired by Madeleine Albright. But in Russia too, some institutions close to the Kremlin are involved with the Ukraine.

What are the reasons behind American involvement in the Ukraine?

There are clearly still reflexes in Washington to take advantage of the former Soviet power block at every available opportunity. This was also the case in Georgia last year and in Central Asian states such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan following September 11th 2001. How the actions of the US are related to the two-year long partnership with the Russian government in the alliance against terror is not quite clear. What is clear, however, is that there is not only one player on each side, but several. These players pursue their own interests and strategies that do not constitute a united American or a united Russian entity. This entity is therefore not aiming at exposing Putin in the US or thinking up related strategies or master plans. Politics no longer works like that.

Is it possible for Putin to accept Yuschenko as President without losing face?

It would have been cleverer [for Putin] not to have repeatedly intervened in the election campaign and congratulated Yanukovich following the results of the election. He should also not have sent Moscow’s mayor to Eastern Ukraine to support the separatist movement there. Nonetheless, Moscow has shown in the past that it is capable of learning. Despite relatively strong determination, a retreat is still possible since Putin has accepted the decision by the administrative court opposing the legitimacy of the election results and allowing new elections to take place. The handover of power would then be legitimate and in respect of the will of the Ukrainian people. That would be a solution that Putin could live with.

Why is a retreat so difficult for Putin?

From Moscow’s standpoint, Ukraine is undergoing a development that began about fourteen years ago. Gradually the central and eastern European, Baltic and south-eastern European states have become members of the EU and NATO. In theory, these developments should have been ruled out during the negotiations on German unification. Then, however, the governments of these countries expressed their interest in joining NATO and the EU and consequently became members of both organisations. This drastically changed the map of Europe for Russia. One expects that a Yuschenko government will pave the way for EU and NATO membership. These are Russia’s real preoccupations.

Can, or should, the EU exert pressure to resolve the situation in Ukraine by peaceful means?

It is currently an issue of political power at a domestic level in Ukraine. Which of the big economic groups can in the next four years acquire the formal power that is expressed in the presidency? In this case, the EU and especially NATO should not intervene. That is Ukraine’s responsibility. The EU should handle the affair decisively but at the same time prudently. Ukraine belongs to Europe and not to the US, insofar as Ukraine needs Europe to resolve its current problems. Decisiveness means firmly denouncing illegal elections. If the EU wants to be prudent, it should under no circumstances favour or oppose one particular candidate. It must also be prudent not to strengthen the tendencies of a division in Ukraine by outside interference. Lastly, prudence means not sending the wrong signals to Russia which creates the impression that the EU wants to lure Ukraine away from Russia or model it according to Western standards. Yet once again it is a European issue in which we are getting involved and an issue on which we should not let others decide.

Is democracy on the cards for Belarus following what happened in Georgia and what will possibly happen in the Ukraine?

I currently cannot see this happening in Belarus, but Moscow, of course, is concerned that a similar development could happen there. Russia’s main concern though is that the final aim [of these revolutionaries] is not Ukraine or Belarus, but Russia itself. Added to this are concerns that it would serve Western interests to present a Russian Yuschenko in 2006. In the developments in Eastern Europe it is possible to speak of recurring situations over the past eight years. An element of this is the ‘good vs. evil’ dichotomy becoming evident in the media – in Serbia it was Djindjic, in Georgia, Saakashvili and now in Ukraine it is Yuschenko. These three represent the ‘good side’ and have proved themselves as skilled communicators. Such a situation currently looks unlikely in Belarus and Russia but that does not mean that there are not fears in Moscow. Politics are not necessarily governed by rational considerations.