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What is said in lobbies of EU about the latest scandals in Ukrainian politics? Is Europe not fed up to push reforms in Ukraine, and how long can this patience last? What means of pressure does EU have on Ukrainian and Russian governments? We talked about this all with Rebecca Harms, a Member of European Parliament, a delegate of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee and one of the key lobbyists of Ukrainian interests in Europe. 

 

She closely follows events in Ukraine since the times of "Perestroika" in 1980s, actively supported Euromaidan. She was announced as persona non grata and was denied entrance to Russia when she wanted to witness court trial against Nadiya Savchenko.  

Rebecca Harms was invited to Lviv by MYMEDIA and UCU School of Journalism and spent 3 days talking to young journalists, politicians, scientists, representatives of anti-corruption organizations and even Lviv IT-cluster. Although she was extremely popular with Lviv journalists, she found one hour for an interview with us. Read the most important of this conversation here.

Rebecca Harms.  Photo: Alexander Laskin
 

Ukraine is still shocked by Aivaras Abromavicius quitting his position of Minister of Economy and making open accusations of political elite in corruption and unwillingness to fight it. Surviving no confidence vote by Prime Minister Yatsenyuk also raises a lot of questions. Did EU expect such a turn?  

It was a complete shock for observers. There were other so-called technocrates of the government who left before. But what was astonishing is the clarity of accusations by Abromavicius and protection [by the government] around Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and Shokin, Prosecutor General. And later when  Prosecutor General left his position to go on vacation we realized there is a real problem and that if we want successful reforms in Ukraine (and EU really needs it), something has to be changed. This was the message from both the European side and Washington.  

You said that early elections are not the way out and that the country will only lose time. But even before this all happened, it was clear from December polling that the rate of Poroshenko and the Cabinet of Ministers fell below Yanukovich had ever had. What is then the way out of this political crisis?  

The necessary reforms in the country are clear, with a lot of cuts in pensions and low energy price. And these cuts will hurt. But the country can accept such costs and go through privatization of big state property only after the necessary reforms like transparency rules for politicians and public tenders. I am not sure whether all the member of the government understood this. I hope that those who did will contribute to acceleration of reforms. 

Ex-journalist and current members of ruling party Sergey Leshenko and Mustafa Nayem accused Petro Poroshenko in conspiracy behind Yatsenyuk surviving no confidence vote. Has there been any reaction to it in Europe? 

Soon there will be the "Ukrainian week" in Brussels and we will discuss those issues with colleagues coming from Kiev. For me those accusations were a complete surprise.

It's not pleasant to read, but I've known for a long time that in Ukrainian Parliament by threats and payments a lot has been possible across political fractions

Therefore transparency for the incomes of officials is a crucial measure to bring Ukraine out of this awful situation. It's a big mistake Ukraine has not yet implemented such transparency scheme for politicians.  

Well, very few politicians are interested in that... 

Yes, but if I were a Ukrainian citizen this would be one of my main demands to know who pays the elected people that I can understand whose interests they are following. So what could be done from European side is to push more for these reforms.  

Do you believe such transparency could be achieved without a complete lustration? Keeping in government people from previous regimes who are used to thinking within corruption schemes?  

If you make good rules for transparency and taxation the old generation will leave in a process of change. But another issue I noticed in Ukraine is that you have well-known profiled political leadership, but there are no profiled political programs with clear priorities. In Ukraine people vote for personalities, not for programs. This is why it's difficult to judge what you can expect from politicians and how to measure their success.  

Is it not the case in Europe?   

In the West of EU political programs matter, even for the existing old party-families. They make clear difference priorities. For instance, Social Democrats have much more emphasis on social justice than Conservatives, liberals believe in freeing the forces of the market and have never really cared for social justice. Greens have ideas of ecological transformation. Sometimes these ideas mix in coalitions. From what I see, Ukrainian blocks are still far away from such profiled programs.

How was this achieved in Europe that people became more interested in the programs rather than personalities? Is it the better work of media, politicians or people themselves?  

It wasn't done overnight. In Europe leaders and personalities also play a big part, but without programs it would not work. On the other hand, the West faces now a new wave of populism in many countries, including United States and Italy. And it's worrying. Even in Germany right-wing populism has a growing support, which they win by just one point - "refugees out". It attracts people.  

Does Europe see any positive change in Ukraine? 

It depends on whether the politicians will be able to explain to the people that we go through reforms to achieve a better society and a better functioning system in Ukraine. As a result, people will be able to take care of themselves instead of leaving this responsibility for the state.  

