Hanna Shelest

HannaShelest's picture
Hanna Shelest
Editor-in-Chief at the journal UA: Ukraine Analytica
Online press conference with the editor in chief  at UA: Ukraine Analytica Hanna Shelest.

Armen Minasyan (Armenia), www.panorama.am

Question: The Eastern Partnership program is considered by many Russian politicians as a geopolitical project for the formation of the so-called buffer zone along the Russian border and prevent the expansion of Moscow's influence. How justified is this position?

 Answer: This position underlines the traditional Russian fears about the withdrawal of the former Soviet republics from under its influence. EaP was offered to Russia in 2008, but Russia refused to join, just as the Soviet Union turned down the Marshall Plan back in the past. Moreover, for many years the Russian Federation has stated that NATO is the threat, not the EU, therefore, the countries who initiated the Eastern Partnership would hardly expect that such a program could be so dramatically received by Moscow further on.

Question: In your opinion, how important is the Commonwealth of Independent States at the moment?

 Answer: Unfortunately, this organization has long lost its relevance. And this has to do not only with the Ukrainian crisis. The main problem of the CIS has always been its goal; not the union of states for mutually beneficial cooperation, but an attempt to save the Soviet connections. That is, in fact, they were holding onto the past instead of trying to build a future. And, of course, this was not without Russia's attempts to retain full control over the organization, not the perception of it as a union of equal members. Best of all it was manifested during the negotiations on the establishment of a free trade zone, with Moscow acting as the major hinderer. Even the agreement that was signed in 2011 had such a number of exceptions from the Russian side, which actually made it unprofitable to the rest of the CIS members. Therefore, back in the mid-2000s the organization became just a forum to exchange views and to maintain the appearance of unity. 

Question: If yes, is it possible to assume that the latest agreement on the Syrian issue has to some extent excluded such a development?

 Answer: The Syrian crisis has just received a new turn because of the Russian intervention, which was negatively perceived even by Turkey. Therefore, we can hardly speak of any agreements or results. Things are just beginning. 

Question: In your opinion, is the Cold War possible in the 21st century, roughly by the same parameters that existed in the confrontation between the USSR and the West?

 Answer: No. Unfortunately, the current situation is much more complex than it was during the Cold War. At that time there were certain unspoken rules and principles of conduct for the so-called super powers, as a result of which they succeeded to avoid many crises. Now, these principles are not there, and some powers allow themselves to violate the basic principles of international law and world politics. When there are no rules of the game that are clear and accepted by all the players, it becomes a fight without rules, where the result is unpredictable. 

Question: Do you think there will be an escalation of the frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space?

 Answer: I really hope that the military confrontation will still be averted. For the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, South Ossetia and Abkhazia chances are great; NKR has, unfortunately, the given rise to concerns in the course of the last year. It should be understood that at present the hybrid methods of influence and the destabilization of the situation will play a much greater role than provoking armed clashes.

Question: Does a split threaten Ukraine at the moment?

 Answer: No. Ukraine as a nation is united as never before. And when we say a nation, we don’t mean ethnic Ukrainians; we mean the classical notion of a political nation as identification with the state, not the definition of the concept perverted by the Soviet science. Political conflicts that intensified during the election is a normal process for any democratic state and transitional period.

Question: What do you think the key to the resolution of the conflict in the Donbass is?

 Answer: Conflicts do not have the keys to resolution. In conflicts there are people who suffer, some players who manipulate it, and the resources that are spent not on development, but on destruction. Unfortunately, a cease-fire and the withdrawal of the Russian military will not be sufficient to solve all the problems that have emerged as a consequence of events in the past eighteen months.


David Stepanyan (Armenia), www.arminfo.am

 Question: Good afternoon, Anna. Despite President Obama's veto on a draft US defense budget for 2016, planning assistance of  300 million USD to the Ukrainian army, among other things,  Kiev hopes that the military and other US assistance to Ukraine will continue through the so-called continuing resolution, which will transfer the volume of budget expenditures of  2015 to the next financial year. Can you please assess the effectiveness of the US aid to the Ukrainian Army in light of the prolonged conflict in the south-east of the country?

