Who Lost Ukraine? Dr. Matta discusses Crisis in the EU’s neighbourhood at Access Europe in Amsterdam


On 11 December, Dr. Aaron Matta participated in a public debate entitled: Crisis in the EU’s neighbourhood – Who lost Ukraine?, and organized by ACCESS EUROPE – a cooperation of University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VUA) – a platform for research, education and public debate about Europe, the European Union and its member states. 

The discussants included Prof. Ulrich Schneckener of the University of Osnabrück and Director of the Centre for Research on Democracy and Peace; Dr. Aaron Matta, Senior Researcher of the Rule of Law Program at The Hague Institute for Global Justice; Ms. Ulrike Hauer, Head of Section of the European Neighbourhood Policy at the European External Action Service, and currently working at the European Commission’s Support Group for Ukraine; and Prof. Wolfgang Wagner (moderator) chair in International Security at the Vu university Amsterdam.

The purpose of the debate was to offer different perspectives on the Ukrainian crisis. Prof. Schneckener analysed the situation in Ukraine zooming in on the dynamics of the conflict. Following him, Dr. Matta provided a broader geopolitical analysis on the main tensions between Russia and the West. Lastly, Ms. Hauer provided an overview of the current situation from the perspective of the EU. After the presentations the floor was open to the public for a questions and answers session.

Dr. Matta first stressed that Ukraine was nobodies’ to be lost but by the Ukrainian people. His presentation focused on what, in his view, are the four main issues surrounding the current crisis, which are strongly related to the polarization of the relations between Russia and the West. First, he addressed the issue of Russia’s international status as well as the Russian sentiment of a recurrent humiliation by the West as perceived by the Kremlin. Understanding this sentiment is important to understand the Russian (over-)reaction to the crisis. Second, he discussed the sensitive nature of NATO military expansion and the resulting fragility of the Russian borders. Third, Dr. Matta examined the issue of economic interdependence between Russia and the EU, mainly in the sphere of energy trade, but also the repercussions on the current crisis of EU’s previous enlargements and the new Association Agreement with Ukraine. In particular the foreseen Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between the EU and Ukraine has generated inflated concerns on the Russian side. Lastly, Dr. Matta explained why the Kremlin might feel unease with the development of democracy and the rule of law at its borders. While the extension of Western democracy towards Russia’s borders is not a new phenomenon, the fact that it is now taking place in Ukraine is of great ideological importance due to fears of potential spill-over effects that may threaten the current Russian regime.

These four aspects and the current situation in Ukraine show a fundamental clash, not only of interests, but also of ideology between the West and the Russian Federation in terms of how the world works and should work. The Western approach, particularly the EU, focuses on promotion of market liberalisation, democracy, rule of law and human rights principles. The Russian approach remains authoritarian and based on Cold War era thinking of zones of influences and zero-sum approaches. Hence, while the Western approach aims at empowerment, the Russian approach aims at control.

Dr. Matta concluded that a crucial task for the West, particularly for the EU, is to actually devise a united foreign policy strategy towards Russia. A crucial task for Russia, however, is to revise its foreign policy, and to adapt it to a worldview that is both inclusive and respectful of international legal norms in order to avoid further isolation in the future. Finally, if Ukraine is to succeed as a country it should play the role of a bridge rather than a buffer zone between the EU and Russia, and this is no simple task.

For more information on the debate, please read here.

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