As EU leaders discuss sanctions against Russia, Ukrainian Catholic activists Borys Gudziak and Myroslav Marynovych told EurActiv that Vladimir Putin is most afraid that domestic protest movements, influenced by Euromaidan, will remove him from power.
Borys Gudziak is the president of the Catholic University of Lviv and Myroslav Marynovych is vice-Rector of the university and the founder of Amnesty International Ukraine. They spoke to EurActiv’s Laurens Cerulus.
Tomorrow (21 March), the signing of the political part of the Association Agreement is on the agenda at the European Council in Brussels. How important is this element for the Ukrainian government?
Gudziak: For many Ukrainians, the question is why the EU is only signing the political side. The EU was willing to sign the full agreement with former president Viktor Yanukovych before he fled, and even after that.
The fact that only the political parts will be signed is a sign of hesitation on the part of Europe, to move towards Ukraine – at a time when we actually have a democratic government.
The question is why shouldn’t Europe move now, and offer the full Association Agreement, as it did last December? That would include the economic parts of the agreement.
What do you expect from the European Union sanctions, that will be discussed EU leaders, this evening?
Marynovych: The earlier sanctions were a step in the right direction. But, as commentator Vladimir Posner said: it is a little pinprick for Russia. A few Russians can’t travel to the US, or they have their accounts frozen – that is not a painful thing. In fact, many are proud to be sanctioned by the US.
More broad economic sanctions would help; not only on individuals.
Over the long term, I feel this is a wake-up call for Europe to reconsider its energy policy: Europe is being held hostage by its energy dependence on Russia. Ukraine is a bargaining chip [of this interdependent relationship]: it is treated first and foremost as an object in a greater geopolitical trajectory.
In your meetings with European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, and with others in Brussels, did you feel there is a strong tendency to make promises?
Marynovych: It is a reaction of “yes, but”. There is caution. What Europe should realise is that its long-term security is connected, too. It is not only about the territorial integrity of countries like Ukraine or Georgia, but also about guarding the rule of law; of justice for all. It is about a reduction of corruption, and a thriving democracy, which needs a civil society.
But also it is important for us to answer some questions for people, in order to block the information war organised by Russia.
It seems to me that Europe, and the world, cannot imagine the falseness of the Putin administration’s communication. It is a total misinterpretation of facts. We cannot combat these lies because people think that – even if exaggerated – there is something truthful in it.
Gudziak: This image, which has been presented to the West for many years, has created an interpretation which keeps the West from acting decisively.
What do we do with the referendum that was organised in Crimea? How can the EU and US respond to this?
Marynovych: We must put this in a proper framework. In 1994, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal. At that time, it was the third biggest in the world. In exchange, it was guaranteed territorial independence. Now, one of the powers that signed this deal has violated this as well as many other agreements.
How can the world deal with this? If the international community sits around the table and discusses a compromise through diplomacy, it means the end of international law. You can expect North Korea, or other nuclear powers, to cite this example and argue they need nuclear weapons to ensure their integrity.
I’m glad the West has not recognised the referendum, but this is in fact a pre-condition of talks. The argument should be: first you withdraw your troops, then we can sit down and discuss the future of Ukraine.
Observers have said Putin knows the West is too weak, diplomatically, to tackle this crisis. Do you feel they are right?
Gudziak: At this point, it is at an early stage, but it is clear that the EU and US responses are not a deterrent. Russia sees that the West is weak, and it plays by cynical rules. The Western response needs to be much stronger; much more direct.
Evil is something that cannot be allowed to progress. Europeans need to recognise this. There is a naivety surrounding the EU’s response. The fact is that we’re dealing with a person, and a political culture created by this person, which breathes aggrandisement.
What Europe should realise is that the movement in Ukraine, the anti-corruption movement of the Maidan, is something that could influence neighbouring countries. And that democracy in Ukraine threatens Putin because he is afraid of democracy in Russia.
But Putin is also afraid of the movement that the ‘Maidan’ has created. He is afraid of the free press in Ukraine; of democracy. This could spread, for example to Moscow. There is much discontent in Russia, amongst the civil movements, but also amongst the business people that Putin antagonised.
To maintain control – and prevent domestic opposition – he spreads authoritarianism to the near abroad, where freedom has come to flourish.