 Answer: Good afternoon. The defense budget is only part of the assistance, which Ukraine receives from the United States and other partner countries in the military and defense sector. This figure is rather the quantification of the direct assistance in the form of certain types of weapons. At the same time the United States has provided substantial assistance in the process of reforming the army, training soldiers and officers, transferring medical and other ancillary equipment. It is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the US aid apart from other countries, because the efficiency is in synergy. Ukraine still primarily relies on its own power and strength.

Question: Recently, the Federation Council Speaker of the RF Valentina Matviyenko expressed confidence that Russia and Ukraine are "doomed" to closely cooperate in the historical perspective. What is the percentage of Ukrainians ready to return to the relations with Russia in the period preceding the annexation of the Crimea, according to your estimates?

 Answer: Phrases "doomed" and "brother nations" that have recently been heard from the Russian politicians are more similar to the "mantra" and self-persuasion as in the old movie about the "I am the most charming and attractive." Such statements cause only sad smiles in Ukraine. You cannot go to the neighbor’s garden, destroy it, beat his relatives, and then say - let's be friends. For 300 years Russia has not come to understand that the Ukrainians are very patient, but this patience shall not be abused. Yes, in the best case scenario, the two countries will restore a certain relationship, because we cannot change the geography. Yes, many will continue to speak Russian and read Russian classical literature, because it is part of history and culture. But an understanding of how different we are is becoming stronger day by day. This is basic stuff. For Ukraine freedom and dignity are above everything else, whereas stability and strength for which they are willing to sacrifice even liberty are priorities for Russia.

Question: The participation of the Russian Air Force in the elimination of terrorists in ISIS and Syria allowed President Vladimir Putin to somehow divert the international attention from the Ukrainian problems. What are the consequences on the conflict and the situation in Ukraine in general?

 Answer: To some extent the Russian operation in Syria and the policy with regard to Ukraine are parts of the same mosaic. Russia has always tried to be at the table of negotiations on key issues and problems in the world in order to underline its status which used to be there for the Soviet Union. Until recently, Iran's nuclear program was such an issue, in the negotiation of which Moscow took part regardless of the Ukrainian crisis. However, the Iranian issue was resolved, and in fact because of its actions in Ukraine Russia was left out of such formats that could emphasize its importance. The Russian interference in the Syrian conflict has multiple causes, but one of them was just to prove that Russia is needed at the table of negotiations, it cannot be excluded, even regardless of all the isolation and sanctions in connection with the Ukrainian issue. Diverting attention from Russia’s involvement in Ukraine could have been an objective. However, so far the Western countries have been considering the two issues in parallel. Nobody is going to weaken the sanctions or the criticism only because of Moscow's participation in the talks on Syria.

Question: According to the Ukrainian and Russian media, the President of Poland Andrzej Duda called Poles "to be ready to fight for the return of Polesia, Galicia and Volyn." Kiev  that is aspiring to Europe is not worried about these statements, given that similar claims may well be posed by two more EU members in the person of Hungary and Romania?

 Answer: The news is fake. No such statement has been made by the President of Poland. See the investigation of the matter here: http://www.stopfake.org/smi-pridumali-tsitatu-prezidenta-polshi-o-vozvra.... I think you might have noticed that no serious Ukrainian media published this "news." Unfortunately, propaganda, information war, rumors and fakes have become a significant weapon in this conflict. It would be very desirable for journalists to always carefully check the sources of information. During these 2 years, we regularly come across photoshopped photographs from Bosnia in 1995 to illustrate the Donbass 2014, where there are additional elements, phrases torn from the context and distorted translation of the statements made by world leaders, staged videos and so on. It is part of the formation of public opinion, including actions against threats. The Russian media, even before the current crisis, have often provided information about the alleged threat from Romania, Poland and Hungary to revise the Ukrainian border that caused only smiles those very countries, as they are interested in the territorial integrity and stability of Ukraine. Such statements today are only unsuccessful attempts to form public opinion that disintegration still awaits Ukraine, and that western countries also want to own pieces of Ukraine and that  Russia is not so unique in terms of the annexation of the Crimea. 

