What does it mean to be independent?

Online Expert Chat, 30-31 August 2021

What does sovereignty mean in our world, where countries are so interconnected? What attributes, symbols, stories make the country really independent?

30 years of independence – what have post-Soviet countries reached and accomplished, what failed, and why?

What are the main challenges and threats to their independence?

Are conflicts at the territories of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the price for being independent?

Will membership in the European Union or NATO bring more or less independence and sovereignty to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine?

What are the next 30 years prospects for our states?

Participants

Ostap Kryvdyk, Chair, “Ukraine and the World” programme at Ukrainian Catholic University Analytic Center (Ukraine)

Victoria Rosa, Foreign policy and security expert, specialised in Eastern European region (Moldova)

George Mchedlishvili, Ph.D., Associate Professor, European University (Georgia)

Mykola Kapitonenko, Ph.D., Co-Editor at UA: Ukraine Analytica, Associate Professor at Kyiv Institute of International Relations, Ukraine

Moderator Hanna Shelest, Ph.D., Editor-in-chief, UA: Ukraine Analytica and Director of the Security Programs at Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”

The event is organized by UA: Ukraine Analytica. This project is supported financially by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.



Subscribe
Notify of
guest
36 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Hanna Shelest
Hanna Shelest(@hanna-shelest)
August 29, 2021 23:01

Dear colleagues, let me welcome you at UA: Ukraine Analytica Online expert chat, a format, which we use to discuss thought-provoking topics not in a rush manner. These two days we will talk about independence and sovereignty. As all our countries are celebrating 30 years of their (restoration of) independence, it is a god reason to look back for these years, to forecast the future, but also to think about what we really mean by independence. So let me start from the first questions of our conversation. What does sovereignty mean in our world, where countries are so interconnected? What… Read more »

Mykola Kapitonenko
Mykola Kapitonenko(@mykola-kapitonenko)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 08:51

These are challenging questions and challenging anniversaries. Sovereignty is an institution we used to take for granted. It is central to Westphalian international order, where states are everything. I guess, that mode of thinking was very much dominating over worldviews of people who were engaged in event of 30 years ago. They perceived sovereignty (and independence) in classical terms of nation-states controlling certain territories without interfering much into one another’s lives; with national interests having priority over the rest. Much has changes over 30 years. There are competing ways of arranging political life. Although nation-states still enjoy dominance, their monopoly… Read more »

George Mchedlishvili
George Mchedlishvili(@george-mchedlishvili)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 11:33

There are a number of closely related definitions of political independence in encyclopedias and dictionaries, and they all boil down to self-government and self-reliance. And the latter implies the freedom to act without looking back at external pressure. If one looks at the past three decades since the post-Soviet countries regained their independence, It should be noted that with the exception of the Baltic States, the countries of the former Soviet Union are experiencing difficulties in exercising the very independence they had been so vehemently rooting for. Because, very regrettably, the 70 years of the Soviet Union have eroded the… Read more »

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 17:42

Nowadays genuine sovereignty is a great privilege. For Moldova, as well as for other countries in the Eastern European region, fighting to maintain it is a continuous matter. In the era of globalization, where we can distinguish between national sovereignty and super-national or collective sovereignty, the interconnections between countries (peer to peer or collectively) and societal development play a crucial role.   National Sovereignty means possibility to decide your own future, be it domestic or foreign affairs, with no interference or influence from abroad, a well-defined national security system, control over economy and institutional development, healthy financial system, capabilities and… Read more »

Mykola Kapitonenko
Mykola Kapitonenko(@mykola-kapitonenko)
August 30, 2021 08:56

These are challenging questions and challenging anniversaries. Sovereignty is an institution we used to take for granted. It is central to Westphalian international order, where states are everything. I guess, that mode of thinking was very much dominating over worldviews of people who were engaged in event of 30 years ago. They perceived sovereignty (and independence) in classical terms of nation-states controlling certain territories without interfering much into one another’s lives; with national interests having priority over the rest. Much has changes over 30 years. There are competing ways of arranging political life. Although nation-states still enjoy dominance, their monopoly… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Mykola Kapitonenko
August 30, 2021 11:29

