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Event Summaries
January 20, 2016

Event Summary: ‘What the Ukraine Crisis Reveals About the West’

by
Henry Jackson Society

On the 19th of January, Dr Volodymyr Dubovyk, Associate Professor at the Odessa Mechnikov National University in Ukraine, spoke an at event entitled “What the Ukraine Crisis Reveals About the West”. The event was chaired by Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, and co-hosted with the Ukrainian Institute, London.

Dr Dubovyk began his speech by stressing that the Ukraine crisis should be viewed as a major identity test for the West, rather than a merely local conflict at the fringes of Europe. For 25 years, the Western countries were given a long and comfortable peace dividend which allowed their citizens to reap the fruits of economic prosperity and stability of liberal democratic institutions. An entrenched illusion of the eternal peace and the expectation that the rest of the world will happily follow in the footsteps of Western liberal democracy have been effectively shattered by Russia. A belated and fractured decision by the Western powers to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Crimea and the Donbas exposes the West’s weaknesses and reluctance to leave the hard-won comfort zone.

In Dr Dubovyk’s view, the EU is not doomed, but it is certainly facing a substantial challenge from Russia. The Ukraine crisis engendered a process of re-nationalisation of European foreign policy, as several European countries did not hesitate to assert their own uncoordinated positions on Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and military aggression in Eastern Ukraine. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was able to convince her EU colleagues to agree on a unified stance on sanctions, nonetheless one must not discard the possibility that some EU countries might dissent in the near future.

“Business as usual” is still a preferred mode of relationship with Russia in significant portions of political and business elite in Germany, France, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and a few other EU member states. In large part, this is a combined achievement of various corrupting measures employed by Russia. As emphasised by Dr Dubovyk, it is not only financial corruption that ought to be counteracted, but perhaps even more pressingly the “weaponisation of information” by the propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik. Currently, the West is experiencing a considerable onslaught of disinformation, yet no effective countermeasures have so far been found.

Dr Dubovyk insisted that the Western alliance is strong only when both sides of the Atlantic willingly coordinate their positions and actions. In light of the present tendencies in international affairs, an unfortunate lack of American leadership is palpable. The speaker lamented the fact that the Obama administration has been deliberately reluctant to do more to help the Ukrainians. Accordingly, Mr Putin has taken initiative and outpaced the West on several fronts. Paraphrasing Robert Kagan’s famous distinction, Dr Dubovyk remarked that the West seems to come from Venus, and Mr Putin from Mars. To use another metaphor, the West insists on playing chess, whereas Putin aspires to play hockey. In the current political circumstances, the speaker claimed, soft power instruments are no longer sufficient, and a much more creative and forceful response is needed.

In the discussion after the speech, Dr Dubovyk added that he is not proposing a military escalation, but rather a more resolute diplomatic effort. Despite the fact that Mr Putin was thrown out of G-7 club, he is not isolated enough. In the last year, several wrong signals were sent to Mr Putin, including the Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Russia where he had to wait a few hours before the meeting. The West’s stance against Mr Putin must be unambiguous, yet worryingly it is far from it.

By Simas Celutka