With pleasure we present an impressive opening speech that our friend Marta Wnuk gave at AEGEE’s Model United Nations Kraków 2014. She acted as an expert in the EU-Russia relations therefore her performance focused mainly on the current situation in Ukraine. Enjoy!
Dear honourable guests,
“We have a sick man on our hands, a man gravely ill, it will be a great misfortune if one of these days he slips through our hands, especially before the necessary arrangements are made.”
These are words of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia to British ambassador G. H. Seymourthat referred to the state of the Ottoman Empire in 1853, remarkably, at the beginning of the Crimean War, when it was failing financially and politically.
History likes to repeat itself in surprising ways. After almost 70 years after Wold War II, after 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and in times of advancing European integration we have learnt that nowadays the biggest challenge is posed by financial crisis and main security threats mostly come from terrorism with face of Arab extremists. Stream of events, however, speeded up and pushed us to look at the current situation form a new perspective and search for its understanding. Crimea is again triggering point of the Russian-European geopolitical game. Protection of Russian citizens abroad raises again at the heart of agenda. Ukraine, most broadly speaking, is politically destabilised and suffers from financial difficulties.
So having old history lessons in mind, I dare say: in the modern world, Ukraine is sick man of Europe.
Nevertheless, before we I try to pose a question whether Ukraine is a man of hope with prospects for recovery or rather is in threat of further progressing illness, I would like to encourage you to step back for a while and try to see a bigger picture of the situation.
Every day since 21st of November, when Viktor Yanukovych suspended signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union and with the start of the Euromaydan movement we are literally bombarded with media coverage and plenty of information reporting the ongoing happenings and politicians’ moves. But, how to put all those pieces together and not to get lost in all the data when the issue is so multilayered? With propaganda and clashing opinions making it ever more difficult. It’s an extremely challenging task. And I don’t dare to say that I will manage to do that in this speech. What I want to do, however, is to present you with a broader perspective that will hopefully help you with gaining more understanding of current state of affairs in the light of the Ukrainian crisis.
Firstly, let’s have a look from Russian point of view. Russia was repeatedly invaded over the years – starting with Golden Horde in medieval times, than Swedes, Poles and British going into Russian territory, not to mention Napoleon’s and Hitler’s attempts to take over Moscow. So in order to protect each states’ most vital interest, which is survival, Russia developed strategy of building buffer zones around the country. Ukraine was one of such buffer zone states for 300 hundred years and suddenly Russia is about to lose it.
Since the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union the Western world was progressing more and more to the East: former soviet republics and satellite states gained independence, than they joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – the Russia’s declared biggest enemy on the international scene, than many of them became members of the European Union, which presents opposing model of values. Than we could observe that most of the countries that remained outside of the NATO and the EU showed their pro-Atlantic and pro-European aspirations. In order not to let more countries of their closest neighbourhood to follow “the Western path”, after the Colour Revolutions in the region, Russia used it capacity for economic blackmail and even engaged itself with war in Georgia in 2008. Then, in 2009 European Union announced the Eastern Partnership Programme that aimed at strengthening relations with its neighbours from Eastern Europe and South Caucasus and bringing them closer to European standards by offering Association Agreements. That resulted in Vladimir Putin presenting his own alternative model of Eurasian integration in the frames of the Custom Union of which Ukraine was meant to be one of the key elements.
So summing up this process, in fact, there are two actors on the scene competing over the same area of influence. There is geopolitical game between Russia and the EU, even though since recently it was thought we won’t be seeing this in XXI century. And there is a key distinction to be made. What profoundly varies those two actors is power. More specifically, the sort of power each of them uses. Basically, the Russian Federation as hard power conducts its foreign policy by use of military means and economical pressure and the European Union as a soft power highlights the superiority of democratic values, rule of law and importance of diplomatic means in solving the conflicts. This creates a serious dilemma for countries caught in the middle of those two powers. At the one hand, they are attracted by the promises of democratic model and benefits of free market. They wish to belong to a club of countries that would give them more recognition on the international scene, even though it means paying costs of major reforms. At the other hand Russia offers them economic package based on gas and oil domination that in case of refusal to accept can meet with political blackmail and even threat of military intervention, as shows the Ukrainian case.
Knowing those preconditions for Russia’s behaviour in the region, still there is question to be made. Why Putin’s reaction was that hostile to happenings on Maydan and political changes that followed in Kyiv? Let’s look at his biography very quickly: former KGB officer, in office of prime minister twice and third term as a president now, which is only possible due to change of the constitution that allowed him to candidate again and prolonged presidential cadence. Apparently, Vladimir Putin’s vital goal is power. And he won’t ever allow to lose that power. So that he doesn’t hesitate to take any measures necessary not to have a second Maydan at his doorsteps in Moscow. And what serves Putin’s aim to keep power? After having taken Crimea that he perceives to be rightfully Russian, it’s the permanent destabilisation of Ukraine. That’s why, in my opinion, he inspired anti-Kyiv separatist movements in the Eastern parts of Ukraine, not being willing so far to annex those territories of self-claimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk or deciding on military intervention. His intention is to show lack of benefits of joining the UE by Ukraine accusing current government and Maydan protesters of being fascist and the EU countries to train and finance them. Country torn apart by internal conflicts is not able to step up on the way to consolidation, reform and moving further in the European direction.
Ladies and gentlemen “we have a sick man on our hands” and this sick man of Europe is Ukraine. So it is inevitable to ask ourselves now once again: can ever Ukraine become a man with hope for recovery? If we count on certain answer, we won’t get one. Happenings of last 6 months showed how much current reality is complex, how dynamic and often unpredictable the situation is. When there are so many factors involved, mostly uncertain ones, we should refrain ourselves from making quick judgements. We can, however, make a broad assumption and then closely observe how the situation will evolve. I think that Ukraine for the first time, after 22 years of its brake from Soviet Union, has a chance to be fully sovereign state. By fully sovereign state I mean state free form Russian dependence and freedom to chose its own political direction in the international stage. On Sunday there are going to be presidential elections. Ukrainian society will vote to chose its country’s new leader. And this Ukrainian society is a different one than half a year ago. Those people after what happened on Maydan awaken as citizens. They gained a sense of ownership of their country. So now they are ready more than ever to shape the future fate of Ukraine. Of course, we have to bear in mind, that any real change will be a long process that could last decades and understand that it’s a long-term treatment of the disease of soviet past.
And with this hope for the future I would like to leave you dear honourable guests as we will be tackling further the issue of the Ukrainian crisis in the Security Council and I believe it would be valuably spend time. I wish us all fruitful discussions.