Changing Geostrategic Tensions around Ukraine

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Teija_Tiilikainen.mp3 (MP3, 2.27 Mb)
 
Kristi_Raik.mp3 (MP3, 3.32 Mb)
 
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Arkady_Moshes.mp3 (MP3, 8.49 Mb)
 
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Teija Tiilikainen / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Teija Tiilikainen / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Kristi Raik / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Kristi Raik / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Stephen Blank / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Stephen Blank / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Arkady Moshes / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Arkady Moshes / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Andras Racz / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Andras Racz / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Toni Alaranta / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Toni Alaranta / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä
Sinikukka Saari / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä Sinikukka Saari / Photo: Alvar Aalto-Setälä

Tue 13.9.2016 at 9:00-11:00
The Auditorium of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Ankkurikatu 5, 4th floor, Helsinki

In recent months, renewed escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine and tensions in Crimea have raised new doubts about the continued relevance of the Minsk agreements. Negotiations between Russia and the U.S. do not seem to have yielded results. The security situation elsewhere in the common neighbourhood of the EU and Russia is fragile. Instability in Turkey and Russia’s Syria operation add complexity to the conflict-prone geostrategic environment. The fate of Ukraine and other countries in the region remains crucial for the future shape and rules of the European security order. How to assess recent talks between the U.S. and Russia on Ukraine and Syria? What are the lessons learned from Russia’s Syria operation with regard to Ukraine? How does Turkey’s rising anti-westernism and warming up of ties with Russia affect Ukraine? Is Belarus doomed to deepening dependence on Russia?

Opening remarks:

Teija Tiilikainen, Director, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Chair:

Kristi Raik, Senior Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Speakers:

Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council

Arkady Moshes, Director, EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia Research programme, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Toni Alaranta, Senior Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Andras Racz, Senior Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Sinikukka Saari, Senior Researcher, Planning and Research Unit, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

The event marks the launch of the FIIA Report Key Actors in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood: Competing Perspectives on Geostrategic Tensions.


Summary of the seminar

The seminar was opened by Director Teija Tiilikainen who said that this seminar, and the FIIA Report Key Actors in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood: Competing Perspectives on Geostrategic Tensions which was launched at the seminar, provide a new broader perspective to the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood and the crisis in Ukraine. FIIA has analysed the regional perspective in its earlier work, but this time the perspective is more comprehensive as it concentrates on the roles and interests of major international actors in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood.

Dr Kristi Raik who acted as chair of the seminar said that the geostrategic tensions in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood are not easing at the moment. She said that the FIIA report launched at the seminar examines the goals and motives of all the major actors in the region. Raik also highlighted two of the conclusions of the report: there is a need to understand how the crisis in Ukraine has acted as a catalyst for tensions in the international system and to understand how the major actors in the region reflect their views on the international order; and the EU needs to develop a deeper understanding of the factors at play in the region and especially in the security of its neighbourhood.

Dr Stephen Blank analysed the connections between the Syrian crisis and the crisis in Ukraine. He started by saying that he was very skeptical about the success of the US-Russia deal on a Syrian ceasefire that had been announced the previous week, because these countries have different strategic objects and interests. Russia has allowed terrorists to travel to Syria via North Caucasus; it is not a fit partner in the anti-terrorist coalition. In Blank’s opinion Russian operations in Ukraine and Syria are tied together by Russia’s will to show that it has influence – both operations are aimed against the western actions. This means that in Russian foreign policy Syria and Ukraine come together, and force and power are common points to both operations. To conclude Blank said that the West is disunited and therefore Russia has had a strategic initiative in Syria and Ukraine. According to Blank’s advice the West should be more united, have proper strategic goals and defend democracy.

Dr Arkady Moshes addressed two issues: the state of the conflict in Donbass and the state of affairs in Ukraine more generally. Moshes said that the state of the conflict in Donbass continues to be very dramatic and the situation is getting tighter. The conflict is ongoing, not a frozen one. Furthermore, a primary mistake of the West was precisely to think that this conflict would be possible to freeze and treat as other frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space. At the moment, according to Moshes, the West is reluctant to put pressure either on Ukraine or on Russia. The Russian gamble is at the moment that the West will get tired and that the Ukrainian economy will collapse. Paradoxically, Ukraine’s gamble is similar, as it expects Russia to admit that it is not gaining from continuing the status quo whereas its economy is weakening; then Russia ought to be more ready for concessions. According to Moshes, the state of affairs in Ukraine can be easily criticised: the country is oligarchic, corrupt and has a bad quality of governance. However, change in Ukraine has happened and is happening. Moshes provided five examples of the change: Ukraine’s military power has increased notably, it has almost completed a very successful energy reform, deficit of the budget fell between 2014 and 2015 from 9% to 2,5%, annualized inflation fell between April 2015 and July 2016 from 61% to 8%, and Ukraine is managing 1,8 million internally displaced people. The change in Ukraine, according to Moshes, is supported by its people. To conclude, Moshes said that the West should put more effort to the conflict resolution.

Dr András Rácz concentrated on Belarus in his presentation. He said that since the start of the crisis in Ukraine there has been a lot of speculation whether this is a moment for Belarus to break away from Russia. According to Rácz, this possibility may have been exaggerated because the European Union is not a viable partner or alternative to Belarus that has multilayered and strong relations with Russia. Also, besides the EU and Russia, Belarus has not been able to find a third alternative. However according to Rácz, strengthening the ties with the EU may be an instrument for Belarus to weaken its relations with Russia. Rácz highlighted that this strengthening of ties must be seen only as an instrument, not a long-term objective of Belarusian foreign policy. In general, progress in Belarus has happened in the latest parliamentary elections where two opposition candidates were voted to the parliament. Rácz reckoned that the parliamentary elections might provide a possibility to strengthen ties between the EU and Belarus.

Dr Toni Alaranta spoke about Turkish strategy in the Eastern Neighbourhood. He said that in its foreign policy Turkey has on the one hand continued the counterpoising politics since the 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. On the other hand, he noted radical change in Turkish foreign policy caused by the AKP government since 2002. In the Eastern Neighbourhood, Turkey is following a strategy of three-partied balancing acts: rhetorically advancing its EU membership, building a strategic alliance with Russia based on energy and commercial issues, and trying to advance the independence of countries like Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan. According to Alaranta, the main goal of Turkey in the foreign policy has been, during the last 15 years, to advance multipolarity and to search an independent role. Domestically Turkey wishes to create an independent Islamic State. This is why Turkey considers the West as a threat and that is what Turkey and Russia have in common. However, as Alaranta highlighted, Turkey is not in the Russian camp but is seeking an independent role. To conclude, Alaranta said that Turkey is an unpredictable, anti-western actor and this must be noted when considering Turkey as an ally in the post-Soviet space.

Dr Sinikukka Saari summed up some of the conclusions made in the FIIA Report Key Actors in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood: Competing Perspectives on Geostrategic Tensions. According to her, the crisis in Ukraine brought to light the existing tensions, and now the tensions must be dealt with. Russia considers that it has a privileged role in the former Soviet region. Russian policy towards the states in the region leads to the erosion of their sovereignty. Saari said that Russian tools to erode state sovereignty vary from "nice" to aggressive ones. Russian policy in the region is effective in the short run, but in the long run the situation may be different, according to Saari.