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The Ukraine Crisis: What's Next for Europe?

Anförande vid Summit on the Future of Europe, Harvard University, USA

A century after the catastrophe of 1914, which ended a long age of peace and progress for Europe, and ushered in a long period of darkness, destruction and division, the spectre of war is once again haunting Europe.

It was only little more than a decade ago that the European Union, in its only attempt so far to formulate a security strategy, proudly stated that "Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free" and that we had entered into "a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history."

Today, these words ring hollow.

This year is not only a century since 1914, it's also three quarters of a century since 1939 and a quarter of a century since 1989.

And it was only in 1989 that we were able to get rid of the last of the legacies of 1914 and start to build a Europe whole and free, democratic and dynamic.

Progress was indeed remarkable, making it possible to write the words I just quoted from the European Security Strategy of 2003.

We saw a number of things happen that were good, although we also had a decade of war in the Balkans.

All of this was made possible by the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union, as the communist system crumbled and collapsed under the weight of its own massive failures.

The red flag of empire and ideology was taken down from the Kremlin. Instead the red, blue and white national flag of Russia was raised.

In those days I remember also consulting the expertise of Harvard on what might lie ahead and where Russia was heading.

At a meeting in Stockholm we listened to Professor Richard Pipes, whose "Russia under the Old Regime" remains one of the best studies of that country ever made.

I vividly remember asking him whether he was optimistic or pessimistic on the prospects of a decent and democratic Russia emerging.

Yes, he said, he was fairly optimistic.

Naively, I thought he was talking in terms of a few months or a few years. Politicians sometimes have rather short time perspectives.

No, he said, correcting me. He was talking in terms of a few generations.

But in spite of this sombre assessment, we made remarkable progress even with Russia during the decade that followed.

Together, we laid the foundations for a new system of peace and stability on the European continent. And this was based on some of the key lessons of the past.

One of them was that existing state borders must always be respected.

This was laid down in the Belavezha Accords on the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and was reaffirmed when the Badinter Commission assessed fundamental principles in the face of the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

It wasn't that these borders and boundaries were particularly natural, particularly accepted or followed national boundaries in every single detail. It wasn't just in the territory of the former Soviet Union or the former Yugoslavia that you could find examples where this was not necessarily the case.

But more or less all the borders and boundaries of Europe had been drawn in blood, and reopening them would mean, literally, opening up the possibility of blood starting to flow again.

Thus, the inviolability of existing borders and boundaries was laid down as a fundamental principle for our new order of peace and security. Any change had to be peaceful and by agreement with everyone concerned.

The other key lesson that formed the basis for the new order was that there is a connection between the internal order and the external conduct of a state.

This wasn't just a question of the bitter experience of a Hitler and a Stalin and their respective policies, it had deeper roots.

In his treatise "Zum Ewigen Frieden" (Perpetual Peace), Immanuel Kant had long ago stated that what he called a republican order, a representative government, of all states was a precondition for any form of durable peace.

It was these principles and lessons that were agreed upon and codified in the Charter of Paris in 1990 and became the basis for the comprehensive concept of peace underlying the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Peace was not just the temporary absence of war, but a system of cooperation and integration between nations, and respect for the fundamental human rights of each and every human being.

And we enjoyed a remarkably long period of progress.

Russia did develop. And our expectation was that there would be the emergence of a middle class; that there would be an opening up of society; and that there would be a gradual Europeanisation of Russian society.

Part of that did happen. If you look at the World Bank figures, they estimate that the middle class went from 30 per cent to 60 per cent of the population. That is rather remarkable progress.

But the political development of Russia took another course.

And this was of course also connected with the failure to develop a diversified economy and the almost exclusive reliance on the centrally controlled extraction of natural resources, primarily oil and gas.

Instead of the more modern and open Russia that we had hoped would emerge - and that we still hope will emerge - we saw the development of Russia as an increasingly authoritarian petrostate.

