Yalta European Strategy (YES) Held Online Conversation with the High Level Diplomats from Canada, Germany, France, UK and USA on Threats to Ukraine's Security and What the International Community Can Do

30 April 2021

The Yalta European Strategy in partnership with the Victor Pinchuk Foundation continues its series of online conversations on global challenges and their implications for Ukraine. High-level diplomats and special invited guests took part in the 7th conversation, held on April 28, 2020, themed “Threats to Ukraine's Security and What the International Community Can Do”. 

The discussion featured Larisa Galadza, Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine; Anka Feldhusen, Ambassador of Germany to Ukraine; Etienne de Poncins, Ambassador of France to Ukraine; Melinda Simmons, Ambassador of the UK to Ukraine; Joseph Pennington, Chargé d'Affaires, a.i. of the United States in Ukraine; Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden (2006-2014), Prime Minister of Sweden (1991-1994); Ambassador (ret.) John E. Herbst, Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; and Yulia Laputina, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs of Ukraine. The conversation was moderated by Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President of Poland 1995-2005, Founder of Amicus Europae Foundation, Chairman of the YES Board. Victor Pinchuk, founder of YES, Victor Pinchuk Foundation, EastOne group, opened the conversation.

In his introductory remarks, Victor Pinchuk said: “Ambassadors, it is so important to discuss today how Ukraine and our friends and allies can manage to get at threats against security of all of us. I am happy that YES today is the host of this conversation with the representatives in Ukraine of Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.” 

Anka Feldhusen said on the recent situation with Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea: “We were rather surprised at the huge military build-up at the border. We watched the movements of the Russian troops with a lot of attention and concern, and I think, we very quickly got together with the wider G7 format, and I think, we relatively quickly gave an answer to Mr. Putin – we stood firmly on Ukraine’s side with our latest G7 statement, asking him to take away his new troops. I do think he got quite a quick answer from us.” She continued: “I do think that Mr. Putin is very good in catching our attention and taking our time and energy and nerves, and I think, a lot of what he did this time is the same: he tested us, he tested the West, he tested the new US administration, and when he feels pressure from the other side, he is also very capable of quickly retracting and changing his plans. I think it is what we see now. I am not convinced it is the end of the story. He is in a comfortable position to be a threat any time to Ukraine, and we have to be very careful, to be watching very intensely. But it is part of his intention: he wants us to spend a lot of time looking what he is doing and wondering what is his strategy.”

Larisa Galadza commented on the reaction to that situation: “We have all strong consensus that the international community’s political and diplomatic response was robust, timely and clear. But let’s be clear, that does not happen by accident. The coordination was taking place everywhere – in Ukraine, at NATO, at the OSCE, among the G7 at the foreign ministers level, and between the military and political arms of all the concerned governments. It was very active, and on top of this we had bilateral discussions with Ukraine. I think, it’s very important to give credit to president Zelensky, minister Kuleba, minister Taran and general Khomchak – they did an excellent job of reaching out and engaging and passing clear messages, and to be seen in a company of strong supporters. Ukraine’s diplomatic and political machine spun up very quickly. […] At all level, the more our systems work together, the better the response becomes. […] We see the same picture and we have a coherent discussion about what’s happened.” Asked about the NATO prospects for Ukraine, she said: “The question of NATO has been answered. The allies answered it in 2008 in Bucharest. The open door policy remains in place, and Canada is a very strong supporter of that. Ukraine has integrated this path in its constitution, and we see a continued growth in support for this Euro-Atlantic trajectory. The commitment is there on both sides. And we are also increasingly realising that the NATO-Ukraine relationship is at benefit of both sides, not just in terms the interoperability in technical and military sense but in the interoperability in the values that we share. It is about the values and the principles that NATO once established to protect democracy, rule of law, human rights, a peaceful resolution of conflict. Our countries wanted Ukraine as part of this club, which is why we unwaveringly support Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, but also tough messages about things like judicial reform, about central bank’s independence, about the reform of state-owned enterprises and all those many other issues you see us individually and as the G7 countries speaking about quite strongly. It is also important to talk about people. Russia’s invasion in Ukraine did a lot to galvanise Ukrainian unity in a way that previously had not been seen. As we look forward to peace, it’s important to anticipate that there will be challenges, and there will be spoilers, and that the reintegration has to be deliberate and anticipated in advance, and that sustainable peace will not just happen, it needs to be built by people. If there is no national dialogue and consensus, then peace will just bring ironically a shattering of the unity that we currently see.”

