The Baltic and the Visegrad Countries Against the Russian Aggression in Ukraine. Why is it Difficult to Achieve Unanimity?

The panel on the divisions in Central Europe towards Russian Aggression in Ukraine was organized in cooperation with the Lithuanian Center for Geopolitical Studies. Greta Monika Tuckute, the director of this think tank, moderated the debate.

Asked, why Hungary criticizes the current European policy towards the Russian Federation, Mihaly Balla explained that the Hungarian economy suffered under the sanctions, and therefore many Hungarians are unwilling to support them. Especially, Hungary is dependent on Russian gas.

Zanda Kalnina-Lukasevica, representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, argued against a point of view focused too much on the economy. Also Russia has agreed on certain rules and values and Russia violated them. Therefore, the West has to defend these values and principles. „We cannot trade values for economy”, Kalnina-Lukasevica explained. Nevertheless, there remains the need for dialogue, especially with regard to practical measures of cooperation.

James Rogers from Great Britain and representing an Estonian think thank stressed that Russia has no attractive political or economical model to offer. „Russia has nothing to offer, but negativity, nothing to inspire”. Furthermore it lacks material values and resources comparable to those of the West.

Karel Schwarzenberg warned that keeping sanctions in place for only a few years won’t be enough, since Russia thinks in long terms. A too early end of the sanctions would be a catastrophy, because this would mean an indirect recognition of Crimea and the Donbas. This encourages aggression, Schwarzenberg explained. The Czechs remember the lesson of Munich well: It’s not wise to make a compromise with an aggressor. Next week you will have to do the next compromise.

Lodovico Sonego from Italy was more optimistic towards the chances of cooperation with Russia. According to him, it is necessary to defend Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. On the other hand, Europe needs to urge Ukraine to implement the reform programs, they agreed on in a convincing way. The perspective of any further enlargement of the European Union, though, is an illusion.

Krzysztof Szczerski, foreign policy advisor to the Polish president, is convinced that there are common interests of all Central Europeans in regard of Ukraine. Firstly, it is of utmost importance to secure the Western orientation of Ukraine, not only for moral reasons, but also for political reasons. Since the Western orientation of Ukraine depends as much on international as on domestic politics, Central Europeans need to support Ukrainian state building, so the country can become an independent actor and not only a card on the table. Fighting corruption and building institutions is the raison d’etat of Ukraine, Szczerski puts it. Another important measure to support Ukraine are the sanctions against Russia. Szczerski reminds the panel that sanctions are a legal, not an economic answer: „You cannot evaluate sanctions by economic results”. The policy towards Ukraine is not only important for Ukraine itself, but it also shows to what degree the countries of Central Europe are able to cooperate, i.e. whether Central Europe can be a political actor. The two common nightmares of the whole region are appeasement on the one hand and, on the other hand, the „concert of superpowers”, dividing the medium and small actors between them. Finally, the success of a common Central European policy towards Ukraine depends on Ukraine itself. To which degree does Ukraine see its future in the region and to which degree in cooperation with the larger European powers? Poland would like to be an advocate of Central Europe, representing a common position, which, although, has to be elaborated in the first place.