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Ukraine’s victory, Russian defeat now EU goal, draft foreign affairs report says

EU recognizes that defeating Russia is critical for any democratic transformation there in a major step forward
Photo source: Sputnik
Ukraine’s victory, Russian defeat now EU goal, draft foreign affairs report says

The European Parliament recently released draft recommendations on foreign affairs and security policy in EU-Russia political relations. Ukrainian economist Yurii Gaidai at the Center for Economic Strategy describes them as the first step in formalizing responses to the key questions of “What constitutes Ukraine’s victory?” and “What should be done with Russia?”

The draft report by the Committee on Foreign Affairs discusses potential transformations in Russia. It stresses the need for the EU to facilitate Russia’s democratization and the ways to achieve this, underscoring Ukraine’s victory as pivotal to the process.

The report also highlights establishing a special tribunal against Putin, redirecting frozen Russian assets to Ukraine’s reconstruction, and increasing EU military support for Ukraine.

Inconsistent EU strategy towards Russia

The foreign affairs report acknowledges the EU has often been criticized for inconsistency in its Russia strategy. It asserts this very inconsistency has enabled the furthering of dictatorship there.

Additionally, the report identifies Russia as having become “one of the main causes of the Kremlin’s war of aggression against Ukraine.” It also concedes Russia’s aggression began with the 2014 occupation of Crimea and continues with the full-scale 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian economist Yurii Gaidai remarked this is the first time he has seen such a scathing statement at such a high level. Namely, that EU political leanings contributed to Russia starting its war on Ukraine.

Yurii Gaidai. Photo source: Minfin.com.ua

While acknowledging the lack of a Russia strategy, the EU identifies this failure as not actively supporting democracy within Russia, per the report. It draws a sharp contrast between the Russian state and its people. The committee writes that the “inconsistency of the EU strategy to support and defend democracy in Russia has contributed to the Kremlin’s suppression of all rights and freedoms of the Russian people.” Elsewhere, the report emphasizes the “Kremlin’s suppression of the Russian people.”

In contrast, Ukraine and its society generally view the Russian people and state as one entity, based on broad Russian societal support for the current establishment. In addition to many polls, the main argument is the hundreds of thousands of “motivated and willing” soldiers who have enlisted to fight Ukraine.

But before discussing the EU’s perspective on Russia’s transformation, the report’s major topic, it helps first examine the EU’s changed outlook on Russia – now much more aligned with most of Ukrainian society.

Defining Ukraine’s victory as the EU’s war objective

Importantly, the report states the “EU’s objective in this war is Ukraine’s victory.” Another key acknowledgment is that this victory is “necessary not only for Ukraine but the entire democratic world.” This message has often been conveyed not just by Ukrainian officials but civil society itself, underscoring Ukraine’s vital role in European stability.

Further, in calling for “Ukraine’s victory,” the EU explicitly mentions the need to defeat Russia, stating its military and humanitarian support aims “to make Ukraine capable of defeating Russia and its proxies.”

The EU’s past indecision has often been linked to fearing major political changes in Russia and wanting to preserve a more convenient status quo. In contrast, the report states the “EU, its partners and allies should not fear” transformations like “the fall of the Kremlin apparatus.”

Ukrainian civil rights defender Oleksandra Matviychuk linked slow Western support to the EU not taking decisive action.

Oleksandra Matviychuk

“If the international community is fatigued, it needs to finally shift to ‘let’s help Ukraine win quickly and end this.’

But we face something else – the EU’s fear of decisive action. Because if Ukraine must win, it means Russia must lose. ‘What will happen if Russia loses? What about a 140-million nuclear state?'”

“We see not fatigue but a lack of political leadership and historical responsibility,” says Matviychuk. She stresses the need to focus on “helping Ukraine win,” not just “helping it not lose.”

Thus, this report finally articulates the clear goal of achieving Ukraine’s victory and overcoming fear of Russia’s transformations, which many Ukrainian analysts believe hamper sustainable Western support.

Transformations in Russia

Per the report’s authors, Putin and the Kremlin have long tried convincing Western democracies that “democracy in Russia is impossible.” Meanwhile, the report proposes that “the Russian nation aspires” to live democratically. Thus, the steps proposed stem from the view of near- to medium-term democracy in Russia as attainable, with the EU aiming to facilitate this.

How does the EU plan on achieving this goal? The first step in “effectively assisting Russia’s democratic transformation” is defined as “regular, structured political dialogue with Russian democratic forces.” The model is the consultative group launched in June 2023 between the EU and “Belarusian democratic forces and civil society.” The report also states a “dialogue conference with Russian democratic forces” occurred in June 2023, launching “regular EU dialogue with the Russian opposition.”

Furthermore, the EU aims to support civil society and the political opposition inside and outside Russia. It plans to establish a “democracy passport” and special visa arrangements to allow democratic opposition and civil society activists to continue working in exile within EU states. After the presumed “transitional government” change in Russia, the EU expects the so-called “coalition of democratic forces in Russia” to immediately start preparing a new constitutional framework to “build a solid basis for sustainable long-term democracy.”

However, Ruslan Gabbasov, leader of the Bashkir emigre movement, criticizes the EU for focusing only on Moscow-based opposition while ignoring Russia’s vast regions and republics, thereby perpetuating imperialistic thinking.

