I’d never heard of the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group (EASLG) until today, even though it turns out that one of its members has the office next door to mine. Its website says that it seeks to respond to the challenge of East-West tensions by convening ‘former and current officials and experts from a group of Euro-Atlantic states and the European union to test ideas and develop proposals for improving security in areas of existential common interest’. It hopes thereby to ‘generate trust through dialogue.’
It’s hard to object to any of this, but its latest statement, entitled ‘Twelve Steps Toward Greater Security in Ukraine and the Euro-Atlantic Region’, doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The ‘twelve steps’ the EASLG proposes to improve security in Eastern Ukraine are generally pretty uninspiring, being largely of the ‘set up a working group to explore’ variety, or of such a vaguely aspirational nature as to be almost worthless (e.g. ‘Advance reconstruction of Donbas … An essential first step is to conduct a credible needs assessment for the Donbas region to inform a strategy for its social-economic recovery.’ Sounds nice, but in reality doesn’t amount to a hill of beans).
For the most part, these proposals attempt to treat the symptoms of the war in Ukraine without addressing the root causes. In a sense, that’s fine, as symptoms need treating, but it’s sticking plaster when the patient needs some invasive surgery. At the end of its statement, though, the EASLG does go one step further with ‘Step 12: Launch a new national dialogue about identity’, saying:
A new, inclusive national dialogue across Ukraine is desirable and could be launched as soon as possible. … Efforts should be made to engage with perspectives from Ukraine’s neighbors, especially Poland, Hungary, and Russia. This dialogue should address themes of history and national memory, language, identity, and minority experience. It should include tolerance and respect for ethnic and religious minorities … in order to increase engagement, inclusiveness, and social cohesion.
This is admirably trendy and woke, but in the Ukrainian context somewhat explosive, as it implicitly challenges the identity politics of the post-Maidan regime. Unsurprisingly, it’s gone down like a lead balloon in Kiev. The notorious website Mirotvorets even went so far as to add former German ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger to its blacklist of enemies of Ukraine for having had the temerity to sign the EASLG statement and thus ‘taking part in Russia’s propaganda events aimed against Ukraine.’ Katherine Quinn-Judge of the International Crisis Group commented on Twitter, ‘As the idea of dialogue becomes more mainstream, backlash to the concept grows fiercer.’ ‘In Ukraine, prominent pro-Western politicians, civic activists, and media, have called Step 12 “a provocation” and “dangerous”,’ she added
Quinn-Judge comes across as generally sympathetic to the Ukrainian narrative about the war in Donbass, endorsing the idea that it’s largely a product of ‘Russian aggression’. But she also recognizes that the war has an internal, social dimension which the Ukrainian government and its elite-level supporters refuse to acknowledge. Consequently, they also reject any sort of dialogue, either with Russia or with the rebels in Donbass. As Quinn-Judge notes in another Tweet:
An advisor to one of Ukraine’s most powerful pol[itician]s told us recently of his concern about talk of dialogue in international and domestic circles. ‘We have all long ago agreed among ourselves. We need to return our territory, and then work with that sick – sick – population.’
This isn’t an isolated example. Quinn-Judge follows up with a couple more similar statements:
Social resentments underpin some opposition to disengagement, for example. An activist in [government-controlled] Shchastye told me recently that she feared disengagement and the reopening of the bridge linking the isolated town to [rebel-held] Luhansk: ‘I don’t want all that trash coming over here.’
In 2017, a woman working with frontline families told me why she didn’t want reintegration. ‘These [the population of rebel-held Donbass] are people with a minimum level of human development, people raised by their TVs. Okay, so we live together, then what? We’re trying to build a completely new society.’
And there once again you have it – one of the primary causes of the war in Ukraine: the contempt with which the post-Maidan government and its activist supporters regard a significant portion of their fellow citizens, the ‘sick trash’ of Donbass with their ‘minimum level of human development’. You can fiddle with treating Donbass’ symptoms as much as you like, à la EASLG, but unless you tackle this fundamental problem, the disease will keep on ravaging the subject for a long time to come. In due course, I suggest, the only realistic cure will be to remove the patient entirely from the cause of infection.