The discussion of Ukrainian issues became with a speech on part of the head of the Crimean Human Rights Center Oleksandra Dvoretska, who described the horrible picture of human rights violations on the peninsula after its annexation by Russia. According to her, at the moment of the annexation, there were 38 people missing in Crimea, 34 of which were found later. However, since the moment of the so-called ‘referendum,’ which was held in March, another 27 people went missing in Crimea. There were also over 70 attacks on journalists in Crimea.
“There was no fascism, no extremism in Crimea until it was occupied by the Russian army,” the human rights activist said. It is especially difficult for Crimean Tatars, who are constantly subject to searches, whose leaders are prohibited from entering Crimea. Crimean Tatar activists are allegedly prosecuted for ‘extremism.’
“Ukraine has more difficulties than Czechoslovakia in 1968”
The annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the East of Ukraine were discussed during the Ukrainian talk, however most of the time was dedicated to the strategic challenges without overcoming which Ukraine will be unable to smoothen the conflict in the East or return Crimea.
According to former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Karel Schwarzenberg, Ukraine has more difficulties now that communist Czechoslovakia did during the Prague Spring in 1968, which was crushed by Soviet tanks.
“The USSR at least acknowledged Czechoslovakia in the UN. Plus, in the end of the 1980’s Russia was in stagnation, and Putin’s current policies have added a certain order to Russia, which is territorially devouring Ukraine as if it were cutting salami and may one day gobble it up whole. Ukraine’s economy is in stagnation, the army is in horrible condition, there is a demand of emergency economic reforms, the need to modernize the army, carry out administrative reform. This is difficult even in times of peace, and in wartime, it is even harder,” said Schwarzenberg.
Famous Russian politician and economist Grigori Yavlinsky also spoke about the serious challenges, first and foremost in the economy, having first emphasized the wrongness of the Kremlin’s current approach, which wants “limited sovereignty” for Ukraine. This is especially resonant in Prague, according to him, as for a long time communist Czechoslovakia really did have “limited sovereignty” as a member of the former Treaty of Warsaw. According to him, ideally both Ukraine and Russia could move towards Europe together.
Among the challenges Yavlinsky sees is the need for immediate economic stabilization of Ukraine, a reform of the banking sector, war against corruption. “However, the biggest challenge is to put an end to the oligarchical structure of the economy, as the ‘Marshall Plan’ for Ukraine on part of the West will be impossible: the money will immediately end up in Cyprus,” Yavlinsky said.
Ukraine is not a battlefield for the West and Russia
Several speeches denied the famous thesis spread by Russian media that geopolitical interests of the U.S. and Russia clashed in Ukraine.
U.S. representative in the OSCE Daniel Bear said that this concept forgets about Europe, as it is European integration that is determined as Kyiv’s key foreign policy priority. And this means not so much choosing the EU as their ally, but, according to him, the Ukrainian’s will to retain rule of law and respect for Human rights, not have corruption and live in a European way.
Yavlinsky called not to view Ukraine as a “buffer zone and a battlefield for the new Cold War.”
“Ukraine has to be Europe, but for this Europe must have a strategy regarding Ukraine, just like it once had a strategy for Poland or the Baltic states,” Yavlinsky emphasized.
However, nobody had a doubt that Ukraine is Europe and that Ukrainians are Europeans.
“When I was on Maidan, I had a feeling that Ukrainians, the youth especially, are more pro-European than the Czechs, Austrians or even Germans. There is almost no Euro-skepticism in Ukraine. Ukraine will be successful given the West helps a lot,” said Schwarzenberg.