While agreeing to the fact that the number of actors increased, the COVID19 has clearly shown us that it is the states, not international organisations or corporations who are the major actor in times of crisis. In the times of war it is even more evident. While in calm, prosperous times many question the extraordinary expenses to sustain the state (diplomacy, defense, and top state persons overall), the crisis clearly shows where the will, the instruments and the legitimacy (including the right to use violence), really belong to. So this is a crash-test time for the “end of history” logic,… Read more »

Mykola Kapitonenko
Mykola Kapitonenko(@mykola-kapitonenko)
Reply to  Ostap Kryvdyk
August 30, 2021 12:16

The end of history is about ideologies, rather than states. Those who believe states would vanish are radical theorists and Marxists – and they, I guess, have very interesting insights into what sovereignty is.
Pandemic proved multilateral organizations are ineffective; but that doesn’t necessarily imply that states are effective. After all, nation-states are also not very good at resolving crises, global problems or providing security.
Taken all that complexity, sovereignty is gaining another dimension – not as a way to be effective and/or independent, but as a mean to hold a state’s power.

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
August 30, 2021 09:24

To be independent as a country to me means three things: 1 – To be responsible. When Ukraine was occupied by the USSR, all the decisions were made in the capital of empire, Moscow. It created a specific mindset of the local elite – to wait for someone else to make decisions, to blame others, to abstain, never pretend to be responsible. A classical example of this thinking was the parade of the May 1st, 1986 in Kyiv, when thousands of Kyiv children were exposed to the radioactive rain, because local leadership of the Ukrainian SSR was not ready to… Read more »

Hanna Shelest
Hanna Shelest(@hanna-shelest)
August 30, 2021 13:54

If we look over thirty years that have passed since independence proclamation, what have post-Soviet countries reached and accomplished, what are their biggest successes in terms of independence and sovereignty securing? But also, what they have failed, and why?

Mykola Kapitonenko
Mykola Kapitonenko(@mykola-kapitonenko)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 15:57

For the most part, post-Soviet countries failed to become sustainable democracies and rich economies, i.e. to build strong foundations not only for formal independence, but also for influence and leadership. The reasons are many, I guess. Generally speaking, it’s not easy to break the circle and get rich and successful.
But they managed to build statehood, institutions, practices and narratives. Further on, in what concerns successes, stories differ; while lack of democracy and inefficiency are common.

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 20:22

I believe biggest success for Ukraine is the understanding of “us” – negatively, as different from Russia, positively – as part of Europe. Establishment of the state institutions, starting from National bank and ending up with the military force is a major success, although many are still to be shaped. Some of the institutions did not bear fruit – for instance, Antimonopoly Commitee does nothing to counter oligarchic monopolies, and some, as tax administration or customs are deeply corrupt. And we lost a lot of time, and economically we are quite behind our closest neighbours. Poland, Turkey, Slovakia and Baltic… Read more »

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 21:08

First of all, the countries maintained their statehood and even though it was difficult to avoid Moscow`s control and influence, the majority of the post-soviet countries managed to work on preserving their sovereignty and independence. Looking more closely at the Eastern Partnership countries, all of them, at some point in time, were both success and failed stories, nevertheless, each of them managed to show serious and important breakthroughs in terms of democratic development. The massive protests of the people against corruption and rule of law breaches in Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Belarus; the commitments taken with the Association Agreement… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
August 30, 2021 14:25

An important point: “independence” is a negative term, “not to be dependant on something”. So celebrating independence is, in a way, an act of “negative freedom” (Isaia Berlin). It has to be accompanied by the “positive freedom” (freedom to do something). And here was the core of Ukraine’s crisis in 1990s which in a way continues now: people of Ukraine didn’t understand why should their state be really independent, what is an added value for it to be separate and self-governed, mostly because of the massive collapse of economy due to disruption of the old colonial structures. So it was… Read more »