And it is here that we find the root cause of the crisis that we are now confronted with in the east of Europe.

Russia has emerged as a revisionist power violating and questioning the very foundations of the European order of peace and stability that we had started to build. And that was built on principles that were also agreed with Russia at the time.

A year ago very few would have predicted that we would see not only the invasion, occupation, and annexation of Crimea, but also the determined use of what is today called hybrid warfare to establish a Novorossiya and effectually dismember the independent and sovereign state of Ukraine.

The crisis started with the attempts by the Kremlin to stop a free trade and association agreement between the EU and Ukraine. The agreement itself was hardly a novelty - it had been negotiated between 2007 and 2011 and had been initialled by the parties in early 2012.

It was hardly particularly sensational. Ukraine has a free trade agreement with Russia and with the CIS and there is nothing that is incompatible between having a free trade agreement in one direction and having a free trade agreement in another.

So when we proceeded with these particular agreements it was not going to violate any of the existing commitments or agreements between Ukraine and Russia and the other CIS States.

This agreement was of course part of the attempt by the European Union to set up an Eastern Partnership in 2008. The Eastern Partnership was an attempt to answer some of the demands that were coming from these countries for cooperation, integration and help from the European Union.

And I say this because sometimes in the debate you get the impression that the EU proposed something. Yes, we did. But we proposed something as an answer to demands that were coming from them.

It is a fact that nearly every state in the periphery of the European Union wants to be part of the European single market; wants to have access to the European market; and wants to have access to the modernisation potential that European integration represents. And that was also the basis for the Eastern Partnership.

But if the agreement wasn't new, strong Russian objections to Ukraine entering into it certainly were.

And to me this must be seen in connection with Vladimir Putin launching the idea of a Eurasian Union as perhaps the most important part of his platform as he returned as President of Russia. And suddenly there was an incompatibility in his view between the direction Ukraine had been taking for years and what he was trying to set up. And that is the root of the crisis.

The crisis that started late last summer, and which it took some time for many to even notice, has been a crisis where every step has been driven by the Kremlin. Economic pressure. Massive media and propaganda efforts. Invasion, occupation and annexation of Crimea. Efforts to set up the so-called people's republics in easternmost Ukraine. Gradually increasing supplies of heavy and advanced weapons.

Following the intervention of regular units of the Russian army in the easternmost parts of Ukraine, de facto defeating the Ukrainian forces there, we now have a cease-fire that looks like putting us on the path to another frozen conflict in Europe. It will be the fourth directly on the border with Russia, and it will be the fifth supported and sustained by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.

A year ago very few observers predicted the course of events we have seen since then. There were certainly hawks in the debate uttering warnings about where Russia was heading. But not even any of them dared to predict two Russian invasions of Ukraine within less than a year.

Where we will be one year, five years or ten years from now I don't know. But I do know that President Putin has embarked on a new revisionist course. And I do know that according to the constitutional arrangements he has put in place he could well be in power in Russia a decade from now as well. And I do know that much will depend on what happens in and with Ukraine.

Sanctions against Russia - as part of our policy to make it clear that violations of borders are not acceptable, and the destabilisation of countries is not acceptable - are one thing. They have their role within the context of a broader policy.

But help to Ukraine in different ways is, in my opinion, far more important to influence the eventual outcome. And in particular help to Ukraine to reform its economy, to get rid of its corruption, to end its insane dependence on heavily subsidised gas, and to preserve and strengthen its democratic political system.

Through all the problems and failures of Ukraine over the years, Ukraine has kept a democratic system of governance.

If it succeeds in doing so, Ukraine will survive, the ambitions of today's Kremlin will be blocked and the fears for the future we today see in large parts of Europe will subside. And then we can also return to a constructive discussion about what I call the integration of the different integrations of Europe and to a partnership for modernisation with Russia as well. Both are needed and both would be beneficial for all.

But if Ukraine does not succeed, then I fear we might well be heading for a very complicated European future.

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