Question: Do you think the results of the recent local elections in Ukraine will change the layout of political forces in general, and the prospects of holding the power by Poroshenko, in particular?

 Answer: I think that no major changes will happen. The local elections primarily stressed the absence of monopoly on power by any Ukrainian party. Secondly, it was shown that not everyone is happy with the lack of reforms at that level, just as it was expected. Thirdly, since the elections were held under the new legislation, which is not very understandable to all, it was clear that many voted for familiar names rather than new people. Moreover, since the former Party of Regions is in fact divided into a number of new parties, some people also perceive it as the arrival of new forces. Poroshenko’s block has never had full power. Since 2014, there has been a coalition in Ukraine, so the "retention of power" is not a very correct expression.


Araks Martirosyan (Armenia), www.168.am

 Question: Hello, Anna. Since the beginning of the confrontation at the Maidan a view that not only the fate of Ukraine but all other countries of the Eastern Partnership, including Russia are decided in Kiev has been in circulation. What do you think of the impact of these processes in Ukraine, on the situation in other post-Soviet countries and in Armenia?

 Answer: Hello. We can both agree or disagree at this point. Many who believed Maidan could decide the fate of all the countries in the region, based their opinions on two main theses: that if Ukraine manages to get away from the pressure and influence of Russia, this is a chance others may also have; and that, if the Ukrainians are able to get away from the Soviet-oligarchic and corrupt existence, the other will also be able to. We all need examples to believe in ourselves. But the situation in the country can only be changed only by the people. It depends on their determination, potential and desire to change something. The Maidan is neither a formula, nor a medication. The Ukrainian Maidan began only as a social and political protest that could end quickly if the government did not choose to use force. Therefore, theoretically Maidan may theoretically inspire other nations to change, but the ways and the result may be different.

Question: How adequate is the response of the West to Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space? Do you see the need for the West to change its attitude in this space and to further toughen the approach, or what?

 Answer: The reactions of the Western countries are not homogeneous, which is natural, since they involve both bilateral relations with Russia, as well as priority foreign policy issues. The very Spain considers the situation in North Africa more threatening than that in Eastern Europe. Therefore, some delays in the initial phase and a long coordination had some negative effect. But in the future, a decision on sanctions and the consolidated position of all EU Member States have become an important political signal. Today, it is hardly worth talking about tightening approaches, if there is no deterioration of the situation in the East of Ukraine. But we need to talk about the impossibility of lifting the sanctions and the change in the positions, and this being out of the question, until Moscow and the territory under its control meet the Minsk Agreement and other international obligations. 

 Question: How do you see the future of EaP, when the three countries have Association Agreements with the EU, whereas the other three don’t, and two of them have already joined the EEU? What policy do you think the EU should pursue in this region?

 Answer: To date, the EU has actively started negotiations on the revision of the EaP and its adaptation to the current situation. Negotiations with the countries participating in the program are underway too. At the same time, the issue of participation of individual countries in the EEU is not critical, since the very same Armenia has resumed talks on the possible signing of an updated Association Agreement. And Belarus can strengthen cooperation with the EU after the lifting of sanctions, an announcement of which has been made this month. The EaP is primarily a program for the participating countries; it is not a first step towards membership.

Karine Asatryan (Armenia), www.a1plus.am

Question: What impact will the conflict with Russia have on the Ukrainian economy?

 Answer: The Ukrainian economy has never been fixated only on the Russian market. Our dependence is actually based on the energy factor. However, over the last 2 years we have significantly diversified energy supplies. Besides, after the signing of the Association Agreement the Ukrainian manufacturers have significantly increased the volumes of supply to the EU. Of course, some industries have suffered because of the discontinuation of relations with Russia, and because of the conflict in the east of the country. But on the other hand, it gave a significant boost to the modernization and adaptation of production, it made them think about energy efficiency and the need to find new markets.


"Hetq" Internet Newspaper (Armenia)

 Question: What are your predictions about the solution to the issue with the Dontesk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic on a mutually acceptable basis, and is there a reason to believe that this issue will still be resolved so that there is no return to the bloody phase? Can the parties fulfill all the scheduled steps of the Minsk Agreement until the referenda in the breakaway republics which seem to have been put off until February?

