In 2019, Ukraine celebrates the centennial anniversary of the unification of its national lands. On January 22, 1919, the Act of Union marked a historic milestone: for the first time in centuries, the Ukrainian people had revived their nation and unified most of its territories. Then Russian aggression destroyed our freedom, like it did again in 2014. The aggression of the Bolsheviks was tragically supplemented by the West’s shortsighted policy of pressure, misunderstanding, and non-recognition of Ukraine. The division and occupation of Ukraine subsequently created the conditions for the emergence of the Soviet empire and eventually led to colossal historical upheavals and causalities both on our land as well as throughout Europe.
The anniversary of Ukraine’s unity is a symbol that captures the continuity of our struggle for independence and unity. For Ukrainians it is also a reminder of the high price of political mistakes and mass ignorance. For Europe and the world, it is an important reminder that it must not sacrifice the weak and or permit the local agendas of its neighbors to abandon its strategic values.
Next week, we welcome government officials, experts, and diplomats to Kyiv for the annual Kyiv Security Forum. This year’s forum takes place between the first and second round of Ukraine’s presidential election, which is linked with the election of a new parliament in October and the subsequent formation of a new parliamentary coalition. The danger of a prolonged political confrontation and the high probability that the results of election cycle will yield a president limited in actions, a fragmented parliament, and an incapacitated government is no less a threat than Russian aggression in Ukraine’s east.
The focus of the Kyiv Security Forum will be on the foreign policy and security priorities of the two remaining presidential candidates. Discussions will also focus on the upcoming parliamentary elections. Our main question is whether Ukraine can form a stable government in 2019 that will actively continue a European and Euro-Atlantic course.
We will also discuss the strategic choice of Ukraine and the West, or more specifically — the fact that Ukraine is part of Western civilization with its attendant political, economic, and security ties, cultural interdependence, and mutual necessity.
At the heart of this conversation are two studies: a sociological analysis by the Razumkov Center and expert recommendations from the Royal Institute of International Relations “Chatham House” on Western policy toward Ukraine.
A majority of Ukrainians want the country to join the European Union and NATO. This means that the political forces that attempt to change or substitute the Euro-Atlantic course will not only fail, but cause catastrophic consequences for themselves, the country, and the region.
This thesis equally applies to our Western partners.
We are so tired of hearing that “Ukraine fatigue” is rife in Europe and the United States. There hasn’t been enough reason to be tired. This apparent fatigue is a result of Western uncertainty. Ukraine can’t be kept waiting for NATO membership long. It will end badly. No less dramatic will be an attempt to eliminate the Ukrainian issue under better circumstances.
Slowing down the integration of Ukraine into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, as well as the policy of “waiting” when it comes to Ukraine, will hurt Europe itself. It will directly stimulate the Kremlin’s appetite. Russia’s military strategy did not fade. Moscow did not stop preparing for a new attack and it believes that the “Ukrainian problem” can only be solved by force.
Simply put, the only way to stop Russian aggression, find a strategic solution for Eastern Europe’s security, and establish long-term peace in the region is to fully integrate Ukraine into the West’s system of collective security. The largest investment that Ukraine needs from Western allies today is an investment in security. Everyone benefits.
It is particularly important to clearly articulate this now—in the days surrounding NATO’s 70th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty. A separate panel dedicated to NATO relations will provide an opportunity to discuss what Ukraine has done and also examine the real willingness of our partners to provide Ukraine with a NATO Membership Action Plan.
The Euro-Atlantic theme will also be central to the US panel—a wide-ranging expert discussion devoted to US foreign policy during Donald Trump’s presidency, which we conduct in partnership with the Atlantic Council.
Another area of focus for the forum is the European Parliament’s elections in May. The change of political leaders and elites, the formation of new local and pan-regional alliances, and the disputes over how to give the EU new drive are all elements of the creation a new European landscape. Modern Ukraine should find its place here and add its expressive silhouette.
Our forum this year, “The Restless Wave: The Strategic Choice of Ukraine and the West,” refers to Senator John McCain’s book. The senator of course passed away last year. We will honor a great friend of Ukraine.
Kyiv will hold an important, useful, and candid conversation on all this and more. We hope the world will listen.
Danylo Lubkivsky, a former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, is a member of the supervisory council of Open Ukraine Foundation.
Editor’s Note: This piece was first published in Ukrainian by Evropeyska Pravda on April 5, 2019 and has been shortened and edited with the author’s permission. The Atlantic Council is a proud partner of the 2019 Kyiv Security Forum.