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Eastern Europe

Russia’s Foreign Policy Towards and Influence on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

Image source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Defence

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On the 27th of September 2020, the international community witnessed the outbreak of hostilities in the South Caucasian non-recognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. It was not the first such occurrence since the Bishkek Protocol of 1994 put an end to the most violent phase of the conflict, which started during the last years of the Soviet Union and further escalated after its dissolution. The Russian Federation was from the very beginning concerned by the developments in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, as the Russian scholars Andrei Sushentsov and Nikita Neklyudov contend that, “Russia sees both the North and South Caucasus as a unified sphere of interest, source of vulnerability, and field of responsibility.” Thus, in 1992, Russia became a co-chair of the newly-created OSCE Minsk Group tasked with finding a sustainable peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The input of an experienced Russian diplomat and expert – Vladimir Kazimirov, the then head of the Russian mediation mission, official representative of the President of the Russian Federation on Nagorno-Karabakh, and co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, was crucial in negotiating the 1994 Bishkek Protocol.

Twenty-six years later, on the 9th and 10th of October 2020, it was Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, whose mediation role was critical in the more-than-ten-hour negotiation marathon with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts, which eventually led to the ceasefire agreement. Nevertheless, it took notably longer than before to bring the sides to the negotiation table and all attempts at upholding the ceasefire (the second agreed upon with the input of Sergei Lavrov, the third brokered by the US, and the last mediated by the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group) fell short of halting the armed clashes and returning the sides to the peace talks. These developments signal a diminishing Russian influence on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and therefore, this article aims at analysing the evolution of Russia’s foreign policy toward and influence on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, shedding light on the differences of the current situation.

Unlike in all other de facto (or unrecognized) states in post-Soviet space, Russia does not fulfil the role of Nagorno-Karabakh’s patron, which is in this case Armenia, with Azerbaijan being Nagorno-Karabakh’s parent state. For Russia, it has always been important to have a balanced relationship with both Armenia and Azerbaijan due to: first, Russia having strong Armenian and Azerbaijani diasporas; second, Russia wanting to retain military presence in Armenia, while having good relations with Azerbaijan that shares a border (demarcated in 2010 after 14 years of talks) with the Russian region of Dagestan, which is of high security concern to Russia. Neither does Russia want a deterioration of relations with any of the two in the context of already seriously strained relations with the third South Caucasian state – Georgia. Russia’s preferred approach is thus for Armenia and Azerbaijan to settle their disputes themselves, with Russia willing to serve as a mediator and broker rather than supporter of one of the sides.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan cultivate relations simultaneously with Russia and the West, which has also been reflected in the fact that the approach(es) to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have not been influenced by the deterioration of Russian-Western relations. Therefore, regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, there is still a convergence of Russia’s and the West’s approaches, representing a unique case in the contemporary state of relations. This has been reflected in Russia’s foreign policy approach in this particular case, which has been rather consistent since the fall of the USSR, although it took some time until it became more consolidated, as in the early 1990s, the Russian military took some foreign policy steps independently from official Moscow. The peculiarity of the Russian position has since the inception been the country’s simultaneous role as a mediator and a as a supplier of military equipment to both conflicting parties. Although Russia has invested considerable effort into conflict resolution and has tried to achieve an outcome that would be favourable to its interests (e.g. one that would include a Russia peacekeeping mission), it has been neither willing nor able to impose a settlement on the conflicting sides.

After the dissolution of the USSR, Russia undertook steps to balance the Azerbaijani military advantage by authorizing supplies to Armenia. At the same time, Russia assigned a particularly high value to mediation and conflict resolution efforts, which was perceived by Boris Yeltsin, then President of Russia, and Andrei Kozyrev, then Russian Foreign Minister, as crucial for Russia’s international status and its ambitions to integrate into the international system. As a result, Russia became involved in the work of the OSCE Minsk Group together with the West, although at that time, the two could not find a common position and thus, Russia was also engaged in mediation efforts on its own. Nevertheless, it is important to underline that while Russia has presented certain initiatives beyond the OSCE Minsk Group, those never ran against the activities of the Group and Principles agreed upon within its framework.