Melinda Simmons noted: “The job and the challenge for the international community is to continue to be vigilant inside the G7, in the OSCE, in NATO and elsewhere to show two things: that the international community is united, and showing that there is a cost to doing this – that the international community takes it seriously. And that is what we have to continue to pay attention to in the coming months. But I would also say that all the work that we do bilaterally and collectively on the programmatic side to support reforms and on the diplomatic concessions that we have bilaterally and collectively, including through the G7 group, are similarly important to show that, while Ukraine continues to warn a European and Euro-Atlantic path, we will continue to support them in that route. One of the ways that Ukraine gets to be strong is to be pursuing the reforms and by growing its economy, and by pursuing that European and Euro-Atlantic route. So our job is to continue, and even step up that programmatic and political support, collectively and individually.” She commented on the idea of extending the Normandy Format: “I think, the question is how do those who are not inside the circle of the Normandy 4, are there different ways or more creative ways in which countries like ours can support the incredibly difficult job that France and Germany have inside to help move things forward. And that is along those lines that we have to continue our conversation.”

Joseph Pennington said in his video-address: “The United States stands firmly behind sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. President Biden emphasized that same point when he spoke to President Putin on April 13, when he highlighted our concern about Russia’s military build-up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders, and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions. […] To be clear, this is a conflict Russia started and Russia now bears full responsibility for ending. The United States has demonstrated its resolve to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions. We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners, and we continue to urge Russia to fully implement its Minsk commitments, withdraw its weapons and the forces it leads from Ukraine, and return to Ukraine full control of its internationally recognized borders. […] Speaking more broadly, we will remain committed to strengthening our strategic partnership with Ukraine. Our partnership includes robust security assistance to help Ukraine’s forces defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and also progress towards NATO interoperability. […] But beyond security assistance, another vital component to ensuring Ukrainian security is the building of a strong, stable, sovereign state that is decisively engaged in fighting endemic corruption. […] The United States has invested considerable resources and effort in tackling corruption, in partnership with Ukrainians and their government. President Zelenskyy and his team have taken important steps recently, but there is a lot more to be done, including those steps necessary to get Ukraine’s IMF program back on track.”

John Herbst also commented: “I don’t think it’s right to declare victory quite yet. Moscow has backed down, that’s true and joint Western action was responsible. But many Russian naval ships remain in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and are harassing shipping to Ukraine’s Azov ports. I think, we can do better if collectively, the US, our partners in the EU, Great Britain and Canada were to make Moscow pay a price for that, for instance, by forbidding entry into their ports of any ships stopping at Russia’s Black Sea or at least Sea of Azov ports. There is no doubt that a threat of additional sanctions was the reason why Mr. Putin decided tactically to pull back. Let’s do the same with this ongoing Russian naval escalation. The more we push back against the Kremlin’s provocations and aggression, the less likely we’ll face provocations in future. Donbas is ground zero for Moscow’s revisionist foreign policy. The West collectively has a clear and vital interest in making sure Moscow’s aggression there fails.”

Carl Bildt expressed his opinion: “As for the future, is it over? – it is not over. Clearly not. It is not over until we have peaceful settlement between Russia and Ukraine on the principles that the European security has been built on, and a normal relationship between those two countries. That is not immanent, to put it mildly, and it is going to be a fairly long whole to achieve that. Ukraine’s internal reform process which will strengthen the resilience and the dynamism of the Ukrainian society and economy is absolutely critical.” 

Etienne de Poncins, speaking of the idea to extend the Normandy Format, said: “We have to observe that the problem is not the question of the format, it’s a question of political will, and in particular, of political will from Russia. And this is a big question mark. At the moment, it has to be demonstrated that another format will be more productive, and we do not see that demonstration. However, we are perfectly ready to reinforce connection with the UK, the US and so on. For example, we would be very happy if the US and the new administration have a new special envoy dedicated to Ukraine. That would be a very positive element for the matter of the Normandy Format.” He continued on the process of reform in Ukraine: “Regarding reforms, I think, we are on the same page with our G7 colleagues. We are very frustrated at the moment, because there were some good movements and a good momentum, which was called locally “the turbo-regime reforms”. Unfortunately, we have to note that it has more or less stopped – not completely, but it has gone slowly. At the moment there are some good intentions to renew this momentum, and there are some good steps in that direction, but that is not enough.”

The YES Annual Meeting 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. YES and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation remain committed to integrating Ukraine with the world and put the country on the international agenda. Since 2004, Yalta European Strategy has been the main non-governmental platform for connecting the world and Ukraine. The YES Annual Meetings have brought together world political, business and thought leaders to discuss Ukraine’s future and pressing global challenges.

The video of the event is available at link

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Chrystia Freeland
Chrystia Freeland
9th YES Annual Meeting, 2012
«You should have the uniting idea that will be supported by all political parties, that will keep your country on a single path»