Remarks delivered by Walter Zaryckyj, PhD – Executive Director, Center for US-Ukrainian Relations – “Ukraine at the Crossroads” Conference

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Delivered by Walter Zaryckyj PhD, Executive Director,

Center for US-Ukrainian Relations
on March 8, 2012 at an international forum in Ottawa entitled:

“Ukraine at the Crossroads”

Dear Participants of the “Ukraine at the Crossroads”
Forum—Dear Friends! In some ways, I find myself on unfamiliar
grounds—and that can be intimidating. At gatherings such as ours, I
have had the privilege of being a chair, a discussant, a panelist and
even a host moderator (presently Jars Balan’s taxing job). In each
named case—yes even as host moderator—one can depend on a set of
remarks, however informal, which one can prepare beforehand. Being a
‘chronicler’ (for lack of a better term) or ‘providing a summary’ does
not allow for that convenience,

What is even more strikingly intimidating is trying to chronicle this
particular event. I have had the honor to be involved with over forty
some-odd symposia in the last dozen years—starting with the venerable
DC based Ukraine’s Quest Roundtable Series in 2000 and continuing with
the UA/EU based Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic Future Forum Series. I will
readily admit that this conference and the parliamentary hearings that
immediately preceded it have provided/produced more intellectual and
political firepower than any single set of gatherings that I can
recall.

I guess that I should have surmised as much when I first saw the
final draft of the program and then again when I looked across the
crowd in attendance at our Opening Remarks dinner last night. The
facts eloquently speak for themselves: (i) highly placed
representatives from the three corners of the Euro-Altantic
Community—Canada, the EU, the US; (ii) Ukraine’s most articulate
political players and civil society activists; (iii) democratic
Russia’s most distinguished spokesman; (iv) the best set of ‘policy
wonks’ on the planet; (v) many of Canada’s best academics; (vi) a
sizable cross section of Canada’s political leadership and (vii) an
equally sizable cross section of the Ukrainian Canadian Hromada
leadership.

Anyway, having confronted the intimidation (or ‘fear’) factor, I am
now ready to put it in the past and turn to the task at hand. The
forum, as it appeared to me, divided into two parts or ‘phases’. The
first part/phase involved an effort  to assess Ukraine’s ‘internal
dynamics’ or, more practically, to provide Ukraine with a ‘report
card’ in four categories: (a) democratic elections & governance, (b)
economic development & social cohesion (c) energy security and (d)
general security. The second part/phase was a focused effort to divine
external factors impinging on Ukraine’s ‘internal dynamics'; in real
terms, the speakers attempted to tackle the ‘Russian Question &
Ukraine’—particularly in light of Vladimir  Putin’s recent
‘re-election victory’  as President (or Supreme Leader) of Russia.

The first effort proved quite a sobering affair. The speakers tasked
to assess Ukraine’s internal processes clearly indicated that the
sunny, if overly anarchistic,  democratic years under the Orange
(2005-2009) ground to a halt in 2010. At first, many interested
parties (in the ‘West’) prayed that the ‘regress’ would not be
noticeable—given newly elected Pres. Yanukovych’s professed
Euro-integration aims. But by 2011 it appears that such hopes were
misplaced. Yanukovych first consolidated the ‘power vertical’ by
placing a lock-hold on all three branches of government and then
launched a campaign to secure that ‘vertical’  thru the 2012
parliamentary elections campaign by making certain that the political
opposition would be partially, in not fully, leaderless. Yanukovych’s
apparent single minded efforts to secure his political future and the
future of his ‘Regions’ party left him badly neglecting Ukraine’s
social, economic, energy and security needs. In each just mentioned
category, the speakers noted sizable regress. All of this has weakened
the Ukrainian State (Derzhava) immeasurably. Yanukovych’s own
situation presently—his ‘house of cards’—resembles that of the old
Turkish sultans at the beginning of the early 20th c. (to borrow an
image first proffered by my friend Alex Motyl) or the failed Arab
leaders of the early 21st c. (Mubarak, Qadaffi and Assad come to
mind).

