National Expert Forum in Odessa

The Ukrainian think-tank Gorshenin Institute in partnership with the Representative Office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Ukraine and Belarus and the Odessa Regional State Administration conducted the 10th National Expert Forum in Odessa on 18th of October 2018.

The forum traditionally brings together leading Ukrainian and foreign public officials, politicians, diplomats and civil society leaders to discuss the most important challenges for Ukraine. The event consisted of three panels, pertaining to security, economic and international issues.

The first high-level panel, moderated by Marcel Röthig, head of the FES Representative Office in Ukraine and Belarus, focused on the “Formula of Peace for Ukraine” and asked for possible prospects and opportunities for dealing with the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Oleksandr Lytvynenko, Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council for Ukraine, stated that the situation in Eastern Ukraine needs a dialogue on the political level to implement any peace accord and Simon Weiß, Research Associate at the FES Regional Office for Cooperation and Peace in Europe (Vienna), pointed out that according to the latest social opinion polls the majority of Ukrainians (63%) would prefer a regional solution to the conflict rather than an international one. The speakers conformed that the “Minsk Agreements” were a valuable achievement at that time and there is no realistic alternative to it at the moment. According to the experts Ukraine should now rely on the existing documents because Russia is not going not change its approach before the elections will take place in Ukraine next year.

Progressing the reintegration of Donbas should be on the agenda of the government. This idea was expressed by Jean-Baptiste Jeangéne-Vilmer, Director of the French think-tank IRSEM. He also stated that the Donbas for Russia is more useful inside Ukraine, so Russia will not counter Ukrainian approaches of its reintegration, provided Ukraine respects a certain state of autonomy for this region. This region hinders Ukraine from a strong national identity building based on language and culture. For the reintegration of the Donbas a public debate over the issue is needed. Later, within the restoration process the competitiveness of the Donbas region should be raised.

The former Deputy Director of the Israeli Security Agency Itzhak Ilan suggested another approach: by drawing lines to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he emphasized the need for a good intelligence service, a quality defense strategy, military operations and denying of alliances with the countries which work with “the enemy” – this statement has to be seen critical, as firstly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be easily transferred to the situation of the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and secondly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn’t been solved and has been lasting for more than 50 years.

The second panel “Ukraine as Europe´s Investment Hub” brought Hennadiy Zubko (Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine), Maksym Stepanov (Head of the Odessa Regional State Administration), Isabelle Dumont (Ambassador of France), Lii Yang-Goo (Ambassador of Korea) and Ivan Miklos (Chairman of SAGSUR) together to deal with the possibilities and challenges of the Ukrainian economy. Miklos mentioned that an economic growth of 6-7 % would be healthy and sustainable for Ukraine´s economy. The recipe for achieving this number is closely related to making Ukraine more attractive for foreign investors. According to Ambassador Dumont there are interested investors, they are even ready to allocate their resources to Ukraine because of its potential and actively transforming markets, but serious obstacles remain, and they have to be overcome to make Ukraine some sort of an investment hub.

Corruption is a huge threat and must be reduced as well. This notion was shared by all the panelists. They also outlined that the law enforcement is weak and slow and has to be simplified. The governor of Odessa oblast Stepanov was proposing more detailed ideas on how to achieve the long-awaited progress. Firstly, in his opinion, the law enforcers and the controlling authorities should be directly responsible for the losses incurred by businesses if they are caused by the first ones. Secondly, he mentioned special monthly meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine with the participation of representatives of business communities. This would improve the communication amongst key actors.

Finally, “Ukraine in the International Dimension” was discussed within the third panel. The Russian aggression as the most influential factor for Ukraine´s development was the main topic for Pavlo Klimkin, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Heorhiy Lohvynskyy, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament. Besides, Annika Weidemann, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, answered the question “What makes Ukraine more favorable for Europe?”. She stated that there are effective agreements between the European Union and Ukraine that make Ukraine more favorable, namely the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade agreement as an essential part of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. Both sides, in her opinion, have to work on the full implementation of these agreements. Susan Stewart, Senior Associate at SWP (Berlin, Germany) added that necessary reforms in Ukraine already started and that these reforms need a more coherent dynamic to be truly successful. Ukraine nowadays is perceived as independent actor and sovereign state in Europe. The key issue that would help to raise reputation and attractiveness of Ukraine is the fight against corruption. Therefore, the current, as well as future governments have to make more efforts to address this issue.

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