 Answer: All negotiations have demonstrated that the DPR and LPR are not independent players, as negotiations were primarily with Russia, with its control and coordination of positions. If Moscow did not supply arms to the region, if Ukraine could control its borders, the situation would have long ceased to be so acute. As of today, according to the latest agreements, the Ukrainian army is removing weapons from the contact line, while the other party regularly provokes fire, shooting at the Ukrainian positions in the hope of generating response. The issue of elections in this territory will be very revealing. It is impossible to hold elections at gunpoint and in violation of international laws and norms. Trying to hold elections with primitive methods, blocking the access of the media, observers and equal opportunities for all candidates - will only be a mockery of the Minsk Agreement.

 Question: Will there be a visa-free regime with the EU within the framework of the Association Agreement, in the event the issue of Kiev’s control over all border segments will not be solved (in relation to the LPR, DPR)? And in addition to this, can Kiev’s adoption of a visa-free regime with the EU mean that Ukraine has officially accepted its new borders along the perimeter of the Crimea that has now joined Russia? There are a number of Ukrainian NGOs that implement projects for the reintegration of the Crimea. Do you personally believe in the political reintegration of the Crimea?

 Answer: The EU does not stipulate full control over the territory for a visa-free regime, and they have emphasized it many times. For them, the fight against corruption in Ukraine is much more important. Ukraine cannot, either de facto or de jure, abandon its territories in any way through signing an agreement on visa-free regime, as its international borders in the east have been recognized and are not contested even by Russia. No citizen from the uncontrolled territories has changed their Ukrainian passports, so they remain as citizens as before. With regard to the Crimea, its annexation is recognized by the Russian Federation only, and for example, the Schengen countries do not issue visas to residents of the Crimea with a Crimean registration, but Russian passports in the embassies in Moscow; these people can get a "Schengen" only in Kiev. The issue of the Crimea will not be solved in 2-3 years, the levels of pressure, propaganda and displacement of the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian population from the peninsula are very high.

Question: What is the attitude in Ukraine to the position of the official Yerevan and Baku in terms of the Ukrainian crisis and general opposition between Kiev and Moscow? What are the main lessons learnt from the crisis for Kiev today, and is there a broad understanding of these findings in the circles of the political Establishment and the society?

 Answer: In Ukraine the positions of Yerevan and Baku are perceived with understanding. Of course, we would like Armenia to openly condemn the annexation of the Crimea, as a violation of basic norms of international law. However, we fully understand the level of pressure from the outside, and the existing conflicts in the Caucasus and the close economic ties, which are important for the country. So, I think that the Ukrainian state should work more actively with Armenia and Azerbaijan to have a more complete and accurate picture of what is happening and to see the situation and prospects of establishing stronger relations with Ukraine. As for the lessons learnt from the current crisis, we learn them every day. Both ordinary people and politicians. Yes, there are still those who hope to live by the old rules, but the rejection of corruption and the need to reform and the making of an effective and accountable state is no longer just a trend.


Tatevik Kazaryan (Armenia), www.news.am

 Question: Many Western analysts and experts say that the "Eastern Partnership" program of the European Union has been a complete failure. Do you see prospects for the development or expansion of the program?

 Answer: I would not say that the program has been a failure, although the expectations from it were much higher than its real effects. The program has achieved good results in the consolidation of civil society and cooperation between the countries of the Eastern Partnership, allowed to voice the important issues of cooperation with the EU in addition to the Association Agreement. Now we are in the process of revising it. It will be very important to see whether the lessons of the past years have been learnt or not, what the priorities for further activity will be, and what funding will be allocated for this.

 Question: How would you explain the sale of Ukrainian weapons to Azerbaijan - one of the parties of the Karabakh conflict?

 Answer: For many years Russia has actively been selling arms to both Armenia and Azerbaijan, very often arms of the same category and at a high total value. This issue does not cause the same level of interest as cooperation with Ukraine, which sold military aircrafts and helicopters, an activity that is not seen as critical when compared to the sale of missile systems and tanks. Ukraine is in compliance with all the rules of international law in the sale of weapons, and it maximally tries to take into account the situation in the region in order to prevent any escalation.


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