Impressions from the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

Posted on 12. December 2014

by Ulyana Vynyarchuck

ulyana-vynyarchuck-modifiedThis year I have experienced Berlin in a new way. It has been absolutely priceless to witness and get emotionally involved in the ceremony dedicated to the fall of the Berlin Wall while standing in the tightly and chaotically packed but happy crowd in front of the Brandenburger Tor. There must be a special chemistry that gets produced when people come together and bring their hopes and aspirations to one physically defined place, at one specific time in order to express their active citizenship and political will. I felt the same way when I was in Kiev in 2004.

This historical event has been much referred to during the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum this year. Still, it did not save the overall mood of the panel discussions, which were far less optimistic.  As programmed in its schedule, the Forum was all about conflicts, tensions and future war scenarios, in particular about future conflicts in Asia and ongoing wars in the Middle East and Ukraine. The irony of these conflicts was highlighted by Jane Harman, the Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, who nicely observed that the actors involved in each case are more or less the same. Another important feature of the conflicts was identified by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, who said that none of the conflicts mentioned above ‘came out of the blue’.  A lot of participants also regretted the loss of trust between the West and Russia, particularly Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference.

But to make the negotiation process a success, a sound sense of the balance of interests would need to be regained, at a minimum. This revelation expressed during the Forum set a different tone and will hopefully stimulate parties to think about their ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ in a cooperative way. Such an approach can save both parties from falling into extremes, from polarisation, from bringing back the obsolete debate about the Cold War. As was rightly mentioned during the Forum by the German Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Steinmeier, to come up with political solutions to the crises mentioned above, the international community has to deal “with all shades of grey”; the war in my country is no exception.

Thus it was of paramount importance to have representatives of the conflicting parties as well as from intermediaries like the EU and US in the discussion panel on Ukraine. The conflict has to be tackled on so many levels, including economic, humanitarian, intercultural and interpersonal. I therefore doubt  that the sanctions against Russia have any real impact. Ideally, the imposed sanctions should either trigger a transformation in the Russian political establishment or convince its president to change his mind.  This was, for almost all European representatives that were present at the Forum, the only way forward. Their US colleague from ‘Freedom House’, David Cramer, made an alternative suggestion, saying that no matter how unacceptable the military intervention of the West appears these days, it should not have been excluded from the negotiation toolbox at the official level. However, what turns out to be the real strength of the US’ and EU’s position in the conflict is their unity and coordination of efforts.

Obviously, this does not seem to be a sufficient response for the moment, since there is no clear plan or roadmap as to when or how to bring the conflict to an end. While a fragile ceasefire has been declared by the parties, the fights go on and every now and then the dead, injured and those seeking asylum are reported. The fight for the Donetsk airport has never even stopped. The worst possible scenario for my country is to join the club of countries such as Syria or Palestine, where no real solution is in sight, despite the Western democracies’ joint condemnation. The devastation caused by war is reducing the importance of economic development, which is highly influenced by expectations. And while the humanitarian assistance is extremely crucial at this critical time, when thousands of my countrymen are putting their lives at stake for the sake of their country and approximately one million of them were turned into refugees according to a UN report, the lack of economic development is one of the root causes of the war, which means it has to be addressed first to prevent the situation from escalating even further.

As I already mentioned, this year, Berlin had a special meaning to me; it made me think of war and ruins in the East of my country. Even though I felt devastated, the city also gave me hope that with joint efforts, the destroyed towns can be rebuilt, and filled with new meanings.