Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable XII:
“Compelling Bilateral Ties/Poland-Ukraine & Turkey-Ukraine”
The Global Benefits of Achieving a Europe Whole, Free and Prosperous
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
Remarks by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US National Security Advisor, delivered at Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XII: Compelling Bilateral Ties/Poland-Ukraine & Turkey-Ukraine, held in Washington DC on October 20, 2011.
Ladies and gentlemen, first of all let me say how very pleased I am to be here, particularly with old friends. I see a number of people in this room with whom, so to speak, we were all together at the beginning-at the beginning of something very important on the map of Europe and at the beginning of something very important more generally in terms of international affairs, namely, the birth and yet also in some respect the rebirth of Ukraine. I consider that particular moment of history to be a truly momentous development and subsequently, through it, with the number of people present in this room, we interacted and collaborated and strove to reinforce that new reality, to help consolidate it and to convince others of its importance to the international situation.
It has now been twenty years since that event. There is an unfortunate connection with the twenty year period, namely that that is exactly how long the period between the end of WWI and the beginning of WWII lasted. And all of a sudden many things that were taken for granted became very insecure, transitional, endangered or eliminated. So it is useful to remember that it doesn’t necessarily follow that something which has endured for twenty years will necessarily endure for much longer. The effort to make it successful is a continuing endless historical undertaking.
In thinking about it, let me also add as preliminary to my comments, that the title of my presentation “Global Benefits of a Europe Whole, Free and Prosperous” is not my title. It is like being asked to give a speech on the global benefits of being healthy. It is pretty strange for the imagination to ask itself what exactly it is supposed to say. So let me take a slightly different tack and let me make 5 points that relate to this grand thesis that perhaps raise issues that are more problematical to the identification of that grand formulation.
The first point that I would like to make in this connection is “what the reality might be today if the European Union and NATO had not expanded”. Because I think that the presumption here is that somehow or other, it resolved everything. But suppose it had not happened? Where would we be? It is not an irrelevant question. There are a number of people in this city, some of whom I know very well, who to this day argue that enlargement of NATO was a terrible mistake; that is should have been avoided; that somebody’s feelings were hurt as a consequence; and that it was ungracious to do such a dire thing after the end of the Cold War, which after all ended as a grand compromise- not withstanding the fact that one party of the Cold War disintegrated and disappeared from the scene and those that it controlled departed rather eagerly from its dominance. So, what would it have been like if we hadn’t expanded NATO and EU? I suspect that the topic today about Ukraine would probably be about Poland. Where is Poland, since NATO didn’t expand and since Mr. Putin is who he is? What about the prospects of Poland? How promising are they? We don’t ask that, and the fact that we don’t ask that is very important. The question is thought to be relevant, isn’t it? Poland is one of the most successful countries of Europe and a firm member of NATO-so it has something to do with reality. Not only Poland, what about the Baltic States? Where would they be? A separate argument was made: ‘Well, let the Czechs and the Poles into NATO-they are kind of close to the center of Europe; but the Baltic Republics, they were part of the Soviet Union and Russia-so it is tough to see how can that be done’. Well if they weren’t in NATO, where would they be today? Let me make a simple suggestion, they would be just like Georgia, very uncertain about their prospects and maybe already to some extent directly reduced in size. Today’s Balkans-they would be absolutely like the Caucasus, a simple mess. So it makes a lot of difference that NATO and EU expanded. And where would Russia be today if NATO and EU have not expanded. My guess is that Russia geopolitically would be even more confused and perhaps more of a problem than it is, because the expansion of NATO and of EU has also helped to define increasingly, and I will come back to that, a somewhat more promising vision of Russia. So that is my first point-that it makes a lot of difference to the state of affairs today as to what did happen with the expansion of the EU and NATO.
