By means of European slogans for “mutual understanding,” “compromise,” and “reconciliation,” Russia effectively gleans recognition and support for its authoritarian goals. The “Twelve Steps” statement provides little space for a discussion on its content since the “steps” are unacceptable for Ukraine. At the same time, understanding the proposed plan is important to withstand Russian European-style propaganda, and to recognize the channels through which Russia promotes itself in Europe.
Two steps forward and one step back – the essence of a Russian-made plan for Ukraine
The “Twelve Steps” is written precisely according to the old Lenin schematic, with some revisions. Moscow proposes ideas “Toward Greater Security” that Ukraine will never accept. Everybody in Moscow knows that. What they really want is a “discussion.” As soon as certain compromises are reached — somewhere in the middle — Moscow’s real goals will be attained.
As was expected, the document advocates for a compromise and mixes humanitarian ideals that are welcomed by European politicians together with political steps that are not possible for Ukraine at this time. However, they were presented vaguely enough to gain 46 signatories — most of whom have little knowledge of Ukraine.
The document proposes such obvious measures as addressing the problem of missing persons or furthering demining activities. Yet at the same time it:
- Doesn’t mention that Russia is an aggressor and launched an undeclared war against Ukraine that started by the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
- Welcomes elections in occupied Donbas, but does not require them to be conducted according to Ukrainian legislation only after Russia pulls troops out of the region and Ukraine restores control over its state border. In not doing so, elections would legitimize the occupying power.
- States that the security situation in eastern Ukraine has improved, when this is not the case, considering daily shelling that causes serious injuries and casualties.
- Proposes a free trade area in Ukraine both with the EU and Russia that is not possible, according to international legislation (either with the EU or with Russia, since they belong to different custom unions).
- Proposes to “prioritize selective engagement in 2020” between the EU and Russia.
- Defacto proposes to partially lift sanctions from Russia, without Russia’s compliance as required by the Minsk agreements.
Especially outrageous for Ukraine is the introduction and the conclusion of the statement. It begins by defining the situation as “the conflict in and about Ukraine.” This phrase alone makes it clear that the document was written by Russian propagandists who fail to mention it was Russia that started an undeclared war against Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and occupied Donbas.
The last of the 12 steps is particularly offensive:
“…a new, inclusive national dialogue across Ukraine is desirable and could be launched as soon as possible. This dialogue should include opinion-makers, top scholars, and internationally recognized experts. Efforts should be made to engage with perspectives from Ukraine’s neighbors, especially Poland, Hungary, and Russia.”
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vadym Prystaiko responded:
“What strikes us all the most is the last point that Ukraine has to start searching for its identity. Well, thank you very much, we’ll know if we need to do that.”
This last “step” not only goes against Ukrainian interests but is disrespect of nationhood. It proposes that Russia — as an occupying power — should participate in the discussion about Ukrainian national identity.
Why this is a Russian document and why so many Europeans signed it
Officially, the “Twelve Steps” statement was prepared by the European Leadership Network (ELN). ELN is a widely recognized international organization: an all-European platform for discussion on important security topics. A better venue in which to legitimize a formal statement cannot be found. The ELN webpage states:
“The European Leadership Network is an independent, non-partisan, pan-European NGO with a network of nearly 200 past, present and future European leaders working to provide practical real-world solutions to political and security challenges. It conceives of Europe in its widest sense, to include not only the EU but Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine, and the rest of our diverse region.”
The ENL, not only in title but in practice as well, highlights the importance of its international network of experts and multinational perspective on security issues. For Russians to find 46 signatories for the statement in this environment was an easy task.
The true authors of the “Twelve Steps” statement should be identified as the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). RIAC’s logo appears on the heading of the statement, along with the logos of the ENL, the Munich Security Conference (MSC), and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). ENL and MSC serve as platforms, mostly used for promotion. Positioning the NTI as an expert in the undeclared Russo-Ukrainian war is an oddity. Nonetheless, representatives from NTI were prominent among signatories of the document.
Normally displaying logos in this manner indicates support or sponsorship of an event. Their addition here is, no doubt, intended to create the illusion of endorsement of the document.
The interest of RIAC in this document is obvious. RIAC is a Russian state-controlled think tank that was established in 2010 by an order of then-President Dmitry Medvedev (2008-2012). RIAC functions under the patronage of the Russian Foreign and Education ministries. It is primarily financed by the state budget via the Foreign Ministry.
The president of RIAC is Igor Ivanov, former Russian Foreign Minister (1998-2004) and Secretary of Russian Security Council (2004-2007). Being a state-employed Russian serviceman, Ivanov is also a member of the Supervisory Council of the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe (Luxembourg Forum) and a member of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation. In effect, he is a perfect figure to promote the Russian hybrid policy agenda in Europe.
An interesting detail is that the president of both the Luxembourg Forum and the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, where Ivanov is also a member, is Russian oligarch Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor — the same person behind the organization and financing of the 2020 World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, where Putin demonstrated his dominant presence. Thus the circle of influence closes.
Ivanov, RIAC president, is one of five “co-conveners” who signed the “Twelve Steps” statement. The others include three chairs of the NTI, and Wolfgang Ischinger, MSC chair. Ivanov and Ischinger are members of the ELN Advisory Board — official publisher of the plan.