One of the problems in Ukraine now is that the state cares about everything. This tradition takes root in Soviet Union, but European model of a wealthier state is completely different. 
 
In Ukraine there is a mixture ideas. Now the government, headed by Poroshenko, has to pave a way towards a model when the citizens matter more than the state. 

Some political analysts suggest that more reformers like Abromavicius must be brought to Ukraine to achieve this. What do you think about inviting foreign politicians to Ukraine?  

I would not mind to invite people who can make a good contribution to reform process. But I believe Ukraine has enough well-trained and experienced people for this.  

Let's take mr. Saakashvilli as an example. Obviously, he did something good in Odessa. But his responsibility on what happened in Georgia can be discussed. I wouldn't blame him for everything what went wrong, but he left the country still full of corruption.  

I would prefer Ukrainian leaders who are not yet influenced by the way of thinking in term of "Is it the opposition or my party?".  With this kind of thinking they can't concentrate on a true democratic process. Therefore I'm very doubtful about such figures and I would prefer those already familiar to Ukrainians.  

But if we agree that Ukrainian government could contain foreign ministers, then to what extent? What could be the quota? 

I would not establish a quota, but I don't think there should be too many. Abromavicius had lived in Ukraine for long before becoming the minister of Economy. The same could be applied to Yaresko. These are special cases and they were invited in a very difficult moment. I would prefer that EU takes more responsibility in closely advising those who are responsible for the reform steps. We can deliver much better in assistance.  

How could western reformers be attracted to working in Ukrainian government after what happened to Abromavicius and considering salaries for key officials of about $600?  

This is one of the reasons why I think it's better to work with Ukrainians. They should receive decent salaries. Not to become extremely rich, but to stay immune against corruption. Although corruption is not only a Ukrainian problem. There are numerous cases in the West, for instance in France, Italy and Germany.  

How will the latest event affect European course towards Ukraine? Have they undermined EU trust to the country?  

Those who understand how important Ukraine is for EU and that Russia is attacking Ukraine, though targeting Europe, they saw the events as the reason to push [Ukrainian authorities] more and to postpone the payment of the next tranches. Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered the same message after his recent visit to Kiev. I think president Poroshenko understands this.  

So you think he will react?  

The country will suffer if he doesn't.  

Rebecca Harms. Photo: iPress.ua / Andrey Polikovsky
 

You just mentioned Russia targeting Europe through Ukraine. Do you still see Russia as a real threat to Ukraine, or now it's used more as a speculation to divert attention from inner problems? 

The threat of Russian is not only the excuse for the problems in the reforms process, it is a reality. Kremlin damaged all new starts in Ukraine by unbelievable actions. Nobody in the West expected annexation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in the reform process in a neighboring country. Losing territory means also losing parts of industry and human resources. The country also received over 1 million refugees, and the whole civil society and volunteer movement is now busy coping with these aftermaths, while without these distortions they could be engaged in reforms.  

I meant that escalation seems to be behind, and now Putin found himself a new target in Syria.  

It's even more awful. The war in Syria is a shock for everybody. But now West understood better than after Crimea and Donbass that Kremlin is unpredictable and all our ideas so far did not work. This unpredictability is a true burden for countries of EU, the East and all Russian neighbors. This reminds us of security of our own. This is why we have to be stable and reliable partners for the countries that are in our neighborhood, especially to those who have already achieved association agreement.  

And as for Donbass conflict, you said that the way out would be to stick to Minsk agreement and EU could press Putin more. In which way could EU press Russia more?  

For example we should not support Nord Stream 2  [a pipeline system between Russia and Germany that can increase gas supply from Northern Russia to Europe and decrease EU energy dependence on transit countries]. Economic sanctions are just a part of the issue. We can't totally refuse from relations with Russia, but increasing energy dependence on Russia is very risky.  

I recently saw in the news that ceasefire in Syria lasted for less than half a day. 

Whoever says that the West prepared a new situation similar to cold war with Russia, forgets that the escalation was not prepared in the West, but in Russia

This knowledge should guide us further. I'm not against diplomacy, there's no alternative way for those who want to avoid war, but we must know to whom we are talking. .  

So it's just sanctions and energy, no other means? 

This is the reality. How to press somebody who is ready to talk about better relations and then goes to war? The EU will not change Russia. The change in Russia, like in Ukraine, will come from its citizens. Russia is far away from democratic development. Recently we saw the first anniversary of Boris Nemtsov's murder. This murder showed everything about the so-called "stable" situation in Russia. This is the country in which courageous politicians or journalists are simply killed.   

