Public Discussion
Tackling Conflict
in Post-Soviet Space
Viadrinicum's final, and most ambitious, public discussion:
what does it mean to truly integrate the different tracks of the peacemaking process?
Today's panel: Lars Kirchhoff (Center for Peace Mediation), Varvara Pakhomenko (Geneva Call) and Jurij Aston (German Foreign Office). Moderating them is Cecile Druey Schwab (University of Bern). Somehow, from very different vantage points, they're supposed to have a conversation orbiting with the various, clustered shitshows in the post-Soviet world. We wish them luck


We have a major question here: what is peace? How do we define it? It will be one of the major issues today; will we look at positive peace, negative peace, what's enough? We'll be exploring different concepts, their feasibility, their usefulness and what means we have to adapt them to certain contexts.

Perhaps before we can talk about peace we need to talk about conflict, and the spaces where conflict occurs. When we think of post-Soviet conflicts there's a lot of range: ideological conflicts from the days of the Soviet Union, territorial and identity conflicts linked to the 90's and the redefinition of borders, the fragmentation and resistance to older systems that we saw in the colour revolutions in the mid 00's, then finally we have Maidan and everything falling out from that.

These conflicts have been protracted for some time, and as time goes on there are more actors involved and a growing degree of hybridity. In response they need a variety of actors to be tackled. What are your thoughts?


These are big questions, thank you. Most people think of hybrid peacebuilding as a way of mediating between local and international norms, interests and so on. But sometimes it seems like hybridity means all things to all people. A man from Kenya told me that it's still the same old liberal project wrapped up in a different package. A US diplomat told me hybrid peacebuilding is supposed to give space to the weak in the context of their local culture. Can it be all of these things?

For me it means linking the different tracks of diplomatic peacebuilding, having an adaptive peacebuilding, and seeing which interests in the local can be linked to which interests in the international sphere. Also trying to include local and national interests when it comes to peace.


Interesting, but who facilitates this? Varvara, what do you believe about the usefulness and feasibility of hybrid peacebuilding? How do you assess it, and where is there resistance?


Coming back to the first question, we have to ask ourselves again what peace is. Is it just the end of violence? We can refer to a couple different conflicts, Chechnya for instance. We don't have violence anymore, but is it peace? We don't have violence in Abkhazia, but is it peace?

Talking about the Chechen case, proper negotiation and reconciliation involving different groups and people on the ground didn't happen. There was just a strategy to pacify the region, support Kadyrov and give him control. That's how we got peace. Or, if not peace, then stability. If we see a change of leadership or the status quo then there is a high probability indeed that the conflict could restart again.

If we want to reach proper peace we need to engage people on different levels, different layers. So many conflicts in post-Soviet space have different roots and reflect varying interests. We need to analyze things and arrange these different layers and tracks. We need to recognise that people are afraid that leaders will make decisions above their heads and force them to live together again without rebuilding lost homes, finding missing people, restoring justice concerning disappearances or murders or anything else. I heard this in South Ossetia – they were afraid they would just be reattached to Georgia. What happens then?

Things look calm but the fighting's not over – just frozen. Conflicts keep reappearing in different areas. We see Chechens fighting on either side in Ukraine and in Syria. We see Abkhazians fighting Georgians in Donbas.


This seems a combination of what happens when people on the ground aren't taken into account. Are there factors in the South Caucasus context about the usefulness of the tracks and efforts in peacebuilding? Factors that could be used in Ukraine? Is there a comparablity of peacebuilding and approaches?


Yes, we certainly need to analyse the experience in other conflicts. This is why I brought in the Chechen experience – the fact that reconciliation didn't happen on the ground is negative. Now we have the 10th anniversary of the Russian-Georgian conflict and there have been ongoing track-one discussions for all these years and we still haven't moved on. We've had some achievements on the humanitarian side but we haven't had progress when it comes to conflict resolution.

The high level talks are still there between the four parties, but there's also an understanding that we aren't getting anywhere. So other things have been tried in order to make more progress. Instead of roundtable talks we see discussions between territories on a bilateral basis: Georgia-South Ossetia, or Abkhazia-Russia. We've been able to take things bit by bit: trade, prisoner exchange, things like this. Progress gets made in pieces, but it comes.