The second effort—looking at the external factors impinging on
Ukraine— proved no less sobering! The audience of the forum (like
anyone interested in the fate of democracy globally) was probably
hoping that Putin’s re-election campaign and eventual ‘inevitable’
electoral victory would elicit a greater set of question marks in the
international mass media centers—especially in the Euro-Atlantic
Community. Apparently, that has not happened. If so, that is if Putin
now feels good about his ‘victory’ and proceeds to consolidate his
situation in Russia, then Ukraine, badly weakened by Yanukovych’s
sultan-like activities, is in for ‘the ride of its young life’. Putin
will certainly play the energy card, but it will not end there. His
‘interest’ will extend to Ukraine’s food, metals, chemicals,
machinery, aerospace and information technology sectors. ‘Czar’ Vlad
and his oligarchic/ ‘silovyk’ allies will move in on everything in
Ukraine that is ‘not nailed down’ (and as the joke goes, “being nailed
down will not guarantee anything either”). At that point , Ukraine’s
national sovereignty would be at ‘fundamental risk’.

Given the outlined inferences provided by both efforts during the
several forum sessions, it might be easy to come away from our
gathering sensing nothing except a bleak landscape ending with a
scenario in which Ukraine would slip back into its terrible unwanted
‘colonial’ past—and such an assessment would not be altogether ‘beyond
the pale’. There is,  however,  a very large “however” that each
speaker, without fail, seemed to provide as a subtext and a source of
great solace (regardless of phase of analysis). That “however” could
be summarized in three words: ‘Ukrainian civil society’.

From the looks of it, ‘Ukrainian civil society’ is quite alive
(Orange did have an impact on that level) and is not planning to
disappear anytime soon (it is rooted among young urban ‘middle class’
Ukrainians). It has spread from the strictly political sphere (the
political opposition or the ‘original maidan’) to the socio-economic
sphere (small and medium businesses or the ‘economic maidan’) and
possibly on to the religious/cultural sphere; on the last, one of the
audience members during a Q & A made an excellent point: Ukraine has a
rich variety of religious denominations that under the right
circumstances could become a ‘religious maidan’.

Equally important, the said civil society has a real support base
around the world.  First, it can depend on a network of friends in the
governments of the Euro-Atlantic Community; a number of those were
with us during our forum the last two days. Second, it can depend on a
network of ‘NGO policy shapers’ the likes of James Sherr and Ariel
Cohen and Anders Aslund and Amanda Paul and Nico Lange, all of whom
took active part in our proceedings. Finally, it can depend on the
global Ukrainian ‘Hromada; in North America (Canada/US) alone, the
Hromada (Diaspora) numbers over 2.2 million.

Given such an addendum, I suspect that our august forum has come to
the same overarching conclusion that five EU member national foreign
ministers reached in an op-ed printed in the International Herald
Tribune three days ago. I suspect that neither they nor our forum
would mind me reading the final words of their op-ed declaration as
our final sentiment as well:

“We see ourselves as Ukraine’s allies. We believe in the people of
Ukraine and in Ukraine’s democratic and economic potential. We know
that the road of reforms, which Ukraine has chosen to take, is long
and challenging. But we are convinced that closer political and
economic ties, as well as people-to-people contacts, between the E.U.
and Ukraine offer huge benefits for both partners. Twenty years of
independence and sovereignty have brought an irreversible change in
the mentality of the Ukrainian society. The people of Ukraine are
Europeans and share European values. Our goal is to anchor Ukraine in
the European family, as symbolized through the signing and
ratification of the association agreement. We call on the Ukrainian
leadership (I will add: both ‘vlada’ and the ‘oppositsyia’) to display
the political courage and wisdom needed for this to happen.”

 

 

 


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