Although the Russian initial mediation and conflict resolution attempts fell short of committing the sides to a ceasefire, it was abovementioned input of Vladimir Kazimirov that finally secured a ceasefire on the 12th of May 1994. Nevertheless, in spite of Russia’s unwearying efforts, a political agreement on conflict settlement could not be reached and Russia has over the years repeatedly, yet unsuccessfully, attempted to send a peacekeeping mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, which would have increased its presence and influence in the region, satisficing Russia’s national interests and quest for ontological security to a larger extent than the status quo.

Under Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Russia’s foreign policy toward the post-Soviet space became more consolidated and systematic, aiming at increasing influence, integration, and conflict settlement efforts in the post-Soviet space. In 1997, two important events happened: first, Azerbaijan became a founding member of the GUAM group seen by Russia as aimed at containing it; second, Russia expanded its military ties with Armenia, though assuring that it was by no means directed against Azerbaijan. From the Russian side, it was a reactive strategic move serving its objectives of securing influence and military presence in the post-Soviet space, which has to be interpreted in the context of gradually deteriorating relations with the third South Caucasian state – Georgia.

In the 2000s, Russia maintained its active role in conflict settlement. With the other co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, it worked out the Madrid Principles that were adopted in 2007 and have, in their updated 2009 version, ever since been the cornerstone of the conflict settlement efforts, abided by all the mediators. Nevertheless, the beyond-the-Minsk-Group initiative of the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which culminated in the 2011 Kazan summit attended by the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev, did not result in the sides signing a document committing them to follow these Principles. In the aftermath, Moscow scaled down its pro-active conflict resolution efforts.

In late July 2014, when the deadliest violence since the 1994 ceasefire agreement erupted at the Nagorno-Karabakh line of contact, Russian mediation once again stepped in to de-escalate the situation The following initiative of President Vladimir Putin, undertaken due to Russia’s “special and particularly close relations” with both Armenia and Azerbaijan, did not materialize and progress in the peace process could not be achieved. In 2015, Russia put forward the so-called Lavrov Plan (it was not officially published) and when the four-day war broke out in April 2016, as the Azerbaijani and Armenian forces started fighting at the line of contact, it was Russia that helped to de-escalate the situation by brokering a ceasefire. The Lavrov Plan was again on the table and while Azerbaijan was willing to consider it, removing opposition to Russian peacekeeping, Armenia rejected it due to the vagueness of provisions on the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Over the years, the openness of Azerbaijan and Armenia to a solely Russian peacekeeping mission has faded and progress in conflict settlement has not been achieved.

For a long time, Russia has maintained close contact with both Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships. Moscow has not considered adopting a revisionist approach in favour of supporting a change of borders and/or recognizing Nagorno-Karabakh, and anytime the conflict escalated, Russia refrained from making categorical statements and value judgements on who is to blame. Therefore, both sides have valued the contribution of Russian mediation, which has also been demonstrated in the current situation. Nevertheless, the September 2020 flare-up has indeed been different from the previous instances of escalation, due to two important changes in the region, which have diminished Russian influence on the conflict and thus led to the prolonged period of armed clashes.

First, both Armenia and Azerbaijan have assertively cemented their contradictory positions, which was to be seen in the October 2020 interviews of Nikol Pashinyan, the Armenian Prime Minister, and Ilham Aliev, the President of Azerbaijan, with Dmitry Kiselev, Director General of Russiya Segodnya International Information Agency. This development has palpably reduced the possibility of a negotiated compromise, which in turn poses limitations on the Russian influence on the sides. Second, the regional influence of Turkey, which has a closed border and no diplomatic relations with Armenia, has been on the rise, as its ties with Azerbaijan have grown stronger, conspicuously demonstrated by the Summer 2020 two-week joint military drills that followed the Armenian-Azerbaijani border clashes of July 2020. Indeed, after the fighting broke out in late September 2020, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Armenia to end the occupation of Azerbaijani territories and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu claimed that Turkey was ready to support Azerbaijan at the negotiation table as well as on the ground. While the Russian-Turkish communication channels are in place and well-tested (Syria serves as an example), and the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers have recently been in contact to discuss the crisis, the positions and strategic interests of the two countries notably differ in this case, which makes the situation in the region more complex and entangled.