What about Ukrainian prisoner in Russia? Can EU assist in releasing them?  

We tried. It's incredible that internationally known filmmaker like Sentsov is now in a Siberian labor camp [Crimeans Oleg Sentsov, Alexander Kolchenko, Gennadiy Afanasiev and Alexey Chirny, who opposed annexation of peninsula, have been imprisoned in Russia since may 2014. Their release is demanded by Minsk agreement, but this hope was dashed by sending Sentsov to Yakutia in the Far East and  Kolchenko -  to the Chelyabinsk oblast east of the Urals].

It's unacceptable. The most known cases of Savchenko and Sentsov are just few examples out of a dozen or more cases. EU tried to take care, but we have no guarantee how it works. I was sure after signing the Minsk agreement that we could solve those cases and I'm until today astonished that we can't.  

The same question about Crimea. EU released the resolution on human rights violation in Crimea early in February, especially regarding Crimean Tatars. But Ukrainian government still assures people that Crimea is coming back to Ukraine. Does EU believe in this too, and under which circumstances do you see it happening?  

I have no idea. I think nobody is allowed to accept this illegal, when it comes to international law, change of border. It's one of the biggest threats of peace on European continent since World War 2. We can't accept it, but in the meantime we can't change it now. 

I grew up next to the German border and I didn't realize how happy I was to be in the West, until the fall of the Wall in 1989, when I could travel to the other side of the border and learn about my huge advantage. In Germany it happened unexpectedly, maybe it will happen the same way with Ukraine and Crimea.  

Both Russia and Crimea can see now, how difficult it is to supply the people in peninsula and how much they are missing good relations with Ukraine. When Khrushchev decided to make Crimea a part of Ukraine, he did it for very good practical reasons.  

Do you think cutting all ties with Ukraine will stimulate desire of Crimeans to come back, or rather would have a reverse effect? 

The messages I get from people I know in Crimea are different, saying that if both sides make people suffer this will not work for anybody. People are getting more and more frustrated that they are paying hard prices without any perspectives.  

Anyway, Crimea can't be independent yet because they lack necessary infrastructure and facilities, so they have to depend on one of the countries. 

I understand how difficult it is to come to terms with it, but what more can I say? Right now the situation is similar to Donbass. The citizens there now feel trapped between two sides of the conflict, which develops more and more into a global conflict.  

In Ukraine there is a popular belief that Crimea might want to come back after Ukraine will have developed its economy and living standards. Do you agree with this idea?

That's what I've been saying for 2 years. Successful reforms will not only help Ukraine, but will bring stability to the whole region and beat the Kremlin. EU will also benefit from this. 

Maybe, but do you think Kremlin will let Crimea go so easily, considering how much effort they have made to annex it?  

Nobody knows what Russia after Putin will look like. I know many interesting people in Russia who do not like to be excluded from the democratic world. I have no hope that with the Kremlin in hands of Putin we can change the world to the better, but based on my experience in Europe since 1989 I know that in the end, democratic systems win. It's difficult as we can see from Ukrainian experience. And it's even more difficult when non-democratic people in the Kremlin are targeting the democratic reforms in Ukraine and success EU.  


Rebecca Harms. Photo: Alexander Laskin
 

In this context it's interesting to observe the reaction of Ukrainian government to Russian manifestations. The latest example was in media sphere, when Russian citizen Maria Stolyarova, who was an editor in one of the central channels in Ukraine, was fired for profanity on-air during commemoration of the dead protesters. She was later banned from the country for "damage to Ukraine interests". Do these means of self-defense get along with the democratic framework?  

EU deals with these kinds of hate speech in different ways. In Germany, because of our own awful history and Nazi past we have clear rules against hate speech and denying holocaust. It's considered to be a crime and can be prosecuted.

I think it’s good to have rules that can be applied to everybody. I don't know how it is right now in Ukraine, but going in single cases against journalists is something what in western societies is not seen as the best way. Freedom of speech and pluralism of opinion is something we have to protect in democratic societies.  

At the same time I often see awful news that are created in Russia against Ukrainian process. The best way to deal with it I have also not yet found, but I see that also some Ukrainians tend to reply to Russian propaganda with Ukrainian propaganda. EU would beat propaganda by proper information. But it's more difficult to do when a part of your country is at war.  

Propaganda seems to reach more people because it affects emotional rather than rational component. I find the example of how Britain tries to fight propaganda interesting: they check Russian news before allowing them on air.  

