Who Is at War Against Global Democracy? Discussion

May 15, 2020
Meet Anne Applebaum, Peter Pomeranzev, Rebecca Harms, Daniel Fried, Arseniy Yatseniuk, Volodymyr Yermolenko and Danylo Lubkivskyi at a new Kyiv Security Forum online discussion held in partnership with UkraineWorld and Internews Ukraine.
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Kyiv Security Forum, in partnership with UkraineWorld, Internews Ukraine and Atlantic Council, held a discussion about the challenge of authoritarianism against global democracy.

Participants of the discussion:

  • Anne Applebaum, American journalist and historian, the Pulitzer Prize winner;
  • Rebecca Harms, German politician, the Member of the European Parliament in 2004-19;
  • Daniel Fried, American diplomat, the Weiser Family distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, the former US Assistant Secretary of State, the coordinator for sanctions policy during the Obama administration;
  • Peter Pomeranzev, British journalist and author, the Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute of Global Affairs at the London School of Economics;
  • Volodymyr Yermolenko, Ukrainian philosopher, analytics director at Internews Ukraine, editor-in-chief at UkraineWorld;
  • Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Prime Minister of Ukraine in 2014-16, founder of Open Ukraine Foundation;
  • Danylo Lubkivsky, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine in 2014, member of the Board of Management of Open Ukraine Foundation (moderator).
  • Is the world democracy fundamentally and irreversibly challenged and who might become a major beneficiary of this global shift?
  • What should be the response of the United States, Germany and the European Union to the new international realities?
  • What goals of Russia's hybrid warfare against the West can be envisaged in the nearest perspective?
  • Should the West finally discover and accept Ukraine on its mental, cultural, geopolitical and security maps?
  • How the big international picture looks from Ukraine's perspective?

Co-sponsors:


Summary:

Coronavirus and the future of democracy

Arseniy Yatseniuk

The world is living in a disarray. Nobody expected a few months ago that we will be isolated. We are now all focused on economic issues: unemployment rate, economic meltdown, ways to tackle Covid-19. But such key issues like security, independence, Russian aggression against Ukraine, or the global order -- started to be at the sidelines of today's world. I feel a certain vacuum of power in the contemporary world. And this vacuum, left by democracies, is filled by dictators. Democracy has to produce strong leadership in order to defend itself. Dictators are feeling quite good right now, look at Putin.

The vacuum, left by democracies, is filled by dictators. Democracy has to produce strong leadership in order to defend itself

13 years ago we had a meeting with ambassador Daniel Fried, who is with us now, and with then US Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. I showed her a map of Ukraine saying that my country was encircled by Russian military bases: in Belarus, in Russia itself, in Crimea, in Transnistria. We were under Russian siege. 7 years after that Russia illegally annexed Crimea and sent its troops to Donetsk and Luhansk. And my message at that time was: we need very strong United States. I can reiterate this message once again: we need strong American leadership. We also need Trans-Atlantic unity between the United States and the European Union. This unity is one of the best instruments to deter dictators like Putin.

Anne Applebaum

In the world right now the real division is not between dictatorship and democracy. The real division is between those states whose leadership inspires trust, who have a competent bureaucracy, who can solve problems quickly, and who can pull their nations together to deal with a major crisis in the modern world.

The real division today is between those states whose leadership inspires trust, who have a competent bureaucracy, who can solve problems quickly

Among the democracies, Germany, Taiwan, South Korea or a number of Central European countries that are able to do this.

One of the countries that were not able to do it was the United States. Faced with the worst public health crisis in a century we see the deepening of divisions, we see the spread of disinformation, and we see the president whose only concern is his own popularity.

Among the dictatorships, some are able to deal with this better than others too. China is special case, because the virus began in China and they were better prepared in the beginning. But I am not sure that this virus has revealed such wonderful things about Russia either. We see a country very much divided, where there is an enormous amount of secrecy -- and Russia is a country where there is a very low level of trust, and people are not ready to listen to authorities.

So the virus has revealed a set of distinctions that we didn't see before. That doesn't mean that democracy is finished, but it does mean that the United States, as the leader of the world in its previous role, won't have the same prestige and the same ability to lead as it once did.

Daniel Fried

President Trump is drawn into the worst American political traditions I can think off. Domestically, on the tradition of America as a white men's republic. In the foreign policy, the term "America first" recalls the original "America First" movement, which suggests that America had no interest in foreign affairs except in a very narrow transactional way, and no biding interests in foreign policy based on common values.

Yalta agreements were a symptom of this when Roosevelt was accepting a very weak deal.