These two factors have thus hindered Russia’s mediation efforts as well as its ability to prevent the escalation, which would be in line with Russia’s national interests of maintaining stability in the region and preventing a potential spill-over to Russian Northern Caucasus. On the other hand, while having limited and diminished capability to influence the process and the outcome, Russia’s role as a mediator remains indispensable, which is recognized by the conflicting parties as well as by the international community. In this context, it is to be expected that Russia will refrain from openly supporting one side at the expense of the other, unless the conflict spreads to the Armenian territory. It is nearly certain that Russia will carry on with its mediation efforts aimed at bringing the violent phase of the conflict to a halt and addressing the situation in accordance with the Madrid Principles, be it within the OSCE Minsk Group or beyond.

From our partner RIAC

Second-year student of Multilateral Diplomacy Master's Programme jointly organized by MGIMO University and UNITAR

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Eastern Europe

Prospects of Armenia-Turkey Rapprochement

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Potential Armenia-Turkey rapprochement could have a major influence on South Caucasus geopolitics. The opening of the border would allow Turkey to have a better connection with Azerbaijan beyond the link it already has with the Nakhchivan exclave. Moscow will not be entirely happy with the development as it would allow Yerevan to diversify its foreign policy and decrease dependence on Russia in economy. The process nevertheless is fraught with troubles as mutual distrust and the influence of the third parties could complicate the nascent rapprochement.

Over the past month Armenian and Turkish officials exchanged positive statements which signaled potential rapprochement between the two historical foes. For instance, the Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said that he was ready for reconciliation with Turkey “without preconditions.” “Getting back to the agenda of establishing peace in the region, I must say that we have received some positive public signals from Turkey. We will assess these signals, and we will respond to positive signals with positive signals,” the PM stated. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara could work towards gradual normalization if Yerevan “declared its readiness to move in this direction.”

On a more concrete level Armenia has recently allowed Turkish Airlines to fly to Baku directly over Armenia. More significantly, Armenia’s recently unveiled five-year government action plan, approved by Armenia’s legislature, states that “Armenia is ready to make efforts to normalize relations with Turkey.” Normalization, if implemented in full, would probably take the form of establishing full-scale diplomatic relations. More importantly, the five-year plan stresses that Armenia will approach the normalization process “without preconditions” and says that establishing relations with Turkey is in “the interests of stability, security, and the economic development of the region.”

So far it has been just an exchange of positive statements, but the frequency nevertheless indicates that a certain trend is emerging. This could lead to intensive talks and possibly to improvement of bilateral ties. The timing is interesting. The results of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war served as a catalyzer. Though heavily defeated by Azerbaijan, Armenia sees the need to act beyond the historical grievances it holds against Turkey and be generally more pragmatic in foreign ties. In Yerevan’s calculation, the improvement of relations with Ankara could deprive Baku of some advantages. Surely, Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance will remain untouched, but the momentum behind it could decrease if Armenia establishes better relations with Turkey. The latter might not be as strongly inclined to push against Armenia as it has done so far, and specifically during the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. The willingness to improve the bilateral relations has been persistently expressed by Ankara over the past years. Perhaps the biggest effort was made in 2009 when the Zurich Protocols were signed leading to a brief thaw in bilateral relations. Though eventually unsuccessful (on March 1, 2018, Armenia announced the cancellation of the protocols), Ankara has often stressed the need of improvement of ties with Yerevan without demanding preconditions.

Beyond the potential establishment of diplomatic relations, the reopening of the two countries’ border, closed from early 1990s because of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkey’s solidarity with and military and economic support for Azerbaijan, could also be a part of the arrangement. The opening of the 300 km border running along the Armenian regions of Shirak, Aragatsotn, Armavir, and Ararat could be a game-changer. The opening up of the border is essentially an opening of the entire South Caucasus region. The move would provide Armenia with a new market for its products and businesses. In the longer term it would allow the country to diversify its economy, lessen dependence on Russia and the fragile route which goes through Georgia. The reliance on the Georgian territory could be partially substituted by Azerbaijan-Armenia-Turkey route, though it should be also stressed that the Armenia transit would need considerable time to become fully operational.

Economic and connectivity diversification equals the diminution of Russian influence in the South Caucasus. In other words, the closed borders have always constituted the basis of Russian power in the region as most roads and railways have a northward direction. For Turkey an open border with Armenia is also beneficial as it would allow a freer connection with Azerbaijan. Improving the regional links is a cornerstone of Turkey’s position in the South Caucasus. In a way, the country has acted as a major disruptor. Through its military and active economic presence Turkey opens new railways and roads, thus steadily decreasing Russian geopolitical leverage over the South Caucasus.

