The 2014 Revolution in Ukraine and the Baltic symposium took place on 4 April 2024 at the Peterhouse Lecture Theatre.

Brendan Simms and Charles Clarke opened the symposium. Simms discussed knowledge of the region and language, whilst Clarke discussed the long and sometimes troubled relation between the U.K. and the Baltic.

The first panel had an emphasis on the history of the region, and Ukrainian governmental and structural reforms. Hugo Bromley argued that 2014 was a rejection of something, but it was not not certain if this had a coherent positive, and the last decade has been seeking that positive. Argita Daudze proposed examining ‘post-Soviet space’, noting that both Ukraine and the Baltic states have been associated with this. She argued the Maiden Revolution showed how Ukrainians disagreed with this term; she also noted how the Revolution was a ‘litmus test’ for democratic society. However, she also distinguished between the Baltic states, which were independent in the interwar period – and hence cannot be called ‘post-Soviet’, as the newly independent states of interest Europe cannot be called ‘post-Habsburg” – and Ukraine, which was subject to oppression, arguing this changed Ukrainian society. She concluded by arguing that ‘Russian leaders live in the past, Ukrainians are striving for the future’. In response, James Oates from the Centre for Geopolitics argued we are using the term ‘post-Soviet’ as a provisional term. Lukasz Kulesa opened by noting how Poland both accepts and rejects its Baltic credentials, and sometimes sees itself as being within ‘Central Europe’. He suggested we should not view Ukraine within present frameworks, which are shaped by the brutality and viciousness of Russian aggression. He also observed that Polish politicians who were in power in 2014 are now back in power again, which opens up potentially useful comparisons in terms of policy. Kulesa began by analysing Polish policy before 2014, noting how concepts of Ukraine were formulated by emigre society – and especially Poles around the Kultura circle – which provided a ‘roadmap’ for Polish eastern policy post-war. This idea was based on no Polish territorial claims over Ukrainian land, common heritage, and the idea that the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine was linked to that of Poland; an idea also suggested by interwar politician Józef Piłsudski. He argued that the Polish standing in the west was influenced by its standing in the east. He stressed the brotherly relations between the two countries, and methods of unlocking the potential of the bilateral relationship. Dovydas Vitkauskas focused on what has happened since 2014, and future progress. He considered transparency as a direction for policy, including the Declaration of Assets and Income – which many Baltic and Northern European states have, though western countries do not; he hence argued this policy was an example of Ukraine applying a new standard, and better standard, rather than following European approaches. He also noted that last year Ukrainian banks had record profits, which was a ‘test to the relative health’ of the Ukrainian banking system – which is ‘relatively healthy even by regional standards’. He argued that, looking at the future, Ukraine does still need to achieve competition in politics, although he stressed that we can give countries some time to achieve this. He also argued Ukraine is lagging behind in terms of the market economy, and observed that competition in business is also mixed.

Cathy Ashton’s keynote, which reflected on the Maidan Revolution through a series of photographs, began with the meeting of the Eastern Partnership countries in Vilnius in 2013, and concerns at the time that plans to bring Ukraine close to Europe were being betrayed. She noted it is for the people of Ukraine to decide their future. She recollected the Maidan Revolution, and the broad spectrum of people – late at night – who assembled in Kyiv, as well as the positive atmosphere, and the sense that it was a movement of people who were not going to disappear and were determined.

The second panel opened with Vygaudas Ušackas discussing EU relations with Russia. He notes Russia respects its neighbours but only when their geopolitical choices align with the nation. James Oates responded by quoting a past comment by Ušackas, “Russia only deals with two kinds of nations – enemies or slaves”, to question how it is possible to negotiate with the country. Mark Voyger discussed the US approach to Ukraine and Russia. He discussed the instruments of national power that Russia is using, which he argued were comprehensive and long-term, which have been deployed over several centuries. Sergey Utkin discussed whether Putin’s war was a forever war, including the impact of the war including children in Russian universities. Anna Wieslander responded by questioning why Putin ended his forever war by launching a full-scale invasion.

The third panel explored the Minsk Agreements. Donatas Kupciunas asked whether, if we assume the Minsk agreements could have helped avoid the current war, a bad peace would be better than a good war. Jakob Hauter noted Russia will not be content only with Donbas, and should not be able to destroy Ukraine again. He argued that the most important lesson was that no matter how much occupied territory Ukraine will be able to retake by force, or the peace negotiations, Ukraine needs to have the ability to deter Russia in the future. Richard Sakwa noted Minsk was a syndrome of western powers to not follow through on their plans. He argued the Minsk syndrome includes: the internal blockage of inter-Ukrainian solutions; the external blockage of some sort of accommodation with Moscow – given there is no diplomacy or back-channel communication today, in comparison to the Soviet era; the bad faith and political inefficacy of west; the growing contempt for multi-lateralism; and the distrust of all sides engendered by the failure of the Minsk agreements. Pavel Slunkin argued that seeing the Minsk agreements as either another Munich or failed opportunity is not mutually exclusive. Erich Vad considered whether the Minsk agreements were failings or hopeful.

The fourth panel covered Ukraine from the perspective across the Baltic, in the Nordic countries. Hans Mouritzen explored Danish and Nordic Russia-policies around Maidan. Ambassador Christian Syse argued Norway’s net contribution is through intelligence and surveillance in the High North. He noted that Norway is a firm supporter of Ukraine. Erkki Tuomioja described why NATO membership was accepted in Finland, and said it should be seen as a policy continuation to prevent war. Anna Wieslander noted that Sweden also abandoned neutrality when it joined the EU in 1995, and said that this has never been treaty based. She argued the Hultqvist doctrine was focused on building deterrents and rebuilding national defence capabilities; a patchwork of deepened bilateral arrangements but no security guarantees; and strong support verbally to the security order and a tough stance against Russia.

The roundtable began with Charles Clarke arguing that Ukraine’s future was European, and that the long-term destiny of Ukraine was to be a European power; he also stressed the incoherence of efforts to deal with Russia. He said that people in nations which had historically been oppressed by Russia could not forget their oppression, especially given the lack of expressions of regret from Russia, so it was difficult to trust the country – in contrast to Germany. He concluded by saying Europe needs to find a security and foreign affairs relationship for the future. Heiko Biehl analysed German foreign policy, and considered how Russia was not seen as a threat after 2014, so 2022 came as a shock. Kaimo Kuusk recalled Zelensky asking the Estonian president why NATO was not accepting Ukraine. Matti Maasikas spoke of his pride that the EU was able to rise to the occasion of helping Ukraine and changed its policies, especially in terms of enlargement policy. He said NATO as an organisation was not as visible in helping Ukraine, whereas the EU represented hope and predictability. He also said nothing had changed in terms of life in Russian oppression from the 1940s-1950s and today

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