Europe also faces this hybrid war which targets its citizens through propaganda channels such as Ruptly, Sputnik, and news agencies that produce the news from Russian perspective. We need to think how to deal with it, because it damages the roots of democratic discussion.  

We in MYMEDIA believe that kids in schools have to be taught media literacy, so that they can understand from early age how to work with information and tell facts from propaganda. There is also Ukrainian project Stop-Fake that verifies information and points out fakes.  

Yes, the problem here is how to deal with it in acute situations. Stop-Fake was a good idea but their impact is still limited. Democratic media should have their own code of conduct as to how to deal with news. It's also not the best situation for EU media, but it's much harder for Ukraine, where media sector is very much in the hands of oligarchs. Many young journalists have great ideas and we have to help them survive. 

But here it's important to mention another problematic case with Ukrainian journalist Ruslan Kotsaba. [Ruslan Kotsaba posted a video addressed to the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in which he said he would rather go to prison for five years for draft-dodging than fight pro-Russia rebels in the country’s east. Now he faces 15 years in jail after being arrested for treason and obstructing the military].  

Kotsaba Case was from European perspective a joke, he shouldn't be in detention

Not only the accusations don't justify that he is in prison, but also the conditions of long-lasting pre-trial detention are unacceptable. Ukrainian judges and also the politicians behind this create a burden for EU in the perception of change in Ukraine.   

Can EU somehow influence his release?  

I wrote to Ukrainian government on these matters last summer, and even received some explanations but none of them were satisfying. So what Ukraine needs is a rule of law, not decisions à la carte. 

It's not only government who's playing this "national interests" game. In public sphere, especially among social activists and even journalists, there's a growing tendency for calling to take out citizenships of those who express pro-Russian ideas and anti-Ukrainian moods. What do you think about this trend?  

I can only reply to those politicians who are fostering this: do your job. Reform the country, and you will convince the people by successes in the reforms, not by pushing people out of the country.  

Sounds reasonable. But that's for politicians. In public sphere there's growing national sentiment. Is this backing on nationalism a right way of development for the country?  

I think it's going into Putin's trap. Nationalism is exactly what it Russia wants, it's the wrong way, and it's the opposite of European idea. The annexation of Crimea was based on the idea of collecting Russian soil. This is fascism, sorry.

It also goes against the roots of Euromaidan. When I came to Euromaidan in November 2013, I met people who organized it. They were people representing all parts of Ukrainian society, also with Russian, Jewish, Lithuanian background. And if you look at the history of different places you will find numerous ethnic groups playing part in development of many regions.  

European Union wants to overcome the horrors and destruction of the last century with wars and holocaust, including Stalinism. You cannot come out of this without leaving the idea that one nation is better than the other. We decided to forget about the national container and dangerous limits of national thinking.  

In Ukraine it came as a natural reaction to Putin saying he comes with his tanks to "protect a Russian speaking population".  

Yes, some Ukrainians in the East were open to this and they reacted in a positive way. But pushing those who feel close to Russia out of Ukraine, because they have connections, studied or worked in Russia, is completely wrong. Many people in Russia follow the Kremlin but I also met may Russians who are far away from this kind of thinking. 

It's much easier to tell people to be a proper Ukrainian nation, than to explain to them the reform process. This nationalism is trying to replace the discourse of the reforms  

You probably know that this Ukraine sends to Eurovision a Crimean Tatar singer Jamala with her song that speaks about the deportation of Crimean Tatars in the 1940s. But critics say creative contests should not be politicized... What's your opinion?  

This will be the first time I will vote in this contest. Normally I don’t like Eurovision kind of music, but I think she's a good representative of Ukraine and Crimean Tatars. 

Why not sing about something that happened in the past century to the Crimean Tatars? Why music should be free of any political thought in a world that needs so much engagement? Is it better to sing only about love?   

Rebecca, talking in general terms, do you believe in European future for Ukraine?

I was always in favor of this, and after two days with young people from all over Ukraine, I am convinced that you are already on the European way.  

When will it be possible?  

I have the experience with the eastern part of Germany, Poland, other former Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltic states which are already members of EU. It takes more than one generation. I'm one of the few EU politician who can put what we see now in perspective of how it all started in Ukraine in 1990-s. It was not the first revolution in 2013-2014 on Maidan in Ukraine, but it was for the first time that the citizens took the initiative and pushed for change. So this generation will have the fruit.  

