Schuman lecture: Arkady Moshes on the EU, Russia and Ukraine
MAASTRICHT. It wouldn’t surprise him if the conflict in Ukraine rekindled. In the latest Minsk Treaty, the aggressors (the separatists) came out best, which implies: aggression pays off. This is the opinion of Arkady Moshes, an expert on the relations between the EU and Russia. Next week, he will give the Schuman lecture, organised by Studium Generale, on the conflict in Ukraine and the growing gulf between Russia and the EU.
For the first time in a long while, the AIVD (Dutch General Information and Security Service) included a chapter on Russia in its annual report. The service warns against the ever-growing threat from the East. Whether Russia constitutes an immediate danger for the Netherlands, Arkady Moshes cannot say – he is programme director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. But the warning for Europe is not misplaced.
“What Russia has done with respect to Ukraine in the last year - the multiple military exercises at the border and the rise of defence expenditure, for example - is certainly threatening the European security order. The EU is concerned and has grounds for that. These concerns, however, should have been expressed sooner, during the Russian-Georgian War in 2008. The EU’s reaction at the time was very weak.”
Is the world on the verge of a new cold war?
“I get this question often. The answer is No. Simply because of its very scarce resources, Russia cannot pose an existential threat to the West, like the Soviet Union once did. Also, there is no ideological confrontation anymore. The Soviet Union wanted to spread socialism and destroy capitalism. That is not what Russia wants. Now, there are only ideological differences. For example, Moscow won’t accept the spread of democratic values, especially in its common neighbourhood. You know, it doesn’t matter if it’s a cold war or not. I’m a historian by training, and I can assure you that all parallels are misleading. History never repeats itself.”
What does Putin want? What is his strategy?
“Well, I don’t know, I cannot look into his head. But evidently, Russia wants to restore its status as a great power, potentially as a super power. But that’s not realistic; you would need a different economy. So, a great power that is able to influence and dominate the post-Soviet states, this is the immediate goal. I’m not aware of more strategic goals other than that.”
Could splitting up Ukraine be a possible solution?
“Splitting supposes two equal parts. The territory that the separatists control is about 3 per cent of the country. This is something that Europeans should understand. Also, the absolute majority of Ukraine citizens support a unitary state. In other words, the Ukrainians have made their choice. They are loyal to their country, rather than to the language they speak. In that case, all the conversations on splitting are misplaced. The question we should ask is: has separatism a future in Ukraine? With Russian support, the separatists could muddle through, yes, but would never have a great future. You could imagine the scenario of a frozen conflict, like in Northern Cyprus. But I don’t think Russia would be interested in that. Putin would lose his possibilities to influence the internal politics in Ukraine. Moreover, with the end of the conflict, Ukraine would have more resources for its internal reform and for implementing the agreements with the West. This is not in Putin’s interest. Another scenario would be the Russian annexation of the east of Ukraine, but we’re not at that point yet. We’re still living in the hot phase of the conflict, and I don’t exclude another round of escalation.”
What do you mean by that?
“In January and February, we had a very unpleasant situation. The party that escalated the conflict, namely the separatists, gained quite a lot, in the aspect of territory. And the Minsk II pact was beneficial for the separatists, more than Minsk I. This creates a serious temptation to escalate once again.”
Could accusations of MH17 deteriorate the relationship between EU and Russia?
“If the West values the human lives of its own citizens, it should not think about diplomatic complications. If there is proof of crime, this should be made public to the international community immediately. Honesty is the best policy; it is a matter of moral standards. The offenders deserve the worst possible punishment. Apart from that, the Boeing tragedy was an important turning point in EU policies. Without it, the position of the EU would have been wishy-washy and less resolute. Like after the annexation of Crimea, when the West took a weak and vague position. That provoked in my opinion the recent violence in Donetsk and Luhansk. Why? Because that weak reaction created the impression that the West, as was the case during the Georgian War, would take everything lying down and within no time relations would be re-established and it would be business as usual."
A Russian in Finland
Arkady Moshes (48) was born in Russia, but now has dual nationality, Finnish and Russian. He studied history at the Moscow State University and did a PhD at the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1992 on the topic of British foreign and defence policy. After that, he worked at the same academy as a research leader for fourteen years. He has lived and worked in Finland since 2002, at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
The Schuman lecture by Arkady Moshes is on Thursday 7 May (20:00hrs.) in the lecture hall on Tongersestraat 53; entrance is free