George Mchedlishvili
George Mchedlishvili(@george-mchedlishvili)
August 30, 2021 15:43

As far as Georgia is concerned, I would site the desire to be an independent state and become a part of the European family and the NATO alliance as the biggest achievement over the past 30 years. This public mood is evidenced by virtually all opinion polls that are conducted by reputed agencies such as NDI and IRI biannually. And such a public disposition, against the backdrop of modest economic dynamics, continued Russian occupation, and significant security threats (coming mainly but not exclusively, from Moscow), is indeed an achievement. Furthermore, western orientation is paralleled by a significant (by post-Soviet standards)… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  George Mchedlishvili
August 30, 2021 20:26

Each of our countries – Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine – are facing the challenge of Euroimitators, populistic and corrupt elites that by monopolising the issue of European integration tend to discredit it. Similar is the challenge of Montenegro. How to keep this national consensus while slowly reforming the state and giving time for the new political elites to grow – is a huge challenge.

Hanna Shelest
Hanna Shelest(@hanna-shelest)
August 30, 2021 18:11

And our last questions for today. Even if the independence looks as irreversible for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, what are the main challenges and threats to their sovereignty today? What else except Russian policy can affect their actorness and independence? 

Mykola Kapitonenko
Mykola Kapitonenko(@mykola-kapitonenko)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 19:57

Modern world mostly generates new states rather than witnesses conquests. It’s easy to retain formal independence and state symbols. However, weak and fragile states are often subject to all kinds of threats and hardly can manage them. But being successful is a different story. Sovereignty, among other things, implies formal equality of states, reflected, for instance, in the UN General Assembly. In reality states are not equal in terms of controlling international events and results. Thus, a challenge to sovereignty may arise from a growing inability influence the world with a state’s own agenda, values, norms and interests. That’s the… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 20:33

There is a clear external existential threat – Russia with its imperial revanchist “post-Weimar” intent. And the major internal threat which overlaps with the external one is lack of good governance causing inefficiency and corruption. This might lead to the “perfect storm”: inefficient state loses its moral ground and legitimacy amongst the citizen who would be unwilling to sacrifice and defend their state, opting out for personal survival strategies (we witnessed it in 1919-21 when Ukrainian statehood failed due to chaos and use of it by Bolsheviks to erase, substitute and acquire Ukraine). I would not agree that Ukraine’s independence… Read more »

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 30, 2021 21:36

By now, one of the main challenges represented the lack of ownership and responsibility both of the political class and of the society for their countries. The vassal behaviour and culture till now threatens the sovereignty of the countries thus major educational reforms are needed. During the past 30 years, the deficient justice system, the corrupted political elites and the failing economies, massively reduced also the trust of citizens in their rulers and as a result in their country, and most importantly in democracy as such. Restoring trust both of their own people, but also foreign partners, being ready to… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Victoria Rosa
August 31, 2021 21:22

I agree that the lack of responsibility is an important feature in all our societies – it is hard to be responsible for something that we did not feel we own. Now the independent state is here but still it was not acquired by the people, therefore there is still a colonial attitude that government is “them”, not “us”. So “they” are responsible, “they” are to be blamed, “they” make decisions, and “they” own that state “we” live in. That’s why revolutions in Ukraine are so successful, and the state-building process is slow and contradicting. I respect revolutions (done two… Read more »

George Mchedlishvili
George Mchedlishvili(@george-mchedlishvili)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 00:33

NeOf course, the Russian threat is always with us, but it seems to me that the vulnerability of the population to Russian perfidies, especially to disinformation and other methods of hybrid warfare, is no less dangerous. For example, Russia has been for years taking advantage of the conservative nature and traditionalism of the Georgian society through support of the right-wing homophobic groups that try to present the West as decadent and lacking moral fortitude. Regrettably, these groups and their discourse have some traction (albeit not an overwhelming one). This trend, along with the large numbers of anti-vaxxers in our society… Read more »

Hanna Shelest
Hanna Shelest(@hanna-shelest)
August 31, 2021 08:54

Good morning everybody, let’s start with the complicated question, but nevertheless very important for all three states. Are conflicts at the territories of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine the price for being independent?  

