Expert Round-table on "US-Russian Relations and Their Impact on Ukraine"

30 October 2017, 15:28

The Open Ukraine Foundation organized an expert round-table on "US-Russian Relations and Their Impact on Ukraine".

More than 30 Ukrainian and foreign experts, diplomats, and people's deputies became participants of the discussion. 

The Open Ukraine Foundation publishes some theses from presentations of the participants of the round-table.

David Kramer, former Senior Director for Human Rights and Democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, former President of Freedom House:

"The US should not only keep sanctions against Russia but also strengthen them until the Vladimir Putin`s authoritarian regime changes its behavior.

The United States has much to do in its relations with Russia. Something has begun under Obama administration. The United States must not only support but also increase sanctions against the Putin`s regime ... And these sanctions must remain until Putin changes his behavior ... 

... Russia has not fulfilled an agreement that was related to nuclear safety. And Putin does not feel that he is bound by the agreements signed by Russia. And of course, Russia does not respect the Budapest Memorandum, the Treaty of Friendship between Ukraine and Russia, the territorial integrity of Ukraine ...

... Putin sees the risk that other countries such as Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia want to unite with the West. He does not think that Ukrainians can determine for themselves the way of development, the way of development of their country. He thinks that the US, the CIA, or other Western organizations are behind it ...

... Ukraine needs instruments that will help flatten the balance in the confrontation with the Russian Federation. We must recognize the need for Ukraine to protect its territories and we must support Ukraine".

Vitaly Portnikov, publicist:

"The United States, if they want to preserve international law, should help any Ukraine. Both authoritarian, undemocratic, and unsuccessful. Because this is a country that was cut off a part of its territory, that is a polygon for a part of the revision of international law and the subsequent revision of the role of the West. Ukraine needs help, even if its president was Lukashenka ...

... Ukraine cannot be the subject of big politics in this situation. It is a polygon on that it is decided what the modern world will be in 10,20,30 years ...

... And most importantly, the West, as a guarantor of international law and democratic values, will disappear from the political map and give way to China, which will be continued by Russia ...

... The chance to prevent such developments will be possible if we can restore international law and restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and after it - Georgia and Moldova.

... The United States would have done a good job for themselves if it understood what is the true meaning and objectives of Russian foreign policy. They are simple - to defeat and destroy Rome and to make it barbaric values rooted in it ...

... I think that the main problem of relations between the US and Russia is completely different approaches. The Soviet Union, and then Russia, in fact, throughout all the time of its existence, with the exception of the "Yeltsin period", was engaged in competition with the United States. This is the main meaning of Russian foreign policy. At the same time, the United States does not compete with the Russian Federation. This is the main misunderstanding ...

... In the world history, this situation has always been repeated, which eventually led to the fact that the developed state, which is the United States now, fell under the blows of the barbarians, which is Russia now.

... In this context, Putin has a much more effective tool than the one used before.

Corruption is much more effective than ideology. In this plan, Putin has a lot more opportunities than Brezhnev or Andropov. They could finance a communist party in the United States or some agents that did not have much significance, and modern Russia could finance the political elites of the West ...".

Roman Shpek, Chairman of the Board of the Open Ukraine Foundation:

"Sanctions have an enormous impact on the fact that Russian enterprises do not have free access to the capital market. They affect the economic situation, but this does not affect the actions of Russian politicians because the goals are completely different. And no one cares about the welfare or level of economic development, infrastructure, social security. Yes, and on the other hand, the mentality of the Russian population is such that they are ready to tolerate more ...

... the tragic events that took place in our country resulted in the absence of a real policy towards Ukraine by the United States and the European Union.

The set of international instruments used over the past 20 years in relation to Ukraine was more like a reflection, not a real strategic policy ...

... The West must cooperate with Ukraine, not for its sake, but for the victory of international law and to do everything to ensure that sanctions against Russia are more effective".

Volodymyr Horbulin, Director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies:

"I will not reveal secrets if I say how the American-Russian relations are important for a sustainable peace.

Perhaps it's no secret that many people consider the current state of US-Russian relations as the worst since the Cold War. Politicians, diplomats, experts from both countries say this in one voice.

Russia, by its main characteristics, can not claim to be a leader in the modern world and in no way may be interested in a real confrontation with the United States. It would seem that the Russian Federation, like no other, is interested in preserving the existing world order since it is the first potential victim of possible financial, economic, political and ideological consequences of its destruction.

And yet, it is Putin's regime that initiated the conflict with the United States, which is becoming acuter and approaching a certain point of non-reciprocity.

Obviously, that the determining factors for such behavior of the Russian leadership were subjective factors. On the one hand, it is a revival of great-power ambitions as a late psychological reaction to the collapse of the Soviet empire, and on the other - the hope that the current global situation will be favorable for the Russian adventures of revenge. Washington seems to have gradually lost interest in the Eurasian region, focuses on domestic issues and, in general, rejects the mission of world domination as too ungrateful and costly. Under these conditions, space is freed for the activity of other countries that have the desire and resources to spread their influence.

In particular, the «reload» policy implemented by the previous administration of the White House gave rise to Putin and his team to hope for a lenient attitude of Americans not only to the invasion of Georgia but to the next such steps.

The sharp US reaction to the annexation of the Crimea and interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine has become a definite surprise for Moscow. But the logic of confrontation, the high rates of imperial revenge, made both in the domestic political space and in the foreign policy game, do not allow the Kremlin to retreat.

This is accompanied by the domestic political features of the situation in Washington. The Russian factor was closely intertwined with the sharp escalation of conflict in the American establishment. And this also reduces the space for maneuver and the ability to find a compromise in the current situation.

