Photos: r-studies.org, wikimedia.org

Ukraine’s future will determine Europe’s future

30 January 2018

On 30 January 2018, in the Macmillan Room at Portcullis House, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Volodymyr Ogryzko  spoke on the importance of Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, and why they are crucial for the whole of Europe and the wider international community in the face of Russian aggression.

Lord Risby introduced the speakers and gave the floor first to Dr Ogryzko, who joked that since he is no longer Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, he is at liberty to say what he likes. He began his talk with some general remarks outlining the issues between Ukraine and Russia, and concluded with recommendations as to how the global community can protect itself from the Russian threat.

Peace and security after WWII were based on the inviolability of borders, a principle that was successfully upheld for many decades but which Russia grossly violated in Crimea in 2014. The Budapest Memorandum, an international instrument used to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, guaranteed the integrity of Ukraine’s borders in exchange for it getting rid of its nuclear arsenal. Russia’s aggressive actions make it highly unlikely that any other country will sign up to such an agreement, and have weakened trust in international accords.
Dr Ogryzko illustrated the distrust towards Russia that exists not only in Ukraine, but increasingly in the United Kingdom. He read out three recent quotations by prominent British officials:

“After a brief period in the early 1990s as a “rule-taker”, accepting the norms of the post-Cold War world, Russia became a “rule-faker”, pretending to abide by international agreements while in fact subverting and breaching them.” Mr Alex Younger, Head of MI6
“Russia are fighting a war against Britain on so many different levels. We are in a cool war but one where Russia is incredibly active in trying to do damage to British interests,” Mr Gavin Williams, Minister of Defence

“So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed, because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us. Russia could become a valuable partner of the West but only if it will play according to the rules.” Mrs Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

As the CEO of the Centre for Russian Studies, Dr Ogryzko explained that the Centre’s mission is to analyse the workings of Russia’s internal and international policies, saying “the more we try to understand Russia, the more we understand that we do not understand Russia at all, unfortunately.” Russia is a country of paradoxes: on the one hand, Russia is very dependent on the West – without Western know-how and technology, Russia is not in a position to produce its most lucrative exports (oil, gas and other natural resources). On the other hand, Russia views the West as an enemy and is doing its best to destroy western society. “This dichotomy makes Russia insincere, false and unpredictable. I was once asked how I would describe the relationship between Russia and the West. After considering that the West is helping Russia by trading with them and trying to engage in dialogue, my answer was, ‘the more you love Russia, the more Russia hates you.’”

Dr Ogryzko then gave his thoughts on how the West should frame its relationship with Russia. Firstly, the world should reject the notion that the West needs Russia. Russia would like to be involved in the world’s pressing issues but not with the goal of resolving them. He gave the example of Syria and summed up the results of Russian involvement: Assad is still in office, he possesses chemical weapons which he’s used repeatedly, Russia has two military bases there and the Russians have used Syria as a polygon for their military exercises.
Russia has become involved in other places with similar outcomes, like Transnistria where the conflict has been frozen for 26 years. Russia notionally plays the role of supervisor and guarantor of peace, but in reality the conflict remains unresolved. The same is now happening in the Donbas. Ukraine would like to see UN peacekeepers protect the OSCE mission throughout the conflict zone including on the Russia/Ukraine border, whilst Putin maintains peacekeepers should only be deployed on the dividing line between Ukrainian government forces and separatists. This stance does not promote peace but is a strategy to prolong the existing situation.

Dr Ogryzko is also keen for the world to get rid of the illusion that the West provoked Russia to act aggressively by helping post-Soviet countries to be democratic and to aspire to EU and NATO membership, in other words meddling in their near abroad. NATO and the EU are not trying to destroy or undermine Russia, but Russia views their involvement in countries from the former Soviet Union as provocative, inappropriate and dangerous.
Lastly, Dr Ogryzko suggests the world dispose of the view that Russia can be persuaded. Based on his experiences as Foreign Minister, he believes Russia only understands the language of force. He hopes the UK and other international partners will continue to work together to find a way to create a new, democratic Russia.

Sir Malcolm began his talk by echoing the sentiments of Dr Ogryzko about being a former minister. He joked, “A minister knows he is retired when he climbs in the back of his car and it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Sir Malcolm first went to Ukraine in 1992, one of the first countries he visited on becoming Foreign Minister. He told an amusing story of his first meeting at the Ministry of Defence, where the Ukrainian delegation made up of six generals including the Minister were all in full military uniform. They welcomed Sir Malcolm and asked, “How can we become more like a western country, do you have any advice?” Sir Malcolm explained that the British Ministry of Defence is firmly under the control of civilians since in a democracy that is usually seen as more correct, and pointed out the civilian clothing worn by all except the British Embassy’s Defence Attache. The following morning, the Ukrainians all turned up wearing lounge suits. “It was an important step in the right direction,” he remarked to laughter.

