One name that stood out among those of the panelists at the conference, “Ukraine torn between Russia and the West”, was Lilia Shevtsova’s. She is the director of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center and an acclaimed “Kremlinologist”. Her assertions, which included praise for Putin’s presidency, ignited a vibrant debate among the audience and the other speakers on the panel.
Shevtsova stated that Ukraine was first and foremost a “testing ground, an experimental laboratory” for the Russian government, in order “to testify the doctrine of survival of the Kremlin”. This new doctrine has its foundations in the principle that Dr Shevtsova summarized in her own words as “The strongest nation has the right to break the rules of the game and the West must comply with it”. And this because the West, on the other hand, is mired down in a state of deep stagnation and powerlessness. The European Union’s slow reaction to the events in Ukraine maked Europe look like, as Shevtsova put it, “a retirement home”.
Another speaker on the panel supported the views expressed by Shevtsova. Kadri Liik, member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, stated that the metaphor of the Ukraine being a bridge between Russia and the European Union is a mere cliché. “Ukraine has not facilitated dialogue between Russia and Europe”. Liik finished her presentation with a fundamental question: “Can Europe be a model for the future?”. According to Nona Mikhelidze, another speaker on the panel and research fellow at the IAI, it is possible. Europe, however, needs to reformulate its strategy in order to facilitate possible negotiations with the Kremlin, instead of looking at Russia through a distorted Westernized lens.