VILNIUS - The ongoing political crisis in Ukraine gave the weekend conference in Lithuania on democracy and European integration in the former republics of the Soviet Union a poignant atmosphere. The international list of guest speakers largely agreed that events in Ukraine would determine the status of democracy in the entire post-Soviet region. Some political scientists even decried the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying Western nations needed to take a closer look at the group running the Kremlin show.
Zbigniew Brzezinski (above), a former U.S. national security adviser and a political scientist, said that Ukraine was in the decisive phase of postimperial consolidation - one which has only two outcomes: the restoration of Russian dominance or the transformation to a democratic society with the strengthening of Euro-Atlantic cooperation.
French political scientist Marie Mendras criticized Russia's leadership, though she expressed doubt as to whether the European Union should take harsher diplomatic measures against the nation.
"We have to revise the stance of European countries toward the Russian president, who has been a factor of stability, although he now looks like a cause for instability," she said.
Mendras stressed that Ukraine's heated events were not what Putin had expected. "He will have to swallow the bitter pill. He will be forced to draw conclusions," she said.
Putin's rule, in her words, is an "authoritarian regime by a group of people who refuse to hear advice from the outside."
She said that Russia was directly interfering with the internal affairs of Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova after having attempted to do so in Georgia as well. "Therefore, we should not allow Putin to get an impression that he can determine the fates of neighboring societies," Mendras concluded.
Vladimir Socoro, a U.S. political scientist, said the independence of the EU's foreign policy and a strengthening of trans-Atlantic links could be connected to the continent's reliance on Russia's energy resources. In order to solve this, the EU should seek direct access to the southern region of the Caspian Sea so that Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan oil and gas could be delivered to Europe bypassing Russia.
In Brzezinski's opinion, the standoff in Ukraine will decide developments in Moldova and Belarus, which are now firmly in Moscow's grasp. The countries of south Caucasus and Central Asia will maintain close relations with both the United States and Russia, he said.
Mendras was of the opinion that democratic forces would prevail in Belarus, though it was far too early to celebrate any triumph.
About 50 participants from the United States and EU parliaments, NATO, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and non-governmental bodies attended the conference. The meeting was a follow-up to the annual Vilnius Conference, the first of which was held in 1997 when Eastern and Central European leaders pooled their efforts to receive an invitation to NATO. Since then, the annual conference has been a discussion among strategic partners from both sides of the Atlantic on key foreign policy issues.
Meanwhile, Brzezinski was awarded a medal by acting Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis on Dec. 3 for his assistance in helping Lithuania integrate into the European Union and NATO.
The political scientist said he was happy to feel "the winds of change" blowing harder in Eastern Europe. He remembered the earlier titles he was bestowed with in Lithuania, including honorary doctor at Vilnius University and honorary citizen of Vilnius.
Brzezinski has been awarded the 1st Degree Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas for his aid to the country's trans-Atlantic goals.