The tragedy that has unfolded in Ukraine over the last few years has primarily effected the people of Ukraine, they are the most immediate victims, nevertheless the issues we will consider are far wider, hence the topic of our discussion tonight, which is Why Ukraine’s future will determine Europe’s future. This is all about the collapse of Europe’s last empire – the Soviet Union, which is effectively interchangeable with Russia. Britain had an empire, Russia was an empire. When the Soviet Union collapsed, President Putin said it was the greatest disaster of his life – he didn’t say it was the collapse of communism, he said it was the collapse of the Soviet Union, by which he meant the Russian empire. If we see the Soviet Union throughout the whole period of the Cold War not just as a denier of liberty to its own people, but as a threat to the whole of western civilisation and democracy and liberty throughout the world, then of course the restoration in any form of that empire, with the Russian government dominating all those countries that are now independent states, has profound implications for the whole of Europe as essentially for the world as a whole, so we all have an interest.

When the Russians annexed Crimea and sought to incorporate it into the Russian Federation, it was the worst act of aggression since 1945. The Annexation of Sudetenland in the late 1930s was justified on the same grounds: just as Hitler tried to justify the Sudetenland on the basis that the ethnic Germans there should be incorporated into the Reich, Putin said there are ethnic Russians in Crimea and therefore we have a similar entitlement. Parallels between Putin and Hitler should not be drawn further but regarding this particular historical example, that is the last time something of this kind happened and we should not lose sight of that.

The Budapest Memorandum was significant for two reasons. It not only provided the basis for Ukraine agreeing to give up its nuclear weapons which it might not otherwise have done, but as part of that agreement, the Russian Federation recognised the territorial integrity of Ukraine under its borders after the collapse of the Soviet Union. So when Putin says this is all a mistake of Khrushchev and a previous age when he mistakenly allowed Crimea to become part of Ukraine, the fact is that the present Russian Federation recognised the borders of Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum as part of the deal whereby Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, and that is of profound importance.

To understand what’s behind Russian policy, you need to go back to what Winston Churchill said during WWII: “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Notably, Churchill added, “If you want to try to understand Russia, look to see its national interests.” Sir Malcolm feels that we are dealing with is perhaps not Russia’s real national interest, but its perception of its national interests. The whole basis on which Russia developed, going even as far back as Peter the Great, was that it assumed that for its own security it has to control the territory around it. And this is still effectively their doctrine.

The idea that in the modern world a sovereign state has the right to determine the political destiny of its independent neighbours is obviously intolerable and unsustainable. There is one precedent for it, the United States and its Monroe Doctrine, when in the nineteenth century all European empires were told to stay out of America (North, Central and Latin) as that was America’s near abroad. America could not stay this course once Fidel Castro took over Cuba, when they realised it was an unsustainable position. Russia has therefore been the only country in the last 50 years that genuinely believes in a near abroad that gives them a legitimate right to determine whether Ukraine joins the EU or NATO.

It is also based on a belief which Putin must know is false. He tends to hold the West responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union, as if it was a plot of western countries of NATO in the late 1980s. It is very true the West wanted to see the end of the Cold War and the countries of Central Europe brought out from under Soviet control. But the West neither planned nor expected to be able to influence the dissolution of the Soviet state itself. There is hard evidence of this. When Ukraine was on the verge of declaring its independence, there was a famous visit made to Ukraine by George H W Bush where he addressed the Ukrainian Rada and he tried to persuade the government not to opt for independence because at that time the issue of nuclear weapons had not been resolved and there was great worry about who might rule Ukraine. Yeltsin or Gorbachev was seen as a much safer pair of hands than unknown Ukrainians who might take over the nuclear arsenal. The speech was thereafter known as the chicken in Kyiv speech. It was not part of western policy nor were we expecting it. We were as taken by surprise as so many others.

We are often told that Putin is a strategic genius, however Sir Malcolm feels he is a tactically ruined man. His strategy has been very foolish from a Russian point of view, because what he has done has united NATO and Ukraine. For the early years of Ukraine’s independence, Ukraine was seen to have a west that voted for western style reforms and an east that voted for Yanukovych or other politicians who wanted closer ties with Russia. When the Russian Federation invaded, it created a patriotic response that Russia should have been the first to foresee since the same thing happened when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. It was called the Great Patriotic War and it united Russians and all people throughout the Soviet Union in destroying Hitler. NATO had been pondering whether it had a future and whether it should continue to exist. Now NATO has a formal military presence in the Baltic states, which was not the original intention. These things are consequences of Putin’s so-called genius.

