The other day, I spoke at a workshop on the risks to Estonia from the Ukraine crisis. My basic point was that whatever is happening now did not just suddenly take shape. It is the result of at least two long term trends. The first trend relates to Ukraine itself. The country fell off the reform bandwagon a long, long time ago. Failure of governance alienated the population to an alarming degree and it isolated Ukraine in the region. This has been evidenced by corruption, but the underlying illness is lack of effective governance. The second trend is Russian. For reasons that are not 100% clear, Russia’s leaders decided that Europe is more adversary than friend. Perhaps it is because Russian leaders reject the types of policy lines that being “European” would impose (like raising human rights protections and improving democratic process). As a result, Ukraine made itself vulnerable to Russian intervention.
So Estonians should do what it can to avoid what isolated Ukraine and alienated its own people. Check. So what about Russia? That is a European and American headache. George Soros argues that it is the right moment to “invest” in Ukraine to turn it around. Others say that the west should try to negotiate a solution with Russia, acknowledging its regional interests.
My take on this — Russia has breached an underlying security principle that in Europe, countries don’t invade each other to change borders. This changes the game. And now that the game is changed, it would be foolish to play by the old rules. We cannot just negotiate our way out of this. In other words, this is not just a negotiation problem. It is bigger than that. Putting things in their best light, it is an opportunity to re-affirm what we believe in. And it is an opportunity that we would do well to take.