Ruslan Gabbasov

“Today, Western politicians love meeting the so-called Russian liberal opposition, all from one city – Moscow. None represent the national republics and regions of Russia, and none discuss the dire situation of the many nations in the empire called Russia. They don’t mention the lost native languages and cultures, or the repression of national figures. So I say this Russian opposition is not liberal and never was… A true liberal always recognizes nations’ right to self-determination.”

Ukrainian civil society remains largely skeptical about the weak Russian opposition. In his Facebook post, Gaidai reacted to the European Parliament report’s mention of Russian civil society by asking rhetorically, “Who are they anyway?” and “Do they even exist?”

He reflects the broad sentiment about the Russian opposition’s real impact, supported by Russia’s weak liberal tradition.

In this context, the EU’s assumption it can help transform Russia “back into a democracy” overlooks the lack of any substantive democratic past in Russia to return to.

Notably, the report’s only example of possible Russian transformation is the Kremlin collapsing itself. Any other widely discussed scenarios go unmentioned. This is understandable from presenting only a positive outcome, the European Parliament’s strategic aim.

However, including other scenarios in the strategy could still prove useful – as currently presented, it appears linear and simple. The imagined smooth replacement of the “evil regime” by unified democratic forces belies reality. Any Russian transformation would likely prove far more complicated. Moreover, while the EU should not shy away from transformations, acknowledging the complexities would allow for a more robust, realistic strategy – one closer to reasonable expectations.

In particular, experts account for the possibility of civil war in Russia – not necessarily between democratic and autocratic forces. The recent conflict led by Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Wagner mercenaries, albeit smaller in scale, demonstrated this.

The strategy report also never mentions Russia fracturing into smaller states, a collapse of “imperial” statehood occupying 12% of the world’s land. Many see this as among the most viable and historically fair scenarios. Yet the European Union seems to view Russia’s transformation as still involving a single entity (a de facto imperial entity), either out of a desire to view Russia this way or a belief that other options are currently impossible.

That is, while advocating Russia’s democratization strategy, the EU could also discuss Russia’s de-imperialization – possibly the first step toward genuinely democratizing Russia.

To offer broader perspective, it helps to consider views beyond the democratization approach to Russia. For example, Ukrainian Canadian social scientist Mychailo Wynnyckyj believes Russia – like the Soviet Union before – cannot be democratized, arguing the West needs a new strategy. Former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin states a more radical enemy-focused approach to Russia is necessary – one the EU does not yet seem ready for.

Even while underscoring democratization, the EU “once again has forgotten about denuclearizing the Russian Federation,” as Gaidai notes.

Still, the EU takes a fairly realistic approach in evaluating Russia’s presumed democratic future, basing it on requiring genuine, lasting change. Thus, the EU has set milestone conditions for its “democracy support” actions in Russia – after a change of power. In the EU’s view, the “transitional Russian government” would have to accept these conditions.

The first and most vital condition involves withdrawing all Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territories, as well as other Eastern Partnership countries. That is, not just lands Russia has occupied in Ukraine since 2014 – the very territories cited at the report’s outset as Russian aggression – but also Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia must be free of Russian forces.

The other key Ukraine-related condition is reparations. Yet the report expects the “transitional Russian government” to also pay reparations to “victims of persecution in Russia,” likely referring to oppressed Russian citizens.

Other conditions include:

  • Release of all political prisoners and imprisoned civil society activists
  • Restoration of media and political freedoms
  • Holding democratic elections
  • Launching an accountable agenda which will include prosecution, lustration, vetting, and reconciliation processes, as well as reform of public institutions — particularly in the justice and security sectors.

The report also mentions the transformation of Belarus in several contexts. Specifically, it states that “the victory of Ukraine and defeat of Russia” could create “positive waves of democratic transformation in the Eastern European region, including Belarus.”

Ukraine’s victory: A prerequisite for changes in Russia

Whether a democratic transformation of Russia, as described by the EU’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, is imminent or far from being achieved, the EU report rightly defines Russia’s defeat in Ukraine as the first and primary necessary step.

“A decisive Ukrainian victory against Russia could open a window of opportunity for fundamental political changes in Russia,” the report states. It adds that this potentially can be “led by the Russian people and resulting in the fall of the Kremlin-controlled regime.”

Equally important, the report mentions the delivery of military aid to Ukraine as the most significant prerequisite for this goal.

The other four seminal steps outlined include:

  1. Adoption and implementation of further sanction packages against Russia and its allies, especially regarding oil and gas
  2. Establishment of a special tribunal
  3. Adoption of a legal instrument to allow the use of immobilized Russian assets for Ukraine’s reconstruction
  4. Ukraine’s accession to Euro-Atlantic structures

While the draft report states the EU supports a special tribunal, it only specifies that “Russia’s leaders and their allies” should be prosecuted for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. This aligns with the general logic of recognizing the regime’s faults while overlooking those of ordinary soldiers who fought against Ukraine, especially those committing atrocities.

The proposed steps regarding Ukraine’s reconstruction are very positive. This support includes the EU’s readiness to freeze assets in EU and G7 financial institutions, particularly Russia’s Central Bank reserves.

And although the strategy towards Russia still lacks sobriety, recognizing Russia’s defeat as the critical condition for democratic transformation is a major step forward.

Edited by Sonia Maryn

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