He concluded by answering the question, “What should western policy be?” The EU has remained united on sanctions and Sir Malcolm feels sure they will continue to be applied as long as is necessary. President Trump has been hamstrung by controversies that have made it impossible for him to do anything other than give his government’s whole hearted support to Ukraine in its struggles. The Russian government has to recognise that this situation is set to continue.

The objective is not to boycott Russia as a country. In the immediate aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, the NATO-Russia Council was virtually disbanded as a punishment to Moscow. It was a foolish decision as it was created as a channel for dialogue, exactly what is needed during a major crisis as the first opportunity for the possibility of a diplomatic solution. Sir Malcolm recalled when he was Minister of State in the Foreign Office under Margaret Thatcher, when he had responsibility under Geoffrey Howe for the UK’s relationship with the Soviet Union. He was involved with a visit by Gorbachev to Mrs Thatcher during when she said he is a man with whom we can do business. They did not reach many agreements but they liked each other and began to trust each other. When she reported to Ronald Reagan that he was different to previous Soviet leaders, he listened to the Iron Lady and it ultimately led to the end of the Cold War with virtually not a shot being fired, an extraordinary historic achievement. Sir Malcolm concluded by saying, “Dialogue with Russia should not be seen as a reward. Rather it is a crucial role of diplomats to achieve a diplomatic solution to problems, because the only alternative is fighting and killing people with complete uncertainty as to the overall outcome that the war brings. Let’s hope we get back to dialogue in a meaningful way as soon as possible.”

Lord Risby wrapped up by highlighting the determination that a number of Parliamentarians have to ensure that Ukraine has an audience in the British Parliament and that the bilateral relationship between the UK and Ukraine should be a concrete one. He thanked Dr Ogryzko and Sir Malcom, politicians who have been at the highest levels of government in their respective countries, and thanked them for sharing their experience and wisdom with the audience.


The Rt Hon Sir Malcolm Rifkind KCMG QC

Malcolm Rifkind was born in Edinburgh in 1946. He was educated at George Watson’s College and Edinburgh University where he studied law before taking a postgraduate degree in political science. In 1970, he was called to the Bar in Scotland and practiced as an Advocate until 1979. He was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1985. In 1974 he was elected as MP for Pentlands and represented that constituency until 1997. Sir Malcolm was appointed to the Front Bench in 1975 but resigned over devolution in 1977.

In 1979, when the Conservatives were returned to power under Margaret Thatcher, he was appointed a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, at first in the Scottish Office and then, at the time of the Falklands War, he was transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, being promoted to Minister of State in 1983. He became a member of the Cabinet in 1986 as Secretary of State for Scotland. In 1990 he became Secretary of State for Transport and in 1992 Secretary of State for Defence. From 1995-97 he was Foreign Secretary. In 1997 he was knighted in recognition of his public service.

Sir Malcolm was re-elected as a Member of Parliament in May 2005 for Kensington and Chelsea. He was elected as Member of Parliament for Kensington in May 2010 and remained in Parliament until 2015. He served as UK representative on the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group 2010-2011 and as Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which provides oversight of the UK’s intelligence agencies, MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, from 2010 until 2015. He was a member of the OSCE’s Eminent Persons Group, which reported on relations between Russia and the West. He also serves on the Board of the Nuclear Threat Initiative in Washington DC. He has been appointed a Visiting Professor at King’s College, London and is a Senior Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). In 2017 he was invited by the British Government to become Co-Chairman of the Polish-British Belvedere Forum.


Dr Volodymyr Ogryzko

Dr Volodymyr Ogryzko (PhD History) began his political career in 1978 when he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine as an Attaché in the Press Department. Between 1992 and 1996, he was a Counsellor in the Embassies of Ukraine in the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Austria. In 1996-99 he served as the Head of the Foreign Policy Department of the Presidential Administration in Kyiv, Ukraine. Between 1999 and 2004 he was Ukrainian Ambassador to the Austrian Republic, and Permanent Representative to the OSCE and other international organisations in Vienna.

From February 2005 to December 2007 he was First Deputy Minister, Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. Ambassador Ogryzko served as the Minister for Foreign Affairs between 2007 and 2009. He then became the First Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine from 2009 – 2010.

Since 2014 Dr Ogryzko has been the CEO of the Centre for Russian Studies. In 2016 he joined The Independent Defence Anti-Corruption Committee (NAKO). NAKO is a joint initiative of the UK-based Transparency International Defence & Security Programme, and Transparency International Ukraine.


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