Seeking peace: an interesting debate took place in Helsinki about the future of Ukraine, with activists leaders from Georgia, Russia and Ukraine and Antti Pentikäinen

An article written by Gabriella Cseh

Debat Ukraine 1“Rule of law against rule of friends who are negotiating” or ethnic conflict? This question describes one of the main axis of the discussion organised by Riku Eskelinen, candidate for the Centre Party in the Finnish Parliament. The goal of this afternoon event on 28 February (held in the Arkadia Bookshop) did not lack ambition: it set out to seek a solution to how to end the year-long crisis in Ukraine.

A sad à propos, the programme started by a minute of silence for Boris Nemtsov, Russian opposition leader who was assassinated in Moscow the day prior. Unsurprisingly, Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin were heavily present in the discussions that were supposed to come up with solutions on the Ukrainian conflict.

Putting in context past events

The speakers started off by putting in context the current situation in Ukraine, the main question being “how did we get here?”. We must commend the organisers for putting together a very diverse panel of speakers – this set the scene for an understandably animated discussion: Bessarion Gugushvili (former prime minister of Georgia, August 1991 – January 1992, a resident of Vantaa since 2008) argued that the conflict in Ukraine is an ethnic one between Ukrainians and Russians, going further, a downright civil war. He stated that no solution can be found, or even envisaged, as long as the local and international community refuses to acknowledge this.

Ksenia Vakhrusheva (Russian opposition activist from the Russian United Democratic Party “Yabloko”, belonging to Liberal International and affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party) and Denis Pertsev (Head of the Ukrainian Association in Finland) disagreed with this assessment: their starting point was that the conflict in Ukraine is not an ethnic one but a conflict of values. As Ukraine happens to be on the border of countries of liberal democracy and Putin’s Russia, both seeking to expand their territory of influence, and due to historical developments, the Ukrainian society is divided when it comes to democratic values: do they want a liberal democracy, a rule of law or do they wish for a system where the leading oligarch’s friends make deals and negotiate in their own favour and this drives public policy?

Despite the different interpretations that were proposed, there were two points where the majority of the speakers agreed: they see that Russia is threatened by the Eastern expansion of NATO and would do its best to prevent the neighbouring countries from integrating in the Western European block of EU and NATO. In this light, it is even more interesting to observe that basically all the speakers deplored the perceived blatant inaction of the EU and the international community as a whole. What action they took, speakers estimated, was too little and too late.

Predictions for the future

Debat Ukraine 2Riku Eskelinen invited the speakers to reflect on possible ways forward; he asked them to explain how they see the situation evolving in some years’ time. In short, one could say that the past will steer the future. All the speakers underlined that the damages have been severe, both from economic and from humanitarian point of view. No matter the economic difficulties Russia is suffering, they all agreed that it is in Putin’s best interest to keep the situation as unstable as it has been (preventing any further Western orientation), which is likely to translate into this conflict (referring to Crimea and Donbass) becoming not an escalating but a frozen one, not unlike Abkhazia, Transnistria and South-Ossetia.

Speakers agreed on the need for Ukraine to step up its efforts against corruption, which will be indispensable for a real change in society and political decision-making. The help of the international community, in particular the EU will be needed for strengthening the rule of law and Denis Pertsev added that even for taking back the control of the borders (this latter becoming possible in a few years time, due to Russia’s economic challenges). It was pointed out though, that one has to analyse all present threats to peace and weigh the Ukrainian issue against other problems, such as the worldwide proliferation of terrorism.

What can be done?

The third and last part of the discussion was the liveliest and involved many interventions from the audience, as well. It started off by listening to Antti Pentikäinen (Executive Director of Finn Church Aid organization, specialist in conflict mediation) who shared his views on and experiences in peace negotiations.

He underlined that contrary to popular belief, time rarely heals wounds in conflicts if nothing happens. He underlined the role of local communities in peace negotiations and gave participants some guidelines by which a way forward can be envisaged. For every peace negotiation, he said, some basic elements need to be clear: who negotiates on both sides and on what basis? Following this logic, it was striking how the EU has been missing so far: it was only Merkel, Hollande being mentioned – not Mogherini or Ashton! The US has been notedly disengaged, Obama being somewhat stuck in Bush’s foreign policy heritage.

Having touched upon the “who”, the next question to tackle was the “on what basis”. Various can be envisaged, including an economic one, where a promise of a profound economic reform might appeal to Russians. A determining factor will also be the spirit and tolerance of Russian citizens: after the assassination of Nemtsov, one might wonder until which point they will tolerate Putin and his cronies? How will the rebels’ leadership re-evaluate? These factors might very well weigh in the negotiating balance. In any case, it was made very clear that whatever way is the one to go, if lacking political will on both sides, it will go nowhere.