This confluence concerns only one figure, Ivanov, but it exemplifies the depth of Russian penetration into leading European NGOs. It may also shed light on Russia’s return to PACE, not to mention the insistence among many European leaders to build a dialogue with Russia.
For many Ukrainian diplomats, including Yelyzaveta Yasko, head of the Ukrainian PACE delegation, the Europeans’ continued pressure for discussion with an aggressor — one that has not yet fulfilled agreed-upon obligations — is at the very least incomprehensible.
Their inclusion, together with Europeans, would add credibility to the “Twelve Steps” outline. Not surprisingly, three former Ukrainian diplomats — all known to have been advocates of Putin’s view of the “Russian world” — signed the statement:
- Vasyl Filipchuk, who in 2017, proposed “nine steps” to end the war with Russia. Although very similar to the “12 steps,” his proposal was viewed as a private opinion, without international support.
- Oleksiy Semeniy, who was brought forward by Filipchuk, ostensibly as a former Ukrainian diplomat. Semeniy alleged to be an advisor to the Ukrainian National Security and Defense council. In reality, he had previously held this position, but not at the time the statement was issued.
- Oleksandr Chalyi, a former vice-president of the Industrial Union of Donbas who had advocated for economic integration with Russia.
Floating and sinking – the mutable fate of the statement at the conference
At first, the “Twelve steps” statement was actively promoted at the MSC, but at one point it disappeared from the conference webpage and meeting room altogether. Yet, the next day it reappeared on the webpage. However, it was now accompanied by a joint critique from the Atlantic Council.
Serhiy Sydorenko, editor of the online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, describes this event in detail:
“Wolfgang Ischinger, [German diplomat,] chair of the conference, and the advocate of the plan [who also signed it], explained to Ukrainian officials that this publication under the logo of the Munich conference was allegedly a mistake. Although he did not refuse his signature under the odious initiative, explaining that it was his private position.”
While the explanation was being offered, the statement disappeared from the MCA webpage. As Sydorenko writes, shortly after Ischinger explained to Ukrainian diplomats that the posting was a mistake, a slightly revised version of “Twelve steps” appeared on the site. Ischinger apparently was aware that the revised plan was to be re-posted, even as he undertook to convince Ukrainian diplomats it was a mistake. Sydorenko elaborates:
“In fact, the reason for this was simple and cynical: the anti-Ukrainian plan was concealed before the arrival of the Ukrainian delegation to reduce indignation and criticism from official Kyiv. As soon as most of the Ukrainian officials, including President Zelenskyy, left Munich – the document was reinstated as if nothing had happened.”
Moreover, the criticism by the Atlantic Council was added to the publication only in English. For the German-speaking audience, nothing appeared to have been changed and it looked as if the plan was, in fact, the official “Twelve steps” statement — although it was not. Exactly why Ischinger was eagerly defending the anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian plan, and why some European top officials were so easily convinced to sign it, remains unclear.
US and Ukrainian firm reaction
The pro-Russian “Twelve steps” statement was signed by experts and diplomats from many European countries. Three signatories were from Ukraine and 14 from the United States. However, both Ukraine and the US managed to issue two statements of critique, signed by prominent diplomats and experts. These were important to support the official statement issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign affairs.
The first critique, issued by 28 former US diplomats, government officials, and experts, was published by the Atlantic Council on 14 February:
“‘The conflict in and around Ukraine began when Russian troops, in Russian uniforms, operating without identifying insignias, seized the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and Moscow “annexed” it. Moscow then launched its hybrid war in Donbas and used its massive disinformation apparatus to present this as a Ukrainian civil conflict. Without Kremlin leadership, financing, weapons (including heavy arms), ammunition, and — in some cases — regular units of the Russian Army, there would be no “conflict in and around Ukraine.”
On 17 February, online site Ukraineworld published a Ukrainian statement, signed by 79 Ukrainian politicians and intellectuals:
“It should be underscored that solving problems in Russia’s relations with Ukraine does not require complicated and bizarre scenarios. In accordance with the rules of international law, Russia simply must cease armed aggression, cease violating international norms, unconditionally withdraw all its armed formations from Crimea, the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as further the establishment of Ukrainian control along the entire state border. Such a step-by-step plan is, in particular, contained in the Ukrainian Doctrine of Security and Peace, approved by the Strategic Council of the Capitulation Resistance Movement on October 31, 2019. … In order to force the aggressor to accelerate the restoration of international order, the world community should strengthen sanctions rather than seek to resume cooperation with a state that violently and grossly violates international law. Only this approach to solving this problem will ensure a just and lasting peace.”
Members from all Ukrainian political parties represented in the parliament, except for the pro-Russian Oppositional Platform, were also outraged by the “Twelve steps” and its active promotion by some European diplomats at the conference. In particular, people’s deputy from the Holos party Lesia Vasylenko, commenting not only on this case but also a recent PACE session stated:
“We are exhausted by hypocrisy. By the inability of Greater Europe to uphold its principles and put one naughty boy in the corner. We are tired of forcing us into a dialogue with a person who is unable to hear anything but the words about a great empire; who argues that Ukraine and the Ukrainians are nothing, an empty place. We are tired of 12-step action plans being drawn up for us for six years. Better to draw them for Putin.”
“Twelve steps” is not an official document, as the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized. However, the popularization of the aggressor’s statements in the prominent world platforms is conducted with new vigor to find weak sections in the western joint pro-Ukrainian policy.
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