Many of us who were involved into American foreign policy of 1989-1991 were aware of these mistakes and were determined not to repeat these mistakes. Therefore, we put a lot of effort into NATO enlargement and support of the EU enlargement, aware of this gap.

But I want to stress that democracies have resilience. The capacity of the American institutions hasn't been demolished; it has been suppressed, but it can come back, and that's differentiates us from Russia, where institutional strength doesn't exist.

Democracies have resilience. The capacity of the American institutions hasn't been demolished; it has been suppressed, but it can come back, and that's differentiates us from Russia, where institutional strength doesn't exist

Look at institutional capacity of the individual American states like New York, New Jersey, who have succeeded, without much federal help, in getting a handle over coronavirus. The American system is de-centralized and it can function on this basis when it has to. I don't think the governors in the Russian system have this ability.

Rebecca Harms

For me it was not at all surprising that from the very beginning EU's response to the crisis looked weak. The European Union is not a centralized state with the same responsibilities for all different sectors. The health sector is not at all centralized as a competence of the European Union.

Meanwhile, EU now looks much better, and part of its decision-making looks really great. The support schemes which were decided, both for measures inside the EU, and for measures for non-EU countries like Eastern Partnership, including Ukraine. The EU is now preparing the biggest economic stimulus which ever took place. For the first time, the EU leaders talk about the measures of economic recovery in the dimension of the Marshall Plan. I think for the EU it matters now a lot to communicate in a good way.

The EU is now preparing the biggest economic stimulus which ever took place. For the first time, the EU leaders talk about the measures of economic recovery in the dimension of the Marshall Plan

I think the relations in the West, between EU and US, should be based upon our experience since very long time. EU still depends in its security on NATO, and its not a negative dependence. This is a positive dependence that we experience for a long time. I would strongly call the EU not to debate how to do things without the United States, but rather to strengthen its own commitment and its own contribution to the Western alliances, also in the military sense.

The world's ideological climate

Volodymyr Yermolenko

I think we are coming to something which I would call "zoopolitics". It's a biological or zoological metaphor to designate political bodies and political actors. Politics as a human art of positive sum game is increasingly replaced with "zoopolitics" in which big animals struggle for survival and pursue the strategy of "zero-sum game" or even "negative sum game".

Politics as a human art of positive-sum game is increasingly replaced with "zoopolitics" in which big animals struggle for survival and pursue the strategy of "zero-sum game" or even "negative-sum game".

And this is something very dangerous. We also live in an epoch of romantization of violence. It reminds me generation before the First World War, the generation of 1913: the young people who were eager to go to the front, to face the risk and die. It was very intransigent and radical generation, and I am afraid the fashion for this intransigence came back.

If we look at contemporary Russia, this is perhaps the best example of this zoopolitical ideology. And the key difference today between countries, I think, is whether the political action of a given country is able to turn inside, to the good of its citizens. We have seen that the Russian political culture is essentially expansionist, turned to the outside. Putin himself defined Russia as a bear who is protecting his taiga but at the same time always eager to expand. Therefore, the key Russian concept right now is the concept of civilization: they claim that Russia is not a nation, but a separate civilization, different from that of the West. But why they like this concept? Because civilization doesn't have borders. "Russkiy mir" does not have political borders. It survives only by expansion -- therefore Dugin loves so much the German conservatives of the early 20^th^ century who were saying the same.

So the question is what will happen in Russia when you need to take more care of your citizens because of the crisis, instead of expanding and taking over new territories. And my fear is that as soon as Russia proves not efficient to its own citizens, what it will be trying to do is the new expansion: an attempt to prove external "greatness" as a disguise for internal weakness. Therefore the coronavirus can only stimulate Kremlin's authoritarian regime for a new expansion.

I think the major difference between democratic political culture and authoritarian political culture is centered around the question of borders: is the elimination of borders a voluntary process or is it a result of a military expansion? And here I don't see much change in the upcoming future, even after the coronavirus pandemic. I don't expect this expansionist or zoopolitical stimulus of Kremlin to disappear

Information warfare

Peter Pomeranzev

If we are going to use a military metaphor for what's going today with coronavirus and in the field of information, I don't think it's like the Cold war, or the Second World War; it reminds me a kind of religions wars in Europe -- a Hundred Years' War, for example, where everybody was fighting everyone else. There was a plague that wiped off the half of Europe -- so the parallels continue. Nation states are involved, extremist groups are --anyone who can use Twitter is involved. Big bad states are also involved, but they can always disguise their action -- you never know, whether it is a foreign state or a local actor.

