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Tufts and Ukrainian Experts Discussed Ukraine’s Relationship with the West

by Karl Afrikian, MALD 2022 Candidate, The Fletcher School

On September 15, 2020, the Russia and Eurasia Program hosted Ukrainian international affairs experts virtually to discuss Ukraine’s foreign policy challenges while highlighting opportunities for cooperation between the West and Ukraine. The Fletcher School teamed up with the Hennadii Udovenko Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to organize the event. Ukrainian scholars and practitioners in Kyiv and at the Odesa National I. Mechinov University, alongside with Tufts professors, touched on a plethora of geopolitical issues facing Ukraine today. This was the first time that members of the Fletcher faculty have partnered with diplomatic educators from Ukraine to discuss publicly the issues facing Ukraine’s ever-changing relationship with the West.

The event, chaired by Fletcher Professor Chris Miller, consisted of opening statements by the panelists concerning Ukraine-West relations in their specific areas of expertise and concluded with counterremarks to previous points made. Nearly all of Ukraine’s greatest foreign relations dilemmas were touched upon by the participants in both their opening remarks and in their rebuttals to questions and comments posed by others. From Black Sea security to the fashioning of a response to the current protests against President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, the reality of Ukraine’s position in the global community became apparent as the participants outlined the demands and concerns of both the country’s allies and adversaries.

Ambassador Sergiy Korsunsky, Director of the Ukrainian Diplomatic Academy, opened the event by discussing perceptions of Ukraine by Western countries. He claimed that the United States is “a major guarantor of Ukrainian sovereignty” and that Ukrainian foreign policy is being shaped around this premise. He further elaborated on growing tensions between Ukraine and European powers, specifically regarding an expanding trade deficit and concerning European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron forging friendlier relations with Russia. He also expressed a desire for Ukraine to show more self-reliance when working to solve its  geopolitical dilemmas.

Fletcher Professor Emeritus Alan Henrikson responded by stating that Korsunky’s “very powerful statement” that “America is the guarantor of Ukrainian sovereignty and security” lacks any basis in international law due to the lack of a formal treaty, while further discussing the “ambiguous legal relationship” between the United States and Russia regarding the situation in Crimea. Tufts Professor Oxana Shevel also stressed this point, comparing U.S. policy regarding Crimea today to Western policy toward the Baltic republics during the Cold War, stressing that the West should not forget about the peninsula when negotiating with Russia. She also noted how the Donbas conflict sees no end in sight due to the anticipated elections in the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which she described as a “Trojan Horse” that would provide legitimacy to regional authorities under Russian influence.

Fletcher Professor Elizabeth Prodromou spoke about the diminishing role of Russian soft power in Ukraine, as evidenced by the creation of the newly independent, autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2018. She noted that Russia attempted to sway Trkey to block the Eastern Orthodox Church leaders in Istanbul from permitting the schism to occur, yet these efforts ultimately failed. She underscored the fact that many expected the split in the church to cause conflict within Ukraine’s religious community but that this expectation was unrealized. Fletcher Professor Constantine Arvanitopoulos discussed positive developments in Ukraine’s economic liberalization, predicting that fair and free trade with the European Union will increase in the coming years.

Ukraine’s evolving relationship with the United States was also considered during the event. Odesa National I. Mechnikov University professors Yevgeniya Gaber and Volodymyr Dubovik suspected that Americans are feeling increasingly apathetic about supporting Ukraine’s deterrence vis-à-vis Russia. They also touched upon Ukraine’s ambitions for NATO and EU integration, specifically regarding concerns over what these institutions stand for and how they function post-Brexit and in an era of Russia’s alleged meddling in the domestic affairs of Western countries. The event emphasized the need for greater cooperation between the West and Ukraine, as governments, experts, and people engaged in dialogue, and how this complex relationship is crucial for understanding the modern state of geopolitics.

Watch the event here:

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