The final part of the discussion focussed on concrete actions that might help. Among others, proper peacekeeping measures (including an optimal composition of peace-keeping forces), personalised sanctions and curtailing the economic movement of Putin’s cronies were evoked.

What did we learn?

Various positions and opinions were outlined during the discussion, ranging from ethnic-based civil war to an eventual EU membership within two generations’ time. All this being parts of a bigger puzzle, it is clear that Ukraine is a country and a society on the border of conflicting values and interests, with a strained past and a future which depends heavily on the international community. A country which was unprepared for the aggression – a lesson for Finland to take: a country can never be prepared enough. Establishing and strengthening the rule of law in Ukraine is essential, but this can be envisaged only with sufficient political will and real buy-in from Ukrainian citizens. The international community has a responsibility, both externally and internally – many feel that this has not been honoured so far and it will have to be assumed in the future. Looking at international, and more particularly on the EU, its relation vis-a-vis Russia is still unclear. A major building block of cleaning it up would be an independent energy policy. To be seen how that develops with the recently presented Energy Union Package.

Participants, including Finnish, Ukrainian, Russian, French, Macedonian and many other nationalities, continued the discussion on their way to the Russian embassy. They put flowers in commemoration of Boris Nemtsov, a key figure of Russian opposition, killed with four bullets in front of the Kremlin.

Categories: Immigration

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6 replies

  1. It was interested to read this, thx. But what about Eskelinen Riku’s opinion about size of Russian Federation, which he aired on his FB site? On the 19th of July he said that Russia could be smaller. Did you discussed about it?

    Russian opposition…. this opinion… parliamentary elections… Interesting combination…


    • Answer from Riku Eskelinen

      Russia is a huge country, which has many disputed territories inside of
      its own borders. Luckily many of its hot spots have calmed down lately.

      Nevertheless, it is possible that in future we will see rising demands for
      independence in certain regions of Russia. In those cases, citizens of
      those regions must be able to decide about their future in free and fair
      referendums for independence.

      Also other countries should follow the same rule. It is up to the citizens
      of Catalunya, Scotland, Åland Islands, Crimea, South Ossetia, Transnistria
      or any other region in Europe to decide themselves about their
      independence or belonging to another country.

      Also Finland could be smaller, but in these decisions, power must be given
      to local level. I have no problems of giving independence to Åland or
      Ostro-Bothnia if majority of citizens of those regions would demand for
      that. And I have nothing against them being part of my country. This is
      what I mean when I say that Russia could be smaller than it is nowadays.


      • Maybe. Yours opinion have a right to be and it isn’t wrong.

        But, let’s take the example. You smoothly leave behind the problem of the forced swedish language in Finland’s regions… As you saying, power must be given to local level, so why it isn’t working in Finland’s regions, there people don’t want forced swedish? If this kind of decisions on a local level are not possible yet in our democracy society, how we / they talk about becoming independent…?

        When unions collapse, some will always suffer and unfortunately usually the aged ones….

        I agree, people must to have a right to choose but…… “there is no spoon”…

        You politics, are trying to create a multicultural society, but at the same time you encourage local regions to fight for independence… Are you trying to break the boarders or create a new ones?

        In case of the forced sweden, this idea of the right to choose, does’t work inside one country and you are trying to bring “not working”-idea to the word…?

        From the other side of view, you are also creating multilayer unions – part of the European countries are in EU, others only in the NATO, thirds belong to both… I think you know what I mean… the decision will be extremely hard if…

        You said:

        “Nevertheless, it is possible that in future we will see rising demands for
        independence in certain regions of Russia. In those cases, citizens of
        those regions must be able to decide about their future in free and fair
        referendums for independence.”

        Yeah…you said it… The West don’t want to see strong and unitary Russia, as it was in the beginning of the 1900 century… More pleasing for the West is to see Russia as a consumer society… as Finland now..

        We already almost killed own agriculture… 😦

        Russia is big and big is always scary – “it is more scary to approach a big truck instead sedan”, isn’t it?


  2. Thank you for your interesting comments. I would like to decentralise power also in Finland in many issues. One of them is the question of obligatory Swedish. In my opinion, municipalities and/or students should have a possibility to choose Russian instead of Swedish especially in Eastern Finland.

    I believe that nation states are actually needed but they should work in close cooperation as the members of the European Union do at the moment. Let’s take climate change as an example. Isn’t it stupid that there is no international democratic body responsible for making decision on tackling the climate change? I dream of a Europe where also Russia belongs to the same democratic union with us and where this kind of decisions are made together. I dream of a unified Europe where there are nation states but competition between them is healthy and peaceful – not bloody and sick as it is now.



  1. Riku Eskelinen, candidate in Helsinki, from political and environmental activism to the Centre Party | Finland politics

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