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What is said in lobbies of EU about the latest scandals in Ukrainian politics? Is Europe not fed up to push reforms in Ukraine, and how long can this patience last? What means of pressure does EU have on Ukrainian and Russian governments? We talked about this all with Rebecca Harms, a Member of European Parliament, a delegate of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee and one of the key lobbyists of Ukrainian interests in Europe. 

 

She closely follows events in Ukraine since the times of "Perestroika" in 1980s, actively supported Euromaidan. She was announced as persona non grata and was denied entrance to Russia when she wanted to witness court trial against Nadiya Savchenko.  

Rebecca Harms was invited to Lviv by MYMEDIA and UCU School of Journalism and spent 3 days talking to young journalists, politicians, scientists, representatives of anti-corruption organizations and even Lviv IT-cluster. Although she was extremely popular with Lviv journalists, she found one hour for an interview with us. Read the most important of this conversation here.

Rebecca Harms.  Photo: Alexander Laskin
 

Ukraine is still shocked by Aivaras Abromavicius quitting his position of Minister of Economy and making open accusations of political elite in corruption and unwillingness to fight it. Surviving no confidence vote by Prime Minister Yatsenyuk also raises a lot of questions. Did EU expect such a turn?  

It was a complete shock for observers. There were other so-called technocrates of the government who left before. But what was astonishing is the clarity of accusations by Abromavicius and protection [by the government] around Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and Shokin, Prosecutor General. And later when  Prosecutor General left his position to go on vacation we realized there is a real problem and that if we want successful reforms in Ukraine (and EU really needs it), something has to be changed. This was the message from both the European side and Washington.  

You said that early elections are not the way out and that the country will only lose time. But even before this all happened, it was clear from December polling that the rate of Poroshenko and the Cabinet of Ministers fell below Yanukovich had ever had. What is then the way out of this political crisis?  

The necessary reforms in the country are clear, with a lot of cuts in pensions and low energy price. And these cuts will hurt. But the country can accept such costs and go through privatization of big state property only after the necessary reforms like transparency rules for politicians and public tenders. I am not sure whether all the member of the government understood this. I hope that those who did will contribute to acceleration of reforms. 

Ex-journalist and current members of ruling party Sergey Leshenko and Mustafa Nayem accused Petro Poroshenko in conspiracy behind Yatsenyuk surviving no confidence vote. Has there been any reaction to it in Europe? 

Soon there will be the "Ukrainian week" in Brussels and we will discuss those issues with colleagues coming from Kiev. For me those accusations were a complete surprise.

It's not pleasant to read, but I've known for a long time that in Ukrainian Parliament by threats and payments a lot has been possible across political fractions

Therefore transparency for the incomes of officials is a crucial measure to bring Ukraine out of this awful situation. It's a big mistake Ukraine has not yet implemented such transparency scheme for politicians.  

Well, very few politicians are interested in that... 

Yes, but if I were a Ukrainian citizen this would be one of my main demands to know who pays the elected people that I can understand whose interests they are following. So what could be done from European side is to push more for these reforms.  

Do you believe such transparency could be achieved without a complete lustration? Keeping in government people from previous regimes who are used to thinking within corruption schemes?  

If you make good rules for transparency and taxation the old generation will leave in a process of change. But another issue I noticed in Ukraine is that you have well-known profiled political leadership, but there are no profiled political programs with clear priorities. In Ukraine people vote for personalities, not for programs. This is why it's difficult to judge what you can expect from politicians and how to measure their success.  

Is it not the case in Europe?   

In the West of EU political programs matter, even for the existing old party-families. They make clear difference priorities. For instance, Social Democrats have much more emphasis on social justice than Conservatives, liberals believe in freeing the forces of the market and have never really cared for social justice. Greens have ideas of ecological transformation. Sometimes these ideas mix in coalitions. From what I see, Ukrainian blocks are still far away from such profiled programs.

How was this achieved in Europe that people became more interested in the programs rather than personalities? Is it the better work of media, politicians or people themselves?  

It wasn't done overnight. In Europe leaders and personalities also play a big part, but without programs it would not work. On the other hand, the West faces now a new wave of populism in many countries, including United States and Italy. And it's worrying. Even in Germany right-wing populism has a growing support, which they win by just one point - "refugees out". It attracts people.  

Does Europe see any positive change in Ukraine? 

It depends on whether the politicians will be able to explain to the people that we go through reforms to achieve a better society and a better functioning system in Ukraine. As a result, people will be able to take care of themselves instead of leaving this responsibility for the state.  

