The Restless Wave: 10 Key Ideas From Kyiv Security Forum 2019

April 18, 2019
The twelfth instalment of the annual Kyiv Security Forum took place on 11-12 April 2019. This year, the Forum’s agenda was dedicated to the strategic choice of Ukraine and the West, as well as to political, economic, security and cultural interdependence between Ukraine and the Western world. Here are our 10 key takeaways from the Forum.
  1. Ukraine-EU cooperation is still in its infancy, with many milestones to reach in future. Orysia Lutsevych, Research Fellow and Manager of the Ukraine Forum in the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, London, pointed out that Ukraine has been reimagining Europe and its place in it, since 2014. However, the reverse process regarding Ukraine only started recently in Europe. At the same time, Ukraine has not yet passed the point of no-return in its European integration yet, so a great deal of work ahead to build trust between Ukraine and its Western partners.
  2. While the idea of EU enlargement is not very popular, a number of countries, including Ukraine, need to be incorporated into the Union. This idea was voiced by Nicolas Tenzer, President of the Center for Study and Research for Political Decisions in Paris. He also added that Europe has to think about itself as a geopolitical entity that has borders, that has the capacity to defend itself with its allies if it wants to be consistent in its claims in support of the integrity of Ukraine and its fight for human rights. A representative of the Ukrainian side — Hanna Hopko, the chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Affairs — also believes that the EU would cause significant damage in the domain of human rights protection if it agreed to give up its values for the sake of compromise with Russia. Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of Batkivschyna political party, also supported this position by saying that without a peaceful, free, integral Ukraine there can not be a peaceful and integral Europe.

  1. Ukraine should focus on the implementation of NATO standards, and NATO should appreciate Ukraine fighting Russia. Alexander Vershbow, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, believes that Ukraine should not hurry to join NATO, but instead focus on conducting reforms and introducing the Alliance's standards. At the same time, he noted that Ukraine is a partner that NATO can rely on, and we have all been persuaded by this on many occasions. Raimundas Karoblis, the Minister of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania, also supported this idea and stressed that Western countries should remember that Ukraine is fighting for NATO values when it faces Russia. Danylo Lubkivsky, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2014, and one of the organisers of the Forum, has voiced Ukraine’s position on this in his article for the Atlantic Council: “Slowing down the integration of Ukraine into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, as well as the policy of "waiting" when it comes to Ukraine, will hurt Europe itself. It will directly stimulate the Kremlin’s appetite. Russia’s military strategy did not fade. Moscow did not stop preparing for a new attack and it believes that the “Ukrainian problem” can only be solved by force.”
  2. Ukraine should prove its commitment to reforms and fight corruption. Raimundas Karoblis also underlined that Ukrainian reforms are not necessary for Brussels, and not for the EU or the US; they are first and foremost vital for Ukraine. He also urged the Ukrainian authorities to continue reforms in the defense sector, noting that reforms are taking place, and the international community should wait until the reform marathon bears fruit. Melinda Haring, the editor of UkraineAlert blog at the Atlantic Council, insisted that Ukraine must complete all reforms started five years ago, bringing the process to its logical conclusion in order to prove its de facto European integration aspirations.

  1. Ukraine’s new President will have to revive the trust of Ukrainian citizens in the government. For Ukraine, the biggest challenge after this year elections will be to revive the general public’s trust in the government, says Marc Berenson, Senior Lecturer at Russia Institute, School of Politics and Economics, King’s College London. Now it is breaking record levels, and not in a good way. According to Gallup, only 9% of Ukrainians have confidence in the national government, the lowest confidence level in the world for the second straight year. In order to solve this problem, the next President and the next Verkhovna Rada will have to unite Ukrainians. We don't need to be the same. Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church put it simply: Ukrainians can have different ideas and opinions, but they should work as one and be united. EU and NATO integration has become a thing that could unite Ukraine, thinks incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. He argued that the EU and NATO do not start where formal borders lie; Europe begins where European values reign, human rights, respect for human dignity and high standards of living.
  2. There is little sense in holding negotiations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin until status-quo is changed. Arseniy Yatseniuk, Ukraine's Prime Minister in 2014-2016, was the first one to voice this idea. He noted that any attempts to find a platform for negotiation with Putin and Russia are useless if they are not supported with strong measures, namely sanctions and political pressure on Russia. Another problem is that Putin himself is hardly looking for peace. Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of Estonian Parliament, pointed out that Putin is not a president of peace, he is a president of war. Under his rule, Russia is full of blood and wars — the ones in Syria, Chechnya and some other places we even may not know of.
  3. Ukraine should assume a bigger role in the design of international sanctions. Oleksandr Pavlichenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, stressed this point. He also added that Ukraine should implement international control mechanisms for the enforcement of sanctions at national level. William Browder, Founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, also believes Ukraine should adopt its own analogue of a sanctions law against Russians involved in human rights violations and money laundering.
  4. 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine are something to be proud of. Pavlo Petrenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Justice, noted that the current elections have demonstrated Ukraine’s numerous achievements in the realization of electoral rights. Namely, a record number of presidential candidates was registered. Also, there was a record number of Ukrainian and international observers — over 100,000. At the same time, very few violations were registered in the first round of the presidential election. The latter claim was also supported by Peter Tejler, the Head of the ODIHR Election Observation Mission. He underlined that the Mission’s preliminary report assessed the first round of the elections, as such that “was held on a competitive basis, even with a high voter turnout.” Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s Minister of Interior, is sure that the second round will go as smooth as the first one did. He noted that Ukraine has already passed the main risks related to the transfer of power campaign.

  1. Ukraine is still on the frontline of the Russia-waged information war, but the whole world is its target. Yevhen Fedchenko, director of the Kyiv-Mohyla School of Journalism and co-founder of Stopfake, stressed that Russia’s enemies are trying to catch up with the problem of disinformation, while those who created it have no limitations. Namely, Russia has a free hand to abuse freedom of speech and democracy which, in its turn, limits possibilities to tackle the problem and solve it. Another problem is that social media algorithms are not favourable for democracy, said Vitalii Moroz, the Head of New Media at Internews Ukraine. These algorithms are much more favourable for those who may hack elections and misuse information.
  2. XXI century wars foresee a whole new front — a digital one. Oksana Zabuzhko, Ukrainian writer, philosopher and the 2019 Shevchenko Prize winner, put it like this: "The wars of the 21st century are no longer thebombing of cities, as it was in the 20th century, but the bombing of brains.” She stressed that modern information technologies allow new invaders and new dictators to conquer and subjugate countries for a significantly cheaper price and with resource savings, and to also transform real democracies into fictional ones. In this regard, Ukraine is a case when, for the first time in history, as a result of democratic elections, one of the candidates who is absolutely virtual made it to the second round of presidential elections.

UkraineWorld held its own panel within the framework of the Forum entitled “Words & Wars: How To Balance Information Freedom And Information Security.” You can find the ideas voiced during the panel here.

This article was prepared with support from the International Renaissance Foundation

Vitalii Rybak