As mentioned, both Ankara and Yerevan will benefit from potential rapprochement. It is natural to suggest that the potential improvement between Turkey and Armenia, Russia’s trustful ally, would not be possible without Moscow’s blessing. Russia expressed readiness to help Armenia and Turkey normalize their relations, saying that would boost peace and stability in the region. “Now too we are ready to assist in a rapprochement between the two neighboring states based on mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests,” the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said. Yet, it is not entirely clear how the normalization would suit Russia’s interests. One possibility is that the Armenia-Turkey connection would allow Russia to have a direct land link with Turkey via Azerbaijan and Armenia. However, here too the benefits are doubtful. The route is long and will likely remain unreliable. For Russia trade with Turkey via the Black Sea will remain a primary route.

Presenting a positive picture in the South Caucasus could however be a misrepresentation of real developments on the ground. The Armenian-Turkish rapprochement is far from being guaranteed because of ingrained distrust between the two sides. Moreover, there is also the Azerbaijani factor. Baku will try to influence Ankara’s thinking lest the rapprochement goes against Azerbaijan’s interests. Moreover, as argued above, Russia too might not be entirely interested in the border opening. This makes the potential process of normalization fraught with numerous problems which could continuously undermine rapport improvement.

Thus, realism drives Turkish policy toward Armenia. Ankara needs better connections to the South Caucasus. Reliance on the Georgian transit route is critical, but diversification is no less important. The results of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war present Turkey and Armenia with an opportunity to pursue the improvement of bilateral ties. Yet, the normalization could be under pressure from external players and deep running mutual distrust. Moreover, the two sides will need to walk a tightrope as a potential blowback from nationalist forces in Turkey and Armenia can complicate the process.

Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch

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Tighter Ties with China Signal Ukraine’s Multi-Vector Foreign Policy

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Ukraine is eager to cut deals with China as it confronts the West’s moves to allay Russian concerns. Whether Kyiv’s moves are a sign of a larger foreign policy adjustment or just a bluff aimed to mitigate faltering ties with the EU and the US, they could beget big consequences.

‘Chinese Card’

On June 30, Ukraine touted an agreement with China, which proposes revamping the country’s decrepit infrastructure. The decision comes following a US-German resolution to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite longstanding concerns of Kyiv and other CEE nations. Yet, perhaps the biggest motivation was the growing unwillingness in the West to advance Ukraine’s NATO/EU aspirations.

The current state of affairs pushes Ukraine to find alternatives in foreign policy. China, with plenty of cash and political clout, comes as an obvious choice resulting in the signing of the bilateral agreement in June. The document outlines China’s willingness to invest in railways, airports, and ports, as well as telecommunications infrastructure across Ukraine. But otherwise, the agreement details few specifics.

The available details from the deal fit comfortably into the pattern China has been following across Eurasia. For example, China signed similar deals with Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia among others, demonstrating its willingness to penetrate those states’ vital infrastructure. Still, the documents can be also characterized as an umbrella agreement that serves as a roadmap rather than an accord listing concrete details and commitments.

The China-Ukraine agreement is all the more surprising as Kyiv rebuffed earlier this year a Chinese proposal to buy a Ukrainian aerospace company, Motor Sich.

Nevertheless, there are several reasons behind the rapprochement. First and foremost, it is about Ukraine adjusting its foreign policy stance to the state of economic relations. China is now Ukraine’s biggest single-country trade partner outstripping Russia and having a 14.4 percent share of the country’s imports and 15.3 percent of its exports. Perhaps fearful of possible Chinese countermeasures over the Motor Sich decision, Kyiv has been open to mending ties with Beijing with the June agreement.

Secondly, it paves the way for a more active role in China’s near-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims at connecting China with the European market across the heart of Eurasia. Ukraine was among the first to endorse the initiative but has avoided signing memorandums on cooperation similar to what China has done with many others.

More immediately, the tilt toward China follows Kyiv’s decision to remove its name from an international statement about human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang. While Ukraine initially joined the initiative, together with 40 other states, Kyiv abruptly changed its mind on June 24. It has been confirmed that the withdrawal followed Chinese threats to limit trade and deny access to COVID-19 vaccines for which Ukraine had already paid.

