Russian experts came together at Moscow Carnegie Center to discuss the current situation in Ukraine, which is taking on increasingly heightened geopolitical ramifications.

 A supporter of Ukraine's integration with the EU. Photo: RIA Novosti / Ilya Pitalev  

On Dec. 17, Russia lowered natural gas prices for Ukraine and provided a $15 billion loan package in an attempt to encourage Ukraine’s government to ease tensions and end ongoing protests in central Kiev.

Nevertheless, the tensions in Ukraine appear to be growing, which is a huge concern for Russian experts, academics, and journalists who came together at Moscow Carnegie Center last week to discuss the future of Ukraine and the implications of Ukraine’s political crisis for Russia, the EU and the U.S.

Dmitri Trenin, the Director of Moscow Carnegie Center, headed the discussion. As he pointed out, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s stance not to integrate with the EU was met with a great deal of surprise among European politicians.

Konstantin Eggert, former editor-in-chief of the BBC Russian Service Moscow bureau and Kommersant FM radio station, argues that is a significant mistake to see Ukraine’s failure to sign an association agreement on integration with the EU from only an economic perspective. He sees Ukraine’s move as a very political step.

“And the underestimation of the political factor brought about total shock [in the EU],” he said during the discussion at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

Now Europe is trying its best to persuade Ukraine to sign a free trade agreement with the EU. This indicates that Kiev is becoming the first geopolitical battlefield between Europe and Russia, said Trenin, quoting a number of Russian and Western media and Sweden’s Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt.

According to Trenin, Europe has gotten into trouble in Ukraine. It should shoulder the burden of modernizing Ukraine’s struggling economy, meaning that any attempts to dodge this responsibility will be seen by pro-European Ukrainians as betrayal. Yet the EU could have avoided this responsibility if it had simply accepted the refusal of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to integrate with the EU, thereby preventing the events surrounding Euromaidan.

Trenin points out that the EU, at least in its current state, is not ready to shoulder the Ukrainian economic burden and conduct a cohesive policy toward Ukraine, while also satisfying Ukrainian protesters.

“Actually, Ukraine’s unrest raises the problem of trust in the European Union and puts at stake the EU’s credibility,” Trenin said.

Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based National Defense magazine and director of the Center of Analysis of the World’s Arms Trade, regards the events in Ukraine as an attempt to violently overthrow the authorities and conduct a coup d’état.

“It is normal to see protesters who chant their slogans for integration with the EU in central Kiev, but it is not normal to witness unrest, chaos and the destruction of historic monuments that we’ve seen in Kiev [the Ukrainian protesters destroyed the Lenin statue in central Kiev – Editor’s note],” he said, adding that the choice of Ukraine should be made in the framework of democratic procedures, not with violence.

Eggert relates Ukraine’s political crisis to the problem of national self-identity. He argues that the slogan “We are together going to Europe!” is very popular among Ukraine’s youth and it is seen as a substitute for political discussion on Ukrainian identity. 

“Young Ukrainians take democracy very seriously and have feelings that they can directly influence politics,” he says.

Alexey Makhlay, President of the Moscow-based Center for Social and Political Studies, who witnessed the Ukrainian crisis during eight days, argues that the political crisis stems from Ukraine’s domestic problems. Politically, Ukraine is divided and this hampers its attempt to become a part of the EU.

“In 2006, we warned Ukraine that it would not be part of the EU until it brings order in the country and comes up with a consensus among the people [the pro-European West and the pro-Russian East – editor’s note],” Makhlay said. “The politicians previously assumed that it would take 20-30 years for Ukraine to become a member of the EU.”

Ukraine’s unrest: Who is to blame?

Some experts came to the idea that Ukraine has become a battlefield between Russia and the West and see the active involvement of EU countries and the United States in Ukraine’s crisis.

“Obviously, it is not politically correct for Viktoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. State Department, to stand as a moderator of the events,” Korotchenko said. “It can be seen as interference in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.”

In addition, Korotchenko points to the call made by the Pentagon’s head to the Ukrainian Defense Minister. “The call warns against the involvement of Ukrainian’s army in the events,” he said describing this stance as “a bold military-diplomatic move.”

Likewise, Makhlay argues that the U.S. might be behind the Ukrainian unrest.

“The U.S. played a significant role in what is happening now in Ukraine,” he said pointing out that Washington has been disseminating its “recipes for revolution” under the disguise of different cultural programs. “Russia has entirely failed to win Ukraine in this information war.”

While Makhlay sees Ukraine’s crisis as the U.S. conducting an experiment to diminish Russia’s influence in the region, Trenin and Eggert disagree. They argue that the U.S and Europe are interested in resolving the Ukrainian crisis in the framework of democratic procedures rather than through the overthrown of the current regime.

“The U.S. has just withdrawn from the European arena,” Eggert said. “They just forgot about Europe and understood it at the last moment.” Meanwhile, Russia missed the opportunity when it was possible to influence the Ukrainian elite, he added.

“Even economic pressure will not change this crucial shift in Ukrainian mentality and sentiment that Ukraine is a separate and independent state with its own path,” Eggert said pointing out to the fact that there is no anti-Maidan equivalent in Ukraine. This would appear to indicate that the trend to be independent from Russia is becoming more popular throughout Ukraine.

Trenin sees Ukraine’s protests as a big political challenge for Moscow’s consistency and wisdom. In this context, Viktor Kuvaldin, head of the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the Moscow School of Economics, Moscow State University, assumes that Ukraine’s unrest might indicate that Russia might be isolated from Europe and that it lost its influence, as it was in the case of NATO expansion in Eastern Europe. “Now it [Russia’s political isolation] may result from the expansion of the EU,” he argues.

Trenin disagrees. According to him, the EU can’t think geopolitically on the same level as NATO and, in addition, doesn’t have a clear strategy for development. “And it is a problem for the EU because EU politics should have both geopolitical and military dimensions in order for it to become a full-fledged international player,” Trenin said.

Eggert echoes him. “The EU doesn’t have a geopolitical mentality, there wasn’t any alternative strategy,” he said.