It works better than Geneva talks because we detach these issues from national agendas of security. Because, when all we talk about is security, it often happens that humanitarian and development issues get held hostage. But a lot of this happens on track two.


We have a representative of track one with us who knows the Minsk process quite well. Jurij, can you share your experience from the perspective of a state actor involved in peace in Ukraine?


Let me bring the discussion to a practical, governmental work level and share a bit about my experience. First, it's very important to see that mediation is only part of the effort to bring peace to a conflict, and it's very important to analyze the specific context we're dealing with. When the crisis in Ukraine broke out in 2014, we in the German government reacted in different ways. You need to be thinking on five different tracks at once.

The first was with sanctions and this is important. We need to increase the cost of violating international norms, stand up for our principles. This was very important with regard to the cases both in Crimea and in Donbas.

The second is conflict resolution. This was unusual for Germans because we found ourselves in the driver's seat together with France trying to resolve or manage (which are different things, mind you) the conflict. It was mentioned that I used to be an advisor to the Chancellor's party; I've never seen Merkel embark on crisis diplomacy like when they were hammering out the Minsk agreement. She's very much behind this, as is the foreign minister. And we want to see it implemented. It's cumbersome but she's dedicated to it.

Third we needed to stabilize Ukraine economically and politically, sparing no effort in trying to support the country in reforms that are key for the future and for the resilience of the country. Only a strong Ukraine can live up to the challenges ahead of it, and of course we have a strategic interest in a stable Ukraine. It creates regional stability, and as well it provides opportunities for trade and export. We believe that we need to strengthen actors in the state to make them resilient and help them negotiate from a position of strength as much as possible.

Fourth was the reassurance of our eastern NATO allies and the need to build up their resilience. We need a strong posture and to stand firmly on our own two feet in order to negotiate from a position of strength. There are attempts to undermine transatlantic unity, but we achieved consensus on the sanctions issue and this was an achievement.

The fifth was keeping open diplomatic channels. To everyone. Track one is pretty strong at the moment, and there are movements through Geneva to engage track two.


For Germany, track one is one of the most important points?


I would never undervalue the other efforts, and when we talk about reconciliation we have a long way to go and every track is very important. But we also need to see that fundamental decisions about war and peace, the use of armed force, political decisions, these are taken by the governments in Kyiv and Moscow.

So yes, if you want to bring peace in such a crisis you can't start with track two. You have to find an agreement and implement it. Ceasefires, you name it. So yes, in that moment track one was crucial.


It's not in question if any other track can replace another – what Varvara said, as I heard it, was that the Geneva discussions are viewed by local populations as not efficient, but they have to be there. We have this contact and it's established, it's the only format where the non-government controlled territories are present. There's a channel of discussion. But if I can draw a little conclusion, it seems like we have quite different ideas of the efficiency and efficacy of the different formats.

Lars, we look at them in different ways. There's a need to facilitate not a domination of one track over the others but a coordination between actors. Is this feasible? And if not, is there an alternative? Is there a need in the end to dehybridize peace efforts? I've heard criticism in the Syrian context that hybridization creates problems. But what would a different approach be like?


First, it would be to early to deconstruct the concept of hybridity before we really tried it out. It's too soon to give up. I think at the same time that it would be naive not to acknowledge that fundamental decisions are made on track one. Full stop. At the same time we've talked about stabilizing society and improving resilience, and these are social values. They can't be ordered down from track one processes. These are bottom up factors. You need civil society. Sure we could talk complex theories about what fosters social change in trouble societies and cite agreements that regular people don't understand and this don't lead to healed communities.

Any kind of competitive edge between these tracks is a misleading path. It would be a devaluation of the others. A complementary set of decision making processes can lead to a path to peace but not if they compete...or not communicate. If they contradict each other things can get quite messy.