My second point is that Europe today is not whole, free and prosperous. A large part of Europe is whole, free and prosperous, but there is part of Europe which is not part of that ideal state of affairs. First of all Ukraine is not part of the EU and is not part of NATO, one does not have to argue that it should be, but it is not, and that raises certain questions. Belarus is also in the zone of uncertainty. Indeed in many respects Russia is more uncertain because the options that it may have may be more illusion than fact justified by the geopolitical realities, but nonetheless, they do offer an appealing option to some Russians, and that is not necessarily a source of stability. In any case I think it is quite clear that uncertainty will continue until in some fashion some basic change occurs in the relationship of what we define as Europe today and Ukraine, and also, over time, Belarus, and so certainly, ultimately, also Russia itself. But if that change is to occur, what is the critical criteria that has to be emphasized? It is not Euro incidentally. The Euro is very important for a portion of Europe, but also an aspiration in a sense which may have been in part misguided, namely the notion that a monetary financial union will be automatically a keeper of organic political union; that is a problem yet to work out in terms of Europe and we are now at a stage in with that issue being posed sharply. But, in any case, Europe is not Euro. Europe, in its larger sense, is democracy; that is the key point. And without that element being recognized, protected, and gradually enhanced, Europe doesn’t have much of a message. It is the connection between Europe and America and the Atlantic community that provides the impetus for the confidence in democracy and it is democracy that is the source of appeal. This is why it is important to be very clear that if Europe indeed, is to be whole, free, and prosperous, it has to be clearly democratic. We don’t want to have a Europe which is accommodating and compromising regarding that issue, because then Europe will not be whole and free, but will be much more an analogous arrangement of convenience lacking internal homogeneity and stability.
That brings me to my third point. Can Ukraine meet that standard, that is to say the standard of democracy? When one reflects on Ukraine in that context and if one asks oneself how to assess the experience of the last 20 years of Ukraine, one is led, or at least I am led, to the conclusion that, sad to say, over those 20 years the quality of leadership at the top of the country has not been improving. Think of Kravchuk, then of Kuchma, then of Yushchenko, then of Yanukovych. How clear has each of them been respective to their presidential goals? How much progress did each of them make in implementing those goals? How clearly were these goals focused on consolidating sovereignty, national sovereignty, and enlarging the scope of democracy? I think that it is fair to say as a broad generalization that, by and large, the quality of leadership has involved a downward trend and that is connected with the present difficulties.
Of course, the most immediate and personally dramatic manifestation of that problem is the Tymoshenko case. One doesn’t have to sanctify her in order to reject the demonization of her, but nonetheless, the fact is that her issue has become now a major test of democracy in Ukraine. I do not know whether President Yanukovych is motivated by personal hatred for her or by some other motives, but it is my judgment-purely political tactical judgment-that he has mishandled the case badly even from the standpoint of his own interests. If Ukraine, as a consequence of that case, is increasingly kept out of Europe, who will be the beneficiary of that? Clearly Putin in the first instance in Russia. But, secondly, Ukraine itself becomes more isolated; in fact, Yanukovych’s position vis-à-vis Putin becomes weaker when he speaks for Ukraine and he at times takes a position of speaking strongly for Ukraine-in fact, categorically. I just read an interview with him, in which he says that, in the relationship to Russia, he is getting increasingly tired of threats and he adds: “A word the wise-beware of talking to Ukraine from the position of strength”; then he goes on to say “What Russia is doing these days is not what I would call extending an invitation; it is herding Ukraine into the customs union.” Well, these are good statements, indeed, excellent statements. But the Tymoshenko case which is the product of his decisions is undercutting his ability to deal with that issue, that threat as he himself defines it. So he has weakened his own position vis-à-vis Russia and vis-à-vis the EU. But I want to make it very clear, in this context, that in so far as the EU is concerned, ultimately the EU has no choice; it has to insist on what is at stake, because what is at stake is not just Ukraine-what is at stake is what is Europe. The whole concept of Europe is based on the integrity of the notion of sovereignty and democracy and, on that basis, cooperation, and for some, perhaps prematurely for some, political union. That is the issue. So Europe cannot compromise and America should not compromise, even though for those like myself who would like to see Ukraine in Europe, there is the tactical temptation to be Machiavellian and say: “…well maybe we should forget about her [ed. -Julia Timoshenko] and throw Ukraine in” and this would be great, but the problem is a dictatorial and corrupt Ukraine moving into Europe encourages a dictatorial and corrupt Russia to expect the same for itself, and that is not a good bargain for anyone.
That brings me to my fourth point. In the brief perspective, one cannot avoid but being somewhat pessimistic about what we are seeing in Ukraine today. And we all know the reasons for it and I have referred to them in several instances. But in the longer run, I am optimistic, actually. I think there are grounds for optimism about Ukraine’s long range perspectives. I think the bottom line is that even if Ukraine is not right now evolving towards a really constitutional democratic state, it is evolving into a state in which increasingly the majority of its people, and especially the young, think of Ukraine as their state. That, in itself, is important; that in fact, is very important. And it is not only their state; for all the short-comings for which I focused basically and, particularly so, in my criticism of its leadership, Ukraine is still ‘more or less’ democratic when compared with Russia-which is ‘less and not more’ democratic. In that sense then, it is already, so to speak in terms of its evolutionary dynamic, ahead of Russia.