Mykola Kapitonenko
Mykola Kapitonenko(@mykola-kapitonenko)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 13:23

I assume these conflicts are the price for being a part of a difficult geopolitical setting – and for being institutionally weak, ineffective and not democratic enough. These conflicts are internationalized disputes, with strong Russia’s involvement; but they all erupted as a result of internal mistakes and weaknesses of different sorts. It is pretty tough task to build an effective inclusive society, where risks of any internal violence will be minimized. It takes money, time and skill. And it is extremely difficult given historical complications all three countries have been facing – and Russia’s active involvement. Having these conflicts unresolved… Read more »

George Mchedlishvili
George Mchedlishvili(@george-mchedlishvili)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 14:16

One easy answer would be yes, they certainly are. Each of the conflicts in our countries occurred precisely upon Moscow’s realization that the countries are trying to conduct a genuinely independent foreign policy and significantly weaken their ties with Russia. Had Moscow viewed the relations of each and every post-Soviet country with the west other than in terms of a zero-sum game, things would have played out differently. In the case of Ukraine (Crimea and Donbas) as well as the 2008 war, a more assertive Russia could not countenance the notion of a post-Soviet country building a successful Western model… Read more »

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  George Mchedlishvili
August 31, 2021 22:26

I would completely agree that the territorial problems we are facing are including the price for our own mistake. Moldova even now is continuing to commit mistakes in what regard Transnistrian settlement paying too little attention to the issue. Political and economic corruption, poverty and disruptive institutional bodies and weak legal and policy framework, unprofessional and intellectually poor political elites, a poorly informed and prepared society these are just some elements that lead to fatal mistakes which not only undermine the settlement process but the statehood itself.

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 19:14

They absolutely are. Had there been no Russia’s meddling, use of hybrid methods and direct force (legendized as “influence over pro-Russian separatists”), the chances for the issues to remain marginal or to remain in political dialogue process would have been much bigger. I would re-phrase the reply to the question, though: independence lets us still control the bigger parts of our territory and population compared with the times of the Soviet occupation. Russia has taken (and will continue to take) the weaker parts, where it can play the fears and the stereotypes. Also, I would say that the armed conflicts… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 20:04

I would say Russia deliberately undermined territorial integrity of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, to create an obstacle for our integration into the EU and NATO (very basically speaking, each Member, from Luxembourg to the USA asks themselves a question why should they help us resolve our problems while bearing the costs of conflict and risking a war). It undermines our economies, depriving us of investment (investors are unwilling to invest into the fragile states) and placing a heavy security burden on our budgets.

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  Ostap Kryvdyk
August 31, 2021 21:49

The answer to the question is a very simple one, security, ensuring own security. As long as our conflicts are treated as belonging to individual countries or actors we are captured in a trap. Our wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of our neighbours. The recent pandemic situation, the already prologued migration crises shows very clearly the interconnection between societies, countries, super national structures. By promoting an institutional model you have to be ready to act politically as well.

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 20:34

The present question is very interesting and the answer may be constructed from different point of views, but one thing is for sure, we have to fight for independence continuously. It persists largely the idea that Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine did not necessarily fight for independence and that is why for a long time it was taken for granted. During the last 30 years, all three countries fought their battles and clearly understood the price for independence – which is human life. 1992 Moldova, 2008 Georgia, 2014 Ukraine – for Russia indeed the price for the three post-soviet countries’ independence could… Read more »

Hanna Shelest
Hanna Shelest(@hanna-shelest)
August 31, 2021 14:42

And let’s look to the future. Our last questions for today are as following. Will membership in the European Union or NATO bring more or less independence and sovereignty to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine?
What are the next 30 years prospects for our states? 