Multi-Vector Policy

Some larger geopolitical dynamics are also at play, such as Kyiv’s attempt to acclimate to the changing world order and the growing global competition between Beijing and Washington. In this environment, Ukraine might want to carve out an equidistant place between the two powers so as to avoid possible backlash from siding clearly with either of them.

As such, Ukraine appears to be embarking on a multi-vector foreign policy. It would allow Kyiv to alleviate its dependence on the West and seek lucrative economic and political ties with large Eurasian states. Put simply, relations with the West did not deliver on the expected benefits. The country was not offered NATO or EU accession, while the collective West’s consistent concessions to Russia undermine Ukraine’s interests. Ukraine has also often tended to look at China and other Eurasian powers from the ‘Western perspective’, which limited its options.

In Kyiv’s understanding, elimination of this obstructive dependence would enable it to find new partners able to bring in investments and ideally political support in multilateral organizations. China undoubtedly can be such a partner.

Kyiv’s calculations are more understandable when taken in view of its larger diplomatic readjustment in the region. For example, Ukraine recently began building closer relations with another Eurasian power in Turkey. When Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky visited Istanbul in April 2021, nascent bilateral military ties were seen as a new chapter in the countries’ relations. Most indicative of this shift, a memorandum was signed on the creation of joint defense-industrial projects, which includes joint development of unmanned aerial vehicles in Ukraine.

The story of Turkey could serve as a microcosm, whereby Kyiv displayed that it is more interested in balancing the pressure from Russia and mitigating the failures in its pro-Western foreign policy course. Ukraine thus foreshadowed its increasingly multi-vector foreign policy as a solution to its geopolitical problems. In Kyiv’s understanding, rapprochement with China and Turkey could mitigate threats emanating from Russia as both Beijing and Ankara enjoy closer ties with Moscow, but nonetheless consider it a competitor.

The multi-vector foreign policy for Ukraine however does not mean abandoning its pro-Western cause. It rather involves seeing its NATO/EU aspirations as complementary with the closer economic ties with China and others. It will require an agile foreign policy and leveraging the country’s geopolitical assets.

New Type of Bilateral Relations 

Ukraine’s behavior might herald the birth of what could be characterized as a Eurasian model of bilateral relations. Across the continent, the notion of traditional alliances is being gradually replaced by partnerships. Devoid of formal obligations, China, Iran, Turkey and Russia find more space for interaction and see a larger pool of opportunities across the vastness of the supercontinent. Bigger maneuverability makes their foreign policy more agile in finding a common ground for cooperation.

The Eurasian model is a byproduct of an evolving global order in which each state with geopolitical influence recalibrates its foreign ties to fit into the post-unipolar world. Russia and China officially refuse to have an alliance – indeed, they claim an alliance would undermine their purportedly benevolent intentions toward one another. More specifically, the concept relates to how China sees the future world order. It opposes alliances – the ‘relic’ from the Cold War era.

Thus, the shift in Kyiv’s foreign policy could be part of this Eurasian trend where Ukraine seeks to construct its Asia policy which would better correspond to the unfolding China-US competition, Asia’s economic rise, and most of all, the failure to become a NATO or EU member state.

Reality Check

However, closer ties with China and most of all the dependence on Beijing’s investments also involves risks. China’s infrastructure projects are mostly financed through loans, which poorer and weaker countries are unable to repay. Often, ownership of the sites ends up in Chinese hands.

Chinese involvement in Ukraine’s critical infrastructure could also risk giving control over strategic technologies to Beijing, which would be channeled to China and successfully used to advance Chinese interests.

For Kyiv, dependence on Beijing also involves risks because of China’s close partnership with Russia. Dangers could be manifested in a concerted pressure on Ukraine in international organizations, or even China heeding Russian fears and abandoning infrastructure projects which would harm Russian interests.

The June agreement is an umbrella deal that lays out the foundation for deeper cooperation, but in no way guarantees its fulfillment. This could mean that Ukraine only sought to restore worsening bilateral relations with China following the Motor Sich saga. Alternatively, Kyiv might merely be trying to raise stakes in its stagnated relations with the West and hold Washington to account, signaling that it can successfully navigate between geopolitical poles if need be. One way or another, China looks set to play a bigger role in Ukraine‘s foreign policy.

