James Sherr, senior fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Chatham House (UK), stated at a press briefing at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center that actions by Russia in Ukraine have posed the most direct challenge possible to the fundamental rules of Europe’s security system, established after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with Russia’s direct participation.
There are multiple documents supporting Ukraine’s independence, such as the founding documents of the OSCE, the Budapest memorandum, thanks to which Ukraine disarmed its nuclear weapons, the third largest in the world.
Furthermore, Sherr recalled the 1997 Russia-Ukraine state treaty which emphasized Ukraine’s territorial integrity and raised no conditions about Ukraine’s constitution. Between May 1997, when the treaty was signed, and the departure of Victor Yanukovich from power in February 2014, the Russian Federation has not once in any international forum argued about either the Constitution or federalization of a sovereign Ukraine.
Sherr emphasized that if this challenge is not understood properly, the consequences will go well beyond Ukraine and will affect the whole of Europe.
“Ukraine is not the only country that has ‘Crimeas;’ there’s Riga with a strong Russian majority and an elected mayor who works closely with the Russian authorities; there’s Transnistria; there’s a Russian population in the city of Narva in Estonia,” said Sherr, “and some counterforce, some counter balance needs to be established” against Russian intentions.
The senior fellow also noted that major players like China, Israel and Japan observe how Europe reacts to the new challenge. “Japan has limited interest in Ukraine, but they are closely watching because they know that Beijing will make conclusions,” concluded Sherr. “This is a test for the West in its determination to uphold international agreements. If the Budapest treaty is treated as just words and not a binding statement, people in Europe will ask – will the NATO agreement uphold, or not? That’s why everyone is watching, because if we don’t treat our words as our bonds, our entire security is weakened, and we shall face a more anarchic world.”
Sherr drew parallels with the 1914 events, when the UK was considering whether or not to protect Belgium against invasion, and the key factor was whether Belgium was defending itself. Now, says Sherr, it is important for Ukraine’s authorities to demonstrate their willingness to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The Western governments, says Sherr, need to make a difficult decision, to raise their defense budgets and make hard decisions in the energy sector to have a short term response strategy if Gazprom cuts its supplies to Ukraine and Europe. Ukraine is still the most energy inefficient country in Europe, warns Sherr, where energy inefficiency along with hidden pricing mechanisms are used to enrich a handful of people. If those people continue to control the energy system after the elections, Ukraine will not attract investors and will fail to improve its energy security.
Commenting on Western help to Ukraine, Sherr noted that right now the West is already providing far more economic help to Ukraine than anyone was considering some months ago. The armed forces and the security system of Ukraine were systematically weakened in the Yanukovich period, and the West is ready to provide help to this sector, too.
Much more will need to be done than what the world sees now.