On the third anniversary of the deadliest days of the Maidan Revolution, Hromadske sat down with a panel of experts to discuss the aftermath, specifically when it comes to transatlantic security. Is the future of the U.S. and NATO being remapped? What are the myths and facts regarding the "bromance” between Putin and Trump? Is Eastern Europe NATO’S frontier? And does Ukraine have a pivotal role to play in transatlantic security?
Myths and Facts
Lorne Craner: All administrations start by settling in. I think the thing that is really interesting is the people he [Donald Trump] has recruited for him to do foreign policy. They seem to be very mainstream in their thinking, I think Tillerson came from outside government but Mattis is very mainstream, I expect you are going to see the same for the NSC advisor, they have been in Europe this week telling Europeans what Trump wants, and he is very serious about the 2 % [GDP] but I am also sure they were advising the EU that the US is not walking away from Europe and certainly not going to allow Europe to collapse.
Damir Marusic: Its very difficult to see what are myths and what are facts. You get the sense that in Washington it’s even more difficult to see what’s going on than being outside of it. We are so inundated with the news that Michal Flynn has been a very difficult one to parse… The most important thing to pay attention to is what McCain said in Munich “he [Trump] says a lot of things but we need to pay attention to actions rather than the tweets”
Alina Polyakova : Many Ukrainians and Europeans are looking at the administration’s statements and are wary about the schizophrenia they are hearing, so on the one hand, we have seen the Vice President and the Joint Chiefs of staff and many others doing this diplomatic offensive to reassure our allies, and on the other side the President is holding rallies on economic protection of state.
What has been done, is it enough…?
James S. Denton: There has not been much action yet, apart from some appointments that have already been mentioned… Based on those actions one can be reasonably comfortable in assuming that the policy towards transatlantic community will remain consistent within this administration. We, as you, watch the news here in Ukraine and have an unusual political situation and an unusual President. We see he has business experience, campaign experience, but no governing experience and no foreign policy experience. He comes into office very unfamiliar with treaty obligations of the US and no grounding with relationships with countries around the world…. There really aren’t many facts as yet except his appointments, so everything appears to be just myth if you talking about what he is saying.
The reason it’s been unclear [the American policy] is because there is only one person that can articulate the Presidents foreign policy, and that is The President of the United States. He has not done so yet through any coherent message or document, and, there have been many contradictions. It is reassuring, as I think we all agree that his appointments have by and large been traditionalist in their commitment to their ideas about American foreign policy.
Veronika Víchovа: Even though Donald Trump and the new administrations remarks and moves are sometimes very chaotic and not making much sense, the truth is, the narrative these pro Kremlin outlets present to the people in Europe are very coherent and they see him [Donald Trump] as allied with Vladimir Putin. They see him as someone who is realistic who takes care of his people…. People are influenced by web sites [Russian media] even though they don’t really realize it.
Eastern Europe: NATO's Main Frontier
Lorne Craner: When it comes down to Europe, I think that essentially what the administration is saying is we made a two percent agreement on GDP, how are we doing on that? and the answer is 5 of the 28 countries are doing that. The second thing he is saying is that the issue at the moment is terrorism, we would like to see NATO to be orientated around that… One thing about Trump is, he didn’t get elected by accident.
I don’t think it is invalid or illegitimate for Washington to say, ‘can we get along with Russia?’. It’s a question that has been asked in the three previous administrations, and the answer has been no... But, we did have a relationship with the Soviet Union in the cold war, in a much worse time than we have right now, and it is not illegitimate to say that we can get along with Russia, we’ll have to see if that happens.
Veronika Víchovа: I think we [Europe] still need to realize that even though Donald Trump’s remarks change every day, we need to know that the alignment is still there. It will help Europe to get on its feet and take responsibility with our own security, after all even though his remarks about NATO are a bit worrying, he does have a point on the fact that we do need to spend more money on our security.
The people [in Central European societies] don’t know what to expect, which draws them more to support populist, to support extremist parties even, and with elections coming up, not only in Western Europe, the ones that everyone talks about, the French and the German, but in Central Europe. These elections are going to be very important, and there is a certain thread that the powers are going to shift a lot more towards populist extremist governments in Europe. I hope that this is not going to happen, I hope that policies of Donald Trump’s administration are going to become more stable and more predictable, but nobody knows that.