One of the problems in Ukraine now is that the state cares about everything. This tradition takes root in Soviet Union, but European model of a wealthier state is completely different. 
 
In Ukraine there is a mixture ideas. Now the government, headed by Poroshenko, has to pave a way towards a model when the citizens matter more than the state. 

Some political analysts suggest that more reformers like Abromavicius must be brought to Ukraine to achieve this. What do you think about inviting foreign politicians to Ukraine?  

I would not mind to invite people who can make a good contribution to reform process. But I believe Ukraine has enough well-trained and experienced people for this.  

Let's take mr. Saakashvilli as an example. Obviously, he did something good in Odessa. But his responsibility on what happened in Georgia can be discussed. I wouldn't blame him for everything what went wrong, but he left the country still full of corruption.  

I would prefer Ukrainian leaders who are not yet influenced by the way of thinking in term of "Is it the opposition or my party?".  With this kind of thinking they can't concentrate on a true democratic process. Therefore I'm very doubtful about such figures and I would prefer those already familiar to Ukrainians.  

But if we agree that Ukrainian government could contain foreign ministers, then to what extent? What could be the quota? 

I would not establish a quota, but I don't think there should be too many. Abromavicius had lived in Ukraine for long before becoming the minister of Economy. The same could be applied to Yaresko. These are special cases and they were invited in a very difficult moment. I would prefer that EU takes more responsibility in closely advising those who are responsible for the reform steps. We can deliver much better in assistance.  

How could western reformers be attracted to working in Ukrainian government after what happened to Abromavicius and considering salaries for key officials of about $600?  

This is one of the reasons why I think it's better to work with Ukrainians. They should receive decent salaries. Not to become extremely rich, but to stay immune against corruption. Although corruption is not only a Ukrainian problem. There are numerous cases in the West, for instance in France, Italy and Germany.  

How will the latest event affect European course towards Ukraine? Have they undermined EU trust to the country?  

Those who understand how important Ukraine is for EU and that Russia is attacking Ukraine, though targeting Europe, they saw the events as the reason to push [Ukrainian authorities] more and to postpone the payment of the next tranches. Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier delivered the same message after his recent visit to Kiev. I think president Poroshenko understands this.  

So you think he will react?  

The country will suffer if he doesn't.  

Rebecca Harms. Photo: iPress.ua / Andrey Polikovsky
 

You just mentioned Russia targeting Europe through Ukraine. Do you still see Russia as a real threat to Ukraine, or now it's used more as a speculation to divert attention from inner problems? 

The threat of Russian is not only the excuse for the problems in the reforms process, it is a reality. Kremlin damaged all new starts in Ukraine by unbelievable actions. Nobody in the West expected annexation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in the reform process in a neighboring country. Losing territory means also losing parts of industry and human resources. The country also received over 1 million refugees, and the whole civil society and volunteer movement is now busy coping with these aftermaths, while without these distortions they could be engaged in reforms.  

I meant that escalation seems to be behind, and now Putin found himself a new target in Syria.  

It's even more awful. The war in Syria is a shock for everybody. But now West understood better than after Crimea and Donbass that Kremlin is unpredictable and all our ideas so far did not work. This unpredictability is a true burden for countries of EU, the East and all Russian neighbors. This reminds us of security of our own. This is why we have to be stable and reliable partners for the countries that are in our neighborhood, especially to those who have already achieved association agreement.  

And as for Donbass conflict, you said that the way out would be to stick to Minsk agreement and EU could press Putin more. In which way could EU press Russia more?  

For example we should not support Nord Stream 2  [a pipeline system between Russia and Germany that can increase gas supply from Northern Russia to Europe and decrease EU energy dependence on transit countries]. Economic sanctions are just a part of the issue. We can't totally refuse from relations with Russia, but increasing energy dependence on Russia is very risky.  

I recently saw in the news that ceasefire in Syria lasted for less than half a day. 

Whoever says that the West prepared a new situation similar to cold war with Russia, forgets that the escalation was not prepared in the West, but in Russia

This knowledge should guide us further. I'm not against diplomacy, there's no alternative way for those who want to avoid war, but we must know to whom we are talking. .  

So it's just sanctions and energy, no other means? 

This is the reality. How to press somebody who is ready to talk about better relations and then goes to war? The EU will not change Russia. The change in Russia, like in Ukraine, will come from its citizens. Russia is far away from democratic development. Recently we saw the first anniversary of Boris Nemtsov's murder. This murder showed everything about the so-called "stable" situation in Russia. This is the country in which courageous politicians or journalists are simply killed.   