Right now Russia does not have any historically relevant vision of its future. Ukraine in spite of all I have talked about still has a sense, an organic sense, of its own place in the future-that is to say, increasingly more so in Europe. And Europe will come to Ukraine next year particularly because of the Euro-2012 and it’s going to be a dramatic development. In many respects, like the first large international communist youth festival in central Europe, in the mid 1950s, which had spectacular consequence on the outlook of the then confused young people, I think Ukraine will be becoming more European. Whereas Russia does not has a defined vision of its future-it wishes to draw in Ukraine into the economic union for transparent reasons, that is, to make it politically pliant, but at the same time it combines that process with the absurd concept of the Eurasian Russia, the Eurasian Union, which is really something which makes you wonder as to how realistic Putin’s external judgments regarding world affairs in fact are. He has volunteered, not some time ago, that the greatest calamity of the twentieth century was the dissolution of the Soviet Union; imagine, in a century in which we had WWI with millions killed, WWII with scores of millions killed, the Holocaust, enormous human suffering and Yezhovshchyna in the Soviet Union, alas the disappearance of the Soviet Union was the greatest calamity of our time. He has now come close to being passionate about the idea of the Eurasian Union. I wonder if anyone briefed him on the origins of that concept. To be sure he has learned about it from a former Russian Orthodox priest, Olexander Dugin, who has sort of popularized that concept recently. The concept itself originates with an anti-communist ‘white’ Russian immigration in Europe after the Bolshevik Revolution, when the ‘white’ Russian immigration realized that the Russian Tsarist Empire could not be restored as an alternative to the Soviet Union, (the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics), a construct that actually had some appeal for Ukrainians, the Belarusians, Georgians, and others. Instead, their notion was a Eurasian Union, a union of different peoples still with the Russian crown at the top, but an alternative concept. It is kind of ironic that Putin is now borrowing the concept of the ‘white’ anti-Soviet immigration. But he is forgetting one important point; some of the Eurasian states have been independent for 20 years also-in addition to Ukraine. It is very hard today to imagine that Nazarbayev made such an effort to maneuver between Russia and China to consolidate Kazakhstan’s opening to the world-if not through Russian pipelines, where he has been basically taken for an economic and financial ride by the Russians, then at least through contacts with the Chinese in the Far East. Uzbekistan has done the same, but more openly in the nationalistic sense. Turkmens are getting tired of being essentially taken advantage of the Russians economically in terms of transfer of energy to the West. The fact of the matter is that the new elites, not just in Ukraine but in the other Post Soviet states, don’t want to be part of any Union with a highly clearly and visibly designated capital and single leader; in short, this is an idea that makes absolutely no sense.
What makes sense in the long run for Russia is to follow Ukraine, but only if Ukraine leads. That is to say if Ukraine does two things which are not incompatible, namely, it democratizes itself deliberately and consolidates democracy, and yet at the same time is a friend of Russia. Not a Ukraine which gravitates to the West as an anti-Russian phenomenon, but a Ukraine which gravitates to the West as a friend of Russia, which then gives Russia a greater opportunity to emulate this process. As I am increasingly convinced from my visits to Russia, that underneath the sort of superficial manifestation of imperialism associated with the present, but transitional in my view, elite, there is a sea change taking place underneath at the lower levels of society-not economically depraved, but younger and therefore less advanced in their social status. The fact that they now live in a Russia for the first time historically open to the world, where millions of Russians travel abroad, hundreds of thousands reside abroad, tens of thousands study abroad and many come back. It is a different Russia in that respect than the traditional Russia and the pull is westward. Now, how dominant and quickly that will manifest itself is uncertain, but I see the Putin era as a transitional phase-one which may be difficult, but one which I don’t think will determine the future.
And my final point, the fifth, everything I had to say about Ukraine, geopolitically applies also to Turkey. I am very glad that this conference is recognizing that fact, and I think its very important to bare it in mind because, in fact, a positive evolution of the kind I have just spoken about is far more likely if it involves not only Ukraine but if the West intelligently, thoughtfully and with some imagination and flexibility consolidates and expands its relationship with Turkey, which for the West is an important connection with the Middle East, a source of security vis-à-vis the Middle East, and in many respects an example for the Middle East. So you have chosen, it seems to me, in your own agenda an important aspect of the problem, which isn’t as often linked as it ought to be to the larger Ukrainian, Russian, Central European issues that you have been discussing. Thank you very much.