It's an information chaos, and it is interesting to see it in the context now, in the context of the coronavirus. Because the cumulative effect of this is disappearance of our sense of shared reality. But there is no greater reality than death. Death is the ultimate reality. It reminds me the end of Mozart's Don Giovanni, when the Commendatore comes to get Don Giovanni, this bright liar, who lies and seduces all the time, but he cannot do anything against Death. The coronavirus comes to all those spin doctors and manipulators, to self-declared information warriors and say: no, this is reality.

The coronavirus comes to all those spin doctors and manipulators, to self-declared information warriors and say: no, this is reality.

And it is fascinating to see whether all those politicians who were, like bullfighters, escaping the reality, from the consequences of their action, from truth, with the help of their propaganda, will be now facing this ultimate reality. And it is interesting to see whether death will be able to catch up and show to everybody who they really are. Suddenly we have a new kind of hero: a technocratic, boring politician. The baroque indulgencies of Trump or Putin suddenly seem petty. You want South Korea, Taiwan, Merkel. So I hope this is time when reality and reality-based politicians return.

Arseniy Yatseniuk

In the current world, everything which is white can be easily switched into black. Everything which is round can be easily switched into square. I see disinformation as one of the key challenges, which has to be urgently tackled.

The problem in Ukraine is that we have a lack of the freedom of speech space. It's all about who owns media outlets, who owns Ukrainian TV channels. For example, Putin controls 50% of all news TV channels in Ukraine. So he can easily control 50% of minds and hearts of Ukrainians. Putin's goal is not to provide his own narrative but to undermine the truth, to inject chaos into Ukraine and into the Western world, to undermine credibility, undermine trust. We have to fight against it with our truth, with our stories, with the real freedom of speech.

Putin controls 50% of all news TV channels in Ukraine. So he can easily control 50% of minds and hearts of Ukrainians

Russian propaganda / disinformation

Anne Applebaum

The most important element of Russian propaganda is not necessarily the period before the election. This is long-running and long-standing attempts to shape arguments.

In the US, for example, there is a campaign to create Taxes and California separatism. They try to support all kinds of groups that try to be anti-establishment groups -- "Black Lives Matter" or anti-immigration groups, or anti-vaccination campaigns, whatever they are. Now they are pushing for mad conspiracy theories about coronavirus. And what they aim at is to undermine trust.

Peter Pomeranzev

There is one consistent meta-narrative in Russian disinformation. It's an attempt to undermine the essential democratic narrative that starts in 1989: the narrative that democracy leads to freedom, prosperity and security. This narrative goes through our own narratives about current events, including Arab spring and others. The Kremlin disinformation tries undermine the link between democracy and prosperity.

There is one consistent meta-narrative in Russian disinformation. It's an attempt to undermine the essential democratic narrative that starts in 1989: the narrative that democracy leads to freedom, prosperity and security

Ukraine is a big example of that. Russian propaganda is trying to say: look, these people fought for democracy, and it brought war and destruction. That's what they say about the Middle East, about Eastern Europe. It is a revenge against the 1989.

Volodymyr Yermolenko

Chaos and deception method is used by the Kremlin propaganda when the enemy is far away. When it is close, another set of mechanisms are used, much closer to the Soviet type of propaganda -- with "positive" messaging like that around the Victory Day.

Our present monitoring of the anti-Western and anti-democracy messaging shows that so far Russian messages are very destructive, they are rich with hate speech and don't propose any alternative, any positive messaging.

But it is possible that more "seducive" messaging would come in the near future.

The current Russian information warfare is rooted in a much deeper story, in the de-valuation of truth in the Soviet political culture and maybe even earlier.

Russian aggression and Minsk agreements

Arseniy Yatseniuk

Ukraine is still under Russian aggression. And in this situation the Minsk deals are a clear way to the Russian trap. With all these so-called "local elections" Russians just want to legitimize its proxies. Russian idea is to dismantle Ukraine as an independent state. I strongly believe that in the current circumstances implementation of the Minsk deals in the Russian interpretation is a disaster for the Ukrainian people and for the Ukrainian state.

Ukraine is still under Russian aggression. And in this situation the Minsk deals are a clear way to the Russian trap. 

Daniel Fried

A successful and Europeanizing Ukraine would damage putinism by demonstrating to Russians that an alternative path is possible for them too, and will show up a falsity of Russian argument that it is a separate civilization, and rules of democracy don't apply to it.

A successful and Europeanizing Ukraine would damage putinism by demonstrating to Russians that an alternative path is possible for them too

Rebecca Harms

I am not expecting a change of sanctions regime, but I would recommend not to doubt Minsk agreements fundamentally.

We were critical or skeptical on parts of this agreement from the very beginning. But if you want to have sanctions in place (and you should want it), then don't doubt fundamentally Minsk.

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