What about Ukrainian prisoner in Russia? Can EU assist in releasing them?  

We tried. It's incredible that internationally known filmmaker like Sentsov is now in a Siberian labor camp [Crimeans Oleg Sentsov, Alexander Kolchenko, Gennadiy Afanasiev and Alexey Chirny, who opposed annexation of peninsula, have been imprisoned in Russia since may 2014. Their release is demanded by Minsk agreement, but this hope was dashed by sending Sentsov to Yakutia in the Far East and  Kolchenko -  to the Chelyabinsk oblast east of the Urals].

It's unacceptable. The most known cases of Savchenko and Sentsov are just few examples out of a dozen or more cases. EU tried to take care, but we have no guarantee how it works. I was sure after signing the Minsk agreement that we could solve those cases and I'm until today astonished that we can't.  

The same question about Crimea. EU released the resolution on human rights violation in Crimea early in February, especially regarding Crimean Tatars. But Ukrainian government still assures people that Crimea is coming back to Ukraine. Does EU believe in this too, and under which circumstances do you see it happening?  

I have no idea. I think nobody is allowed to accept this illegal, when it comes to international law, change of border. It's one of the biggest threats of peace on European continent since World War 2. We can't accept it, but in the meantime we can't change it now. 

I grew up next to the German border and I didn't realize how happy I was to be in the West, until the fall of the Wall in 1989, when I could travel to the other side of the border and learn about my huge advantage. In Germany it happened unexpectedly, maybe it will happen the same way with Ukraine and Crimea.  

Both Russia and Crimea can see now, how difficult it is to supply the people in peninsula and how much they are missing good relations with Ukraine. When Khrushchev decided to make Crimea a part of Ukraine, he did it for very good practical reasons.  

Do you think cutting all ties with Ukraine will stimulate desire of Crimeans to come back, or rather would have a reverse effect? 

The messages I get from people I know in Crimea are different, saying that if both sides make people suffer this will not work for anybody. People are getting more and more frustrated that they are paying hard prices without any perspectives.  

Anyway, Crimea can't be independent yet because they lack necessary infrastructure and facilities, so they have to depend on one of the countries. 

I understand how difficult it is to come to terms with it, but what more can I say? Right now the situation is similar to Donbass. The citizens there now feel trapped between two sides of the conflict, which develops more and more into a global conflict.  

In Ukraine there is a popular belief that Crimea might want to come back after Ukraine will have developed its economy and living standards. Do you agree with this idea?

That's what I've been saying for 2 years. Successful reforms will not only help Ukraine, but will bring stability to the whole region and beat the Kremlin. EU will also benefit from this. 

Maybe, but do you think Kremlin will let Crimea go so easily, considering how much effort they have made to annex it?  

Nobody knows what Russia after Putin will look like. I know many interesting people in Russia who do not like to be excluded from the democratic world. I have no hope that with the Kremlin in hands of Putin we can change the world to the better, but based on my experience in Europe since 1989 I know that in the end, democratic systems win. It's difficult as we can see from Ukrainian experience. And it's even more difficult when non-democratic people in the Kremlin are targeting the democratic reforms in Ukraine and success EU.  


Rebecca Harms. Photo: Alexander Laskin
 

In this context it's interesting to observe the reaction of Ukrainian government to Russian manifestations. The latest example was in media sphere, when Russian citizen Maria Stolyarova, who was an editor in one of the central channels in Ukraine, was fired for profanity on-air during commemoration of the dead protesters. She was later banned from the country for "damage to Ukraine interests". Do these means of self-defense get along with the democratic framework?  

EU deals with these kinds of hate speech in different ways. In Germany, because of our own awful history and Nazi past we have clear rules against hate speech and denying holocaust. It's considered to be a crime and can be prosecuted.

I think it’s good to have rules that can be applied to everybody. I don't know how it is right now in Ukraine, but going in single cases against journalists is something what in western societies is not seen as the best way. Freedom of speech and pluralism of opinion is something we have to protect in democratic societies.  

At the same time I often see awful news that are created in Russia against Ukrainian process. The best way to deal with it I have also not yet found, but I see that also some Ukrainians tend to reply to Russian propaganda with Ukrainian propaganda. EU would beat propaganda by proper information. But it's more difficult to do when a part of your country is at war.  

Propaganda seems to reach more people because it affects emotional rather than rational component. I find the example of how Britain tries to fight propaganda interesting: they check Russian news before allowing them on air.  