Author’s note: first published at chinaobservers

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine’s independence: Shaping new political narratives through art

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Ukraine’s 30th Independence Anniversary brings forth a discussion on forming a modern cultural identity in the wake of political instability.  

Despite gaining independence 30 years ago, Ukraine is still facing consistent attacks on its sovereignty, both political and cultural. From the ongoing war with Russia in Eastern Ukraine, where 10,000 people have lost their lives since 2014, down to the root of oversimplification of Ukrainian issues in the media, Ukraine’s story is often being told by opponents attempting to distort the modern Ukrainian cultural identity.

My first-hand experience working with kids at the Ukrainian warzone has taught me a deep appreciation for cultural independence. For five years together with youngsters I wrote, directed and staged a performance piece titled ‘Contact Line’ about life at the warzone and personally witnessed the huge impact of arts and culture on the kids’ lives. This experience demonstrated that for too long Ukraine has let someone else present its identity to its youth, citizens and the world.

Shaking away the Soviet legacy

There’s no denying that the Soviet Union left a lasting legacy on Ukraine. The culture of Ukraine is to this day tainted by lingering ghosts of the Soviet past. Soviet authorities vigorously supressed the development of independent cultural identities in all the member states. In Ukraine’s case, simplistic rural folklore was imposed on society as a primary culture and was a means of suppressing creative or progressive thought. National collectives and one-dimensional traditional themes were presented as the essence of Ukrainian culture throughout the 20th century. Anyone who didn’t fit the Soviet mould was eliminated. A specific term, Executed Renaissance, is used to define a generation of Ukrainian artists who were repressed by the Soviet regime for their artistic non-conformism.

It has taken decades for Ukraine to regain its cultural voice and iron out its Soviet imprint. A key concept of postcolonial theory examines the creative resistance to the colonizers’ culture and the fraught slow development of a postcolonial identity. Ukraine has been struggling through this process for 30 years. However, since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity the country has been reimagining its culture, exploring its history and reconnecting with its identity. Ukraine is now striving to be on par with Western culture by ridding itself of remaining Soviet influences. Cultural institutions previously under government control or censorship are finding an independent voice and the population is discovering that authentic artistic expression is providing hope in difficult times. 

Looking at the future

Over the past 10 years, Ukraine has witnessed a robust change in the arts sector. The cultural scene has made a significant move away from a conservative ethos to a more contemporary one. Visual arts are the most progressive form of expression in Ukraine, with cinema rapidly catching up. Ukrainian filmmakers are winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Ukrainian artists are receiving praise at La Biennale di Venezia. The expectation is that this trend will not only magnify in the coming years, but also position Ukrainian artists as global creative trailblazers. 

Despite ballet being an extremely politicised art form during the Soviet period, it is now going through a revival and modernisation. The Ukrainain school of ballet is gaining recognition as one of the world’s best and Ukrainian ballet dancers are headlining the top ballet companies across the globe, showcasing their immense talent and training. British audiences will have an opportunity to watch the best Ukrainian ballet dancers from the world’s top theatres come together for a one-off unique performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London on September 7th.

Georgian-American ballet choreographer George Balanchine famously said, “Ballet will speak for itself,” and the artform remains a true demonstration of the universal language of dance. The Ukrainian Ballet Gala will be a showcase of the innovation and traditions of the contemporary Ukrainian ballet school.

Global cultural promotion

In a globalised world it’s the wish of every country to promote and engage in cultural exchanges, and Ukraine is very much part of this movement. Ukraine wants to be an active player on the world stage, both politically and culturally, and to be a dynamic culture creator, particularly in Europe. Trust in soft diplomacy is growing and Ukraine’s international relations and diplomacy are benefiting from this trend. 

As a Ukrainian-born and British-educated theatre producer and director I appreciate the importance of bringing the best of Ukrainian culture to the world not just for Ukraine’s benefit, but to enrich global culture and share experiences through creative means. It is the job of people like me and my colleagues to tell Ukraine’s story through art and, thus, shape new political narratives about Ukraine internationally. We want to share our rich culture with the world and events, such as the Ukrainian Ballet Gala, are key to achieving this.

Ukrainians are now left with no choice but to stride forward – no outside force should ever again control the vibrant culture of Ukraine.

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