I'm sorry for my use of words, and I mean this with deep respect to those who come from Ukraine and have suffered, but what makes the experience in Ukraine rich is that on every level things have worked in impressive ways. Track one has been very quick, very strategic, very coordinated. In track two there have been round tables that have not been closely appreciated but did a lot to pacify things leading up to the election. Then there are hundreds of NGOs active in track three with thousands of dynamics in play. There's a lot going on on every track.

And there have been failures on every track as well. There were serious flaws in Minsk because of so much pressure to hammer out an agreement. Some pragmatic things have been sacrificed in order to get signatures. In track two we've seen some things go right and some things go wrong, and we unfortunately don't have time to talk about what goes wrong in track three. There's lots of distrust, and dialogue fatigue. People say that all these conversations have just amounted to internationally-sponsored kitchen talk.

In one sentence about improvements: better coordination between tracks, and a greater willingness to share information across all three levels. OSCE has been quite good, but there has also been some resistance, in my opinion, to sharing information.


Resistance not only to hybridity but also to coordination, and a frustration from many different actors that they are not included. We need to develop new ideas about translating concepts and interface management. How can we create links between, say, theatre dialogue initiatives on the community level and discussions on the government level. Are we all truly working in the same direction?

What about exchange, and creative laboratories of thinking? There is a will, I think, in Ukraine to do this. I think this is a good moment to open space for discussion among
the audience.


If I may, I didn't want to undermine track one. It's very important what everyone is doing. It's just that we can't ignore other things – when ministers come and talk about reintegrating non-government controlled territories and they meet resistance, it means there's a need that's not being met. It's necessary to talk to society, explain things to them, and that niche can be filled by civil society and journalists.

Very few people on the ground understand what the government, OSCE and other organizations are going, very few people understand their mandate. They're often mixed up with the UN, those people going around in white cars and not stopping the war. This has to be explained by local leaders who have the trust of communities.


I will risk being boring by agreeing with you all: I believe in complementarity. For example the environmental crisis in Donbas, it's huge. Huge. And we, as a government, are so engaged on a high level at Geneva that we can't deal with these aspects. But there are groups locally, on the ground, engaging with the issue.

About the OSCE, there are certainly initiatives to help education people about what's going on. There are OSCE cafes, a new format, as well as townhouse meetings. These are good ways of explaining, and I entirely agree that local leaders and civil society is important in solidifying the reintegration and reconciliation we will need for lasting peace.

I like what you said about Chechnya – there's no gunfire, but is it peace? It points towards a longer-lasting concept. My short point is that we are on the same page on complementarity of the effort, and if I understood your point correctly you would appreciate a better exchange between the tracks. We try to do this.

We found people engaged in humanitarian dialogue and, from time to time, they come to Berlin and we share analysis – we share as much as we can. We look for ways to complement each other. But of course there are confidential aspects to the negotiations and keeping that confidence is key to this. So there's a limit to what you can share with the public. The Russians understand this too – they're not playing around in public about this either.

Sure, we can talk about the process itself. We don't have a problem of process or format, at least not when it comes to track one. But we find progress is slow and results are meagre. Why? Because political will is the thing. We have all the processes and in principle they're working as they should. But we can't change political will in Kyiv or Moscow.

Take the example of the prisoner exchanges we had back in December. This was a very complicated thing – we helped bring about the release of 306 detainees. There was political will and, well, it worked out very well. When it's there then things are much easier, and we try to generate it, to make Minsk move forward, to lay out as many possible solutions as possible. But we can't dictate another country's interests to them.


Yes, the exchange of prisoners shows the Minsk agreements have some results, but now I would like to open the floor to the audience for questions and discussion.
[ enter forty five minutes of people expressing frustration, optimism, ignorance, disappointment, curiosity and disillusionment ]

[ people being frustrated at the German diplomat and taking it out quite vocally ]

[ people frustrated that others can't see that Europe can't just
force Russia's or Ukraine's hand ]

[ people wondering how we can get at the core of why
we're frustrated across the three tracks ]

[ people wondering, if we can't move forward, is there
any point in us talking here about it? ]

[ also: attempts to see what happens next ]

[ how can we identify the actual faultlines in our disagreements ]

[ how can we move on ]