Alina Polyakova: I think that a lot of the time we over blow what the Trump administration is saying. The 2 % they ask has been there for a very long time, both across the Republican and Democratic administrations, so that’s nothing new, what we are seeing potentially is a stronger wary response from Armenia about the 2% as that is a new target for them. Of course the German response would be “we do a lot more as well as spending 2% GDP for defense and on security in Europe, we do a lot on US engagements abroad as well”
We have to remember that the reason why Ukraine has received so much support in the last few years from the United States is because there has been bipartisan, unanimous, congressional support for that; in terms of financial transfers, in terms of support for defence, training of the military etc. And I think Congress will continue to have a very important role. As we speak there’s legislation going through Congress that would seek to codify sanctions. That means, that right now, the situation we have in the United states, that the president can just sign an executive order and remove sanctions. Congress is trying to make that more difficult’
Damir Marusic: One of the oldest questions in Europe has been for a long time is, “Do we want Germany to re-arm properly or not”, we think it’s a settled question but I think it’s still viewed as potentially a scary thing. In a framework of a NATO that’s strong in Europe, I think that to say Europe is stable is wrong and they are just going to buckle up and come together, I would not believe Europe would come together just because America came up with some brow beating.
If there is a precedent set in the Balkans specifically about the redrawing of borders, be it in Bosnia, Kosovo, be it even with the question of Albania and the minority in Macedonia, then the Russians can just point and say, well look, it’s just another region, and the borders aren’t working- it’s time to start talking about borders. And there’s a talking point about the possibility to redraw borders, which I think is terrible.
To your question about Kyiv and Ukrainians looking at what to expect from this administration... I think, it’s true that this president hasn’t laid out a vision yet, we don’t have that, but it is important, I think, that he is giving voice to something that many of the commentators in the US have now noted as the ‘Jacksonian’ tradition, which is populism, it’s this idea that a certain segment of America likes to think much more about transitions and in terms of threats rather than alliances. Again, this is not the only thread in American foreign policy but it is one that is rising right now.
James S. Denton: We find the Vice-Presidents quote as very reassuring, You can be assured he did not say that without the full backing, and bouncing the idea off of the President of the United States. He would never say that I don’t think. It’s inconceivable to me that this is not the voice of the President and or the current administration. I find it reassuring and I would hope you as Ukrainian find it reassuring... we also need to find common ground, I think the reference was to Russia, the Kremlin in particular.
Transatlantic US-European Security
Alina Polyakova: There are some upsides to the so-called ‘Trump Effect’, we talked about NATO and countries potentially committing more to their own security, but I think the other upside is, when you see a lot of instability and uncertainty, that might make you think twice about wanting to undermine the main source of stability in Europe, which is the European Union. Actually, after Brexit, we saw public opinion polls towards the European Union actually be more positive.
Poll, after poll, after poll shows that Russia is somewhere down the list of what is perceived as the top threat. The top threat is Islamic terrorism, ISIS, those kinds of security questions. Those questions are why we are seeing what we are seeing in Europe today with regards to refugees and this conflation of refugees with terrorists. So why are we seeing this gap between what policy makers are saying and what the public actually thinks, and what can we do to fill that gap?...There needs to better investment in strategic communication, how policy makers communicate with their public.
Lorne Craner: It’s really important not to just watch things happen, but to be in touch, for Trump to visit Europe, for European officials to come to Washington, and try to figure out how to fix these issues, that have come up. I think it’s very, very important. The one area where you might want to wait and see what happens, is relations with Russia. Because, I think that Putin in congenitally incapable of not overreaching, he does it every single time with every administration.
James S. Denton: The leadership within the Transatlantic community, not just the United States obviously, the leadership needs to recommit itself to a certain set of values, a certain set of principles, and they need to recommit to the notion of the community itself, and the importance that community represents to the preservation, to the protection of those values and our way of life in the transatlantic community. And part of that is recognising the threats outside of that community, and in this case let’s say, we would all agree that the number-one threat perhaps outside of economy, is the Kremlin... We need to come up with a common strategy for dealing with the Kremlin and its threats.
Veronika Víchovа: We still need to speak to the United States, we still need to perceive them as a partner, and not exaggerate every single thing [Trump] says or tweets, and maybe react more calmly and be more patient as to what he’s actually going to do.