Recent events in Ukraine have created a whole host of issues for the European Union, perhaps the most pressing of which is the status of eastern member-states in relation to the new instability in the neighbourhood. It was this question that formed the basis of PDU London’s latest event, a 3rd June panel discussion at the Baltic Exchange about eastern Europe in a post-Yanukovych era.
Andrew Foxall, director of the Russia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, discussed how Putin’s approach to foreign policy and the West has changed since the beginning of his presidency in 2000. Whilst his first two terms were characterized by pragmatic cooperation with NATO in certain areas, since his return to power in 2012 he has been using anti-Western foreign policy as a tool for populist control domestically. Whilst this forms one aspect of an ideological attachment to Russian exceptionalism, Foxall argued that Putin is unlikely to push further into Europe than Crimea, at least in part because he is losing control over the anti-Kyiv separatists in Ukraine.
Brian Maurice Bennett, former British ambassador to Belarus, spoke about the reaction to the crisis in “Europe’s last dictatorship”. With the Belarusian state repressing and filtering news from Ukraine, mindful of the unrest caused by the reaction to the Orange Revolution, Lukashenko is able to present himself as a mediator between Kyiv and Moscow. Whilst there is personal enmity between Lukashenko and Putin, the Belarusian ruler nevertheless supports Russia’s expansionism and the pan-Slavic ideal of a Eurasian union. The country is unlikely to change because of the events over its southern border.
Karolina Pomorska, academic at the Universities of Cambridge and Maastricht and a Polish national, gave an insight into how the Ukrainian crisis is perceived in the EU’s eastern member-states. She reminded the audience that the east’s experience of occupation and repressive government was far fresher than that of the west, which accounts for the greater leadership shown in response to the crisis by Warsaw. She also warned of potential disillusionment with the West amongst eastern Europeans after NATO leaders have failed to honour their commitments to defend Ukraine against Russian incursion.
The discussion was chaired by Brendan Simms, founder and president of the Project for Democratic Union.