Mykola Kapitonenko
Mykola Kapitonenko(@mykola-kapitonenko)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 14:54

On the one hand, alliances always bring about limitations and obligations. On the other, they can enhance opportunities and minimize costs. Much depends on how the alliance is designed and whether it fits international environment. So far NATO has fit. I guess, it enhanced power of its members and made them more independent by reducing costs. Hope, NATO will continue to be as much effective. Although I don’t think either of the three states has realistic chances to joint the Alliance in ten years; if any of them does, that would be huge gain of independence. With the EU things… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 19:33

I would draw a couple of scenarios. Middle one, a bad one but quite possible – things stay the same as they are, with the slow erosion of human capital, economy, and stalled grey zone security situation. Bad one – Russia gets on war with our countries, successfully blackmailing the West with the nuclear weapons, later using our citizen as the soldiers for the next conquests – be it central Asia, Chinese border or another adventure in Syria, DRC or Libya, with us cursed until the next change in Russia. And very tough one for us but strategically good –… Read more »

Ostap Kryvdyk
Ostap Kryvdyk(@ostap-kryvdyk)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 19:42

On the NATO and EU membership – the question is how will those entities transform. In their recent shape, they tend to evolve into the Franco-German “federation” style, and Brexit is a clear sign of rejecting that approach. But how efficient the “confederation” style might be, since the crises require firm and quick response, and Brussels is extremely slow and vague, a satisfactory tool to keep things unchanged in the peaceful times but a failure when, say, COVID19 hits. So there is a bit of luck of us not joining those (quite stressed) international organisations yet, but we ourselves have… Read more »

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 21:42

The full membership in the Euro-Atlantic structures will, first of all, ensure adherence to collective institutional standards, which at the end of the day will create proper circumstances for genuine democratic development. The former socialist block countries not only serve as a positive example, but also demonstrate the importance of the membership status for countries’ transformation. Being part of the community, all three countries could experience even more independence and sovereignty due to the fact that both structures foresee collective decisions and strong interconnections which ensure each-others security and wellbeing. Nonetheless, both EU/NATO and the three associated countries have to… Read more »

Victoria Rosa
Victoria Rosa(@victoria-rosa)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 22:11

Even though we want to believe that the next 30 years will bring conflict solving in our region, this will depend on circumstances, balance of power and future leaders. Not only in 30 years we will see a change of generations, but also new/revised existential fights. We may assist at the raising of new global stakeholders and battle fields which might draw back the attention from the EaP countries, even more due to the fact that the EaP instrument is no longer feasible and requires strongly a new approach. Taking all this into account, the tree associated countries will have… Read more »

George Mchedlishvili
George Mchedlishvili(@george-mchedlishvili)
Reply to  Hanna Shelest
August 31, 2021 23:52

For each of the three countries, NATO and EU membership serve two purposes. In the first place, it signifies joining the space where we believe we belong, and secondly, the membership (particularly in NATO) provides the security umbrella and potent deterrent against Russia’s future perfidies. The membership, therefore, would decidedly be a boon. So, the coming years should be devoted to arduous work of comprehensive reforms in order to strengthen our democratic institutions and become essentially a more European state from within. At the moment, we have to admit, conditionality and “goodies” from the EU and NATO have been the… Read more »

Images are for demo purposes only and are properties of their respective owners. Published by NGO “Promotion of Intercultural Cooperation” (Ukraine), Centre of International Studies (Ukraine), with the financial support of the Representation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Ukraine and The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation

Copyright © 2015-2021 UA: Ukraine Analytica  WEB Design DS STUDIO

36
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x