Europe also faces this hybrid war which targets its citizens through propaganda channels such as Ruptly, Sputnik, and news agencies that produce the news from Russian perspective. We need to think how to deal with it, because it damages the roots of democratic discussion.  

We in MYMEDIA believe that kids in schools have to be taught media literacy, so that they can understand from early age how to work with information and tell facts from propaganda. There is also Ukrainian project Stop-Fake that verifies information and points out fakes.  

Yes, the problem here is how to deal with it in acute situations. Stop-Fake was a good idea but their impact is still limited. Democratic media should have their own code of conduct as to how to deal with news. It's also not the best situation for EU media, but it's much harder for Ukraine, where media sector is very much in the hands of oligarchs. Many young journalists have great ideas and we have to help them survive. 

But here it's important to mention another problematic case with Ukrainian journalist Ruslan Kotsaba. [Ruslan Kotsaba posted a video addressed to the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in which he said he would rather go to prison for five years for draft-dodging than fight pro-Russia rebels in the country’s east. Now he faces 15 years in jail after being arrested for treason and obstructing the military].  

Kotsaba Case was from European perspective a joke, he shouldn't be in detention

Not only the accusations don't justify that he is in prison, but also the conditions of long-lasting pre-trial detention are unacceptable. Ukrainian judges and also the politicians behind this create a burden for EU in the perception of change in Ukraine.   

Can EU somehow influence his release?  

I wrote to Ukrainian government on these matters last summer, and even received some explanations but none of them were satisfying. So what Ukraine needs is a rule of law, not decisions à la carte. 

It's not only government who's playing this "national interests" game. In public sphere, especially among social activists and even journalists, there's a growing tendency for calling to take out citizenships of those who express pro-Russian ideas and anti-Ukrainian moods. What do you think about this trend?  

I can only reply to those politicians who are fostering this: do your job. Reform the country, and you will convince the people by successes in the reforms, not by pushing people out of the country.  

Sounds reasonable. But that's for politicians. In public sphere there's growing national sentiment. Is this backing on nationalism a right way of development for the country?  

I think it's going into Putin's trap. Nationalism is exactly what it Russia wants, it's the wrong way, and it's the opposite of European idea. The annexation of Crimea was based on the idea of collecting Russian soil. This is fascism, sorry.

It also goes against the roots of Euromaidan. When I came to Euromaidan in November 2013, I met people who organized it. They were people representing all parts of Ukrainian society, also with Russian, Jewish, Lithuanian background. And if you look at the history of different places you will find numerous ethnic groups playing part in development of many regions.  

European Union wants to overcome the horrors and destruction of the last century with wars and holocaust, including Stalinism. You cannot come out of this without leaving the idea that one nation is better than the other. We decided to forget about the national container and dangerous limits of national thinking.  

In Ukraine it came as a natural reaction to Putin saying he comes with his tanks to "protect a Russian speaking population".  

Yes, some Ukrainians in the East were open to this and they reacted in a positive way. But pushing those who feel close to Russia out of Ukraine, because they have connections, studied or worked in Russia, is completely wrong. Many people in Russia follow the Kremlin but I also met may Russians who are far away from this kind of thinking. 

It's much easier to tell people to be a proper Ukrainian nation, than to explain to them the reform process. This nationalism is trying to replace the discourse of the reforms  

You probably know that this Ukraine sends to Eurovision a Crimean Tatar singer Jamala with her song that speaks about the deportation of Crimean Tatars in the 1940s. But critics say creative contests should not be politicized... What's your opinion?  

This will be the first time I will vote in this contest. Normally I don’t like Eurovision kind of music, but I think she's a good representative of Ukraine and Crimean Tatars. 

Why not sing about something that happened in the past century to the Crimean Tatars? Why music should be free of any political thought in a world that needs so much engagement? Is it better to sing only about love?   

Rebecca, talking in general terms, do you believe in European future for Ukraine?

I was always in favor of this, and after two days with young people from all over Ukraine, I am convinced that you are already on the European way.  

When will it be possible?  

I have the experience with the eastern part of Germany, Poland, other former Warsaw Pact countries and the Baltic states which are already members of EU. It takes more than one generation. I'm one of the few EU politician who can put what we see now in perspective of how it all started in Ukraine in 1990-s. It was not the first revolution in 2013-2014 on Maidan in Ukraine, but it was for the first time that the citizens took the initiative and pushed for change. So this generation will have the fruit.  

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