Before Washington, there is a dilemma - that work with the chauvinistic-revisionist attitudes of the Kremlin? Especially when the latter does not hesitate to act as a catalyst for Europe's problems - from the migration crisis (the role of the Russian Federation in Syria) to the annexation of the Crimea and military preparations at the NATO borders. Moreover, the Russian propaganda machine is trying to maximize the use of today's contradictions between the EU and the US to weaken Euro-Atlantic solidarity. At the same time, the United States is not sure that the Alliance of 29 different states will be able to achieve unity on the issue of self-defense. Especially considering the growing influence of Putin's "friends" - populists-eurosceptics, which are becoming influential forces in some EU member states (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Italy).

There are only two approaches to choosing a policy towards Russia for the US. The first concerns the rational understanding of the role of the Russian Federation as a breach of international law and a global destabilizing factor that equates its status with North Korea or Iran. Moscow is actually blocked by these countries, creating a new collective enemy of the free world, whose destructive actions form the basis of threats to Western civilization. With such a state, it makes no sense to conduct constructive dialogue, especially considering the difference between the conceptual views of the parties on the "right" world system in the past and in the future.

For Ukraine, such a conflict is a reality and the most dangerous is the prospect of turning it into a "gray zone" of instability.

There is another approach - the construction of a bridge, support for dialogue and constant contacts between participants of the confrontation. This approach is more flexible and inclusive, which gives space for diplomacy and political maneuvers. It is in the logic of this approach that Volker and Surkov are meeting today. At the same time, the United States does not seem to have any illusions about the performance of such meetings, since Kurt Volcker's level and powers as special representatives in Ukraine are lower than those of Viktoria Nuland during the administration of B.Obama. These maneuvers against the backdrop of deeper military-political support by the United States of America and the de facto blockade of the Minsk process must push Kyiv into a pro-active position to address the Donbass problem. Otherwise, in the current passivity, in the spring, an initiative can be intercepted by Moscow.

Based on the analysis of the current situation, it can be argued that the Administration of the President of the USA D.Tramp was determined on the strategy of action in the Russian direction. It will have signs of both approaches and will provide the development of relations with the Russian Federation, based on the triple principle of "confrontation, deterrence, cooperation".

Steven Pifer, United States Ambassador to Ukraine (1998-2000):

"The process of adopting sanctions by Congress is quite complicated and it can reduce the impact of sanctions on Russia's behavior. Even if they will take the right steps, even if Russia leaves the Donbass and returns the Crimea - it will be difficult to cancel the sanctions, because this process is very long ...

... US President Donald Trump has supported Republican policy towards Russia, sanctions remain, support of Ukraine continues ... The US Congress played a large role in this.

... The main thing that prevents the US from establishing normal relations with Russia is Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

... The United States must also provide Ukraine with military assistance.

I expect that the United States will continue to support Ukraine. We will continue to work to reduce the Russian aggression. And I think the results will be good. They should be good ...

... For 25 years, the United States has been helping to maintain peace in the European region. And the success of Ukraine is very important in order to stop the aggression of Russia and show very clearly to Moscow that tactical steps, such as the illegal annexation of Crimea and what is happening in the eastern region of Ukraine, are simply impossible, that it is not at all what is expected from Russia ...".

Andrii Teteruk, Member of Parliament of Ukraine:

"It`s very interesting to me to hear the thoughts from the United States, to hear Ukrainians who fight for our right to remain on the map of the world. And, despite the fact that we can be proud of something because we are really implementing the reforms that we have already made, I'm terribly worried that we are suffering from devastating defeat on the information front, where we generally do not resist the hybrid war of the Russian Federation. And we will lose even the achievements that we have made. All this is the set of events that make me move on - no matter what. Because in the parliament we are doing our main job - we make it impossible to return Ukraine to a powerful managerial political and any other sphere of the Kremlin ...

... In my opinion, this will be the most important achievement of these five years if we make irreversible changes in the mentality and in the direction of the movement of our state if we make the influence of the Russian Federation impossible ... And it is very important that we in our aspirations build a strong successful country ... And not because we want to entice Russia, but because we do not have another way ...".

Summarizing the speeches and comments of the participants of the round-table, political expert, moderator of the event, Taras Berezovets noted:

"The main message is to the global changes that have taken place in Washington's politics. The American machine is inertial, but it is already deployed and works as a roller in relation to the Russian establishment. In expectation of the introduction of new personal sanctions in February 2018, Russian politicians and oligarchs have increased the cost of Washington lobbyists by an order. We must understand that if the usual lobbying market for the representatives of the Russian Federation is estimated at 300 million dollars, in a year, according to estimates of familiar lobbies, the amount exceeded $ 1 billion. This reflects a state of nervousness and panic among Russian officials and oligarchs. Even with such a budget, everybody recognizes that sanctions will be expanded equally.

In parallel with this, it is important to note the activity of Yatsenyuk himself, who has held a number of important meetings in Israel. There he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, deputies of the Knesset. Based on the visit program, security and defense issues were the key issues. What unites the American and Israeli objects is the understanding of three key components: 1) the question of Ukraine's security as a NATO security issue; 2) Ukraine protects the whole West; 3) the impossibility of direct agreements with Russia behind Ukraine. These theses are actively promoted by Arseniy Yatsenyuk himself.

By the way, the issue of the allocation of lethal weapons to Ukraine is supported by all the key Trump administration officials: Vice President Mike Pens, Defense Secretary James Matthews, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Special Representative of the State Department Kurt Volcker. The final word is the word by President Trump".

The event was organized as a start of a new platform for high-level discussions of present conflicts and urgent questions within Kyiv Security Forum.