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Speeches, 10/22/2014

Minister Tuomioja's Opening Remarks at the 14th Annual Aleksanteri Conference "Restructing State and Society in Russia"

Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja

Restructuring State and Society in Russia  
The 14th Annual Aleksanteri Conference

University of Helsinki
22 October 2014

[Check against delivery] 

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I greet this distinguished gathering here today. Scholarly work is a noble profession. It is often more a personal calling than simply a vocation. As a historian myself I know both the rich rewards and the bitter frustrations that come with this line of work.

Conferences such as the one we are opening here today are a chance to come together and reflect upon two things: our topics as well as our profession. In my short remarks today I attempt to touch both of these sides.

You are to be congratulated for the overall topic you have chosen. Russia and Eastern Europe are now on everybody’s lips. As you very well know this has not always been the case. The last 25 years have witnessed an increasing neglect of Russian and Eastern European studies in many parts of the world. This has never been a sentiment I, or indeed Finland, have welcomed. I think the tragic events of the past year have shown that we need more and better Russian and Eastern European studies.

I want to convey three key messages here today. Firstly, I want to briefly introduce my own overall analysis of global trends by highlighting the two different and at times competing logics at play that I have come to call the two worlds of interdependence and power politics.

Secondly, I would like to argue that the conflict in Ukraine is a case in point showcasing the parallel existence of these two worlds. It can be seen as a battle ground for two different approaches concerning security and prosperity. And thirdly I would like to call for your continued engagement with these topics: the recent events have shown that we have not gotten everything fully right. The need for sound scholarly work and even policy-relevant academic advice is as strong as ever.

Let me begin by briefly describing the two polar opposites in world politics. On the one hand we have the old reality of real politics, with states relying on power politics to further their national interests, even at the expense of others if that is possible and permitted. This is the world where dominant threat perceptions are military by nature and where security is about preparedness based on military build-up and alliance. The key word in this world is deterrence.

On the other hand we have the world of interdependence, where it is impossible for anyone to respond to new security challenges on their own and/or by means of power politics alone, but where the only viable way to manage those challenges is through broadly based multilateral cooperation. In this world security can and must be built collectively, and the focus of military resources shifts from territorial defence to crisis management. The key word in this world is cooperation.

Historically we have been living in a world dominated by power politics. But increasingly the world of interdependence is gaining momentum. Indeed, all the real global issues we face today, ranging from uncontrolled climate change to pandemics and cyber security, reside in the realm of interdependence. They cannot be tackled by military means alone and their resolution is usually beyond the means of any given state. The international community at large is called upon to act together to tackle these issues.

Ladies and gentlemen, the conflict in Ukraine has shown these two worlds in operation.

On the one hand we have witnessed the attempts by Ukraine to come to terms with the world of interdependence. To be precise the crux of the current crisis is exactly this: Ukraine’s essential inability to succeed in this task during its independence. Over two decades of independent statehood have been squandered. Instead of economic development and societal reforms the country has seen oligarchic crony capitalism, mismanagement and rampant corruption. The EuroMaidan movement was a genuine popular uprising representing, by and large, ordinary people tired with the old system demanding something more accountable and better instead. They wanted to see a new Ukraine that would successfully embrace the world of interdependence.

On the other hand we have seen the determined attempts by Russia to stave off these developments through the use of power politics. A lot of words have already been used to characterize the new and hybrid nature of Russia’s campaign against Ukraine. I will not rehearse this debate on this occasion. Suffice it to say that in its essence the modus operandi is as old as the invention of a stone axe: intimidation, misinformation and coercion.

But the world has changed and is changing more as I speak. I believe that the time of securing lasting political gains by power politics is coming to a close. These measures can still be applied and with some short-term success, this we have seen, but I am increasingly skeptical about the long-term viability of this strategy. In fact I fear that not only Ukraine but also Russia itself will end up paying a heavy price for these actions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that the events in Ukraine have come as such a big surprise and shock to so many shows that we clearly have not been operating under entirely correct information and assumptions. I have been fairly critical about the EU’s performance prior to and during the conflict. Now I want to turn the guns, gently and figuratively, in your direction.

I do not want to suggest that you should have seen all of this coming. Some of you of course did. I know that at least some of you have been warning of negative trends and tendencies in the East for years. Also the EU’s policies in the region have not escaped your criticism and probably for a good reason too.

Instead I want to make a call for fresh research and new approaches. We need to understand the background to this conflict better. We need better insights into Russia’s development and international role, both regionally and globally. We must re-think our own approaches and policies towards the Eastern partners as well as Russia. We also need work on Ukraine and other countries residing between the EU and Russia.

All of this calls for your contributions. We need profound basic research concerning these issues. But we also need timely snap analysis, policy-relevant insights and commentary, but one that is based on a solid foundation of proper research and a nuanced understanding of the realities on the ground.

We also need your critical contribution when it comes to our own policies: No country or person is infallible and it is only through an open and honest debate that things will improve. This openness to criticism is the strength of the academic community and we should make it the strength of our own approaches as well.

I want to wish you an enjoyable conference and continued success in your important work in the future.

Thank You!

This document

Updated 10/22/2014

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