By Alexander Baker
On Wednesday 14th of December, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Ambassador Natalia Galibarenko, Robert Brinkley CMG and Olexiy Solohubenko to reflect upon developments in Ukraine since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The discussion was based upon the improvements and mistakes that had been made in the last 25 years in Ukraine, and on the future of the nation.
Her Excellency Natalia Galibarenko, Ukrainian Ambassador to the Court of St James, opened the discussion by acknowledging that the last 25 years had been a difficult but rich period in the history of Ukraine. In her view, Ukraine had come a long way, by preserving its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and was now a European and democratic nation on the map. Her Excellency continued by stating that Russian aggression had forced Ukraine to develop an economy and military that was not reliant on Russia, and that one of Ukraine’s biggest achievements has been the proper development of its civil society. Despite Soviet attempts to divide the nation, the Ambassador argued that national unity, and Ukrainian national pride was the driving force behind the successes of the past 25 years, and that EU association and integration was the next step in preserving this national unity. Nevertheless, problems still remain within the country, and the Ambassador attributed these to Ukraine’s vague policy of trying to balance between Russia and the West. This lack of strategy had two major negative effects on Ukraine: the first was that it allowed corruption to develop in the country, and the second was that it lulled the Ukrainians into believing that their security guarantees were assured under the Budapest Memorandum, an idea that was shattered in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The audience was then addressed by Robert Brinkley CMG, a diplomat and former British Ambassador to Ukraine. Brinkley began by reminding the audience that in 1991, the Ukrainian people overwhelmingly voted for independence, and that over the past quarter of a century, Ukraine had made great steps in reviving the national language, had accepted diversity and pluralism and had developed a proper civil society. He stated that the restoration of the Greek Catholic Church in 1989 under Gorbachev had also made a noticeable impact in the development of the modern nation. However, Brinkley also pointed out that certain opportunities had been missed. The mismanagement of the economy and lack of civil institutions in Ukraine, in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, did hinder its ability to prosper. The outcome of the 2004 Orange Revolution could have been more significant had there been less infighting among political participants. Brinkley finished by presenting two scenarios of the next 25 years for Ukraine; a bad scenario, in which increased Russian aggression and a lack of domestic reforms pushed Ukraine to the edge of collapse, while a good scenario depicted a change in Russian foreign policy, and a commitment by the Ukrainian people and politicians to tackle the corruption problem in the country. Brinkley acknowledged that a combination of these two scenarios would be played out in the next 25 years, and stressed that internal reforms was just as important as Russian ambitions in the future development of Ukraine.
The last speaker to address the audience was Olexiy Solohubenko, the current News editor for languages at the World Service and the former head of the Ukrainian Service. Mr. Solohubenko explained to audience that, from his point of view, the drive for Ukrainian independence was born in Ukraine’s Union of Writers, and that the popular vision they spread had created a drive among the people. Solohubenko agreed with Brinkley that opportunities had been missed in the past few decades, and that under President Kuchma, oligarch power had grown substantially. However, Solohubenko noted a difference between the Russian and Ukrainian oligarchies, and argued that in Ukraine, a weakened central government had allowed civil society to flourish independently, creating the plurality of views, media and political parties that exist in present day Ukraine. Mr. Solohubenko concluded with an interesting point on hacking, stating that the cyberattacks that we are seeing today in the United States and in Europe are not at all a new phenomenon. Despite more modern appliances, the Russian disinformation and propaganda campaigns currently being waged against the West, were thoroughly tested in the 1990s in Ukraine. By looking at Russian policies on Ukraine, we can gain valuable insight into Russia’s current policies against the West.
To read a full transcript of this event click here