Ambassador of Ukraine Liubov Nepop opened the conference by noting that Russia's aggression was launched on 20 February 2014, followed by the illegal "referendum" on 16 March organised by Moscow under the barrel of Russian guns and then by the adoption of and unlawful decision on the so-called "accession" of Crimea to the Russian Federation on 18 March.

The ambassador said that recalling this date in 2014, Ukraine's international partners, including NATO and the EU, had on Monday 18 March 2019 reaffirmed their strong position on non-recognition of the annexation and in continuation of the sanctions policy against Russia until the Kremlin's aggression is stopped, territorial integrity and peace in Ukraine is restored and Ukrainian political prisoners of Russia are released.

Ambassador Nepop underlined that the conference would focus on the vision of Ukraine and Georgia of the ways of de-occupation of their territories, continuing the discussion started on 6 March 2019, which had analysed the Baltic countries' experience. She said the response to the occupation of the Georgian South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Ukrainian Crimea and part of east Ukraine should be a common reaction and decisive actions.

The ambassador said de-occupation of these territories is important both in terms of ensuring a common European security and in terms of security in the Black Sea region, which had become even more important after Russia attacked and seized three Ukrainian warships with 24 military sailors in the neutral waters of the Black Sea last year. The increasing Russian military presence both in the Azov Sea and in the Black Sea under the pretext of infrastructure protection should be taken into account. This involved the illegally constructed Kerch bridge, which was a result of the occupation of Crimea and was used as a pretext to hinder free shipping. Thus the aggression had risen to a new level and required more active opposition.

Ambassador of Georgia Zaal Gogsadze described in detail the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia occupied by Russia, underlining that there had been no changes in the regions for many years. He said the challenges of Georgia are similar to those in Ukraine, including internally displaced persons, Russian propaganda, systematic human rights violations and artificial russification of the occupied territories.

Ambassador Gogsadze said the European Union Advisory Mission, being the only international mission in Georgia, operates exclusively on the area controlled by the government territory of Georgia, thus limiting the flow of information from the occupied territories from the Russian sources only. He stressed the importance of a clearer position by the West and more active participation of Georgia and Ukraine in the initiatives of the Eastern partnership, plus a speed-up of their accession to the EU and NATO. The ambassador concluded that a proper reaction by the international community to the actions of Russia in the fighting with Georgia in 2008 might have prevented the subsequent war in Ukraine.

Maryna Vorotnyuk, Research Fellow of the Centre for European Neighbourhood Studies of the Central European University, paid special attention to the Russian policy of creeping aggression, stressing that Russia's war against Georgia and later against Ukraine are not isolated cases, but rather a pattern of Russian behaviour.

The expert noted that this creeping aggression includes the widening of the conflict portfolio in Ukraine in order to have more space for persuading the West to concede. As a clear example, Vorotnyuk cited the recent case of Russia's actions in the Black Sea. She also emphasised the special security role of the Black Sea region, which currently Russia is transforming to a "Russian lake", dominating the region and controlling Crimea and turning it into a military base.

Sergiy Gerasymchuk, the Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism" and Head of the South-Eastern Europe Studies, indicated that the Kremlin is testing the West all the time, not only back in 2008; while dealing with its neighbours Russia uses "revolutionary expansionism" in its foreign policy, which is transformed through the means of unequal communication: giving to the weaker message of the West bigger Russia's military answer.

Gerasymchuk, while analysing the situation in occupied Crimea, focused on the situation with the Crimean Tatars and the Ukrainians there, on the militarisation of Crimea by Russia and the negative economic consequences of the occupation. Referring to the possible measures of influence on the situation, he underlined the importance of continuing the sanctions policy, including in the energy area. Special attention was given to the position of Ukraine in the international courts in countering the Russian occupation and aggression.

The External Fellow of the Centre for Strategic and Defence Studies and PhD student in Military Studies at the National University of Public Service, Krisztian Jojart, noted the importance of understanding the possible future actions of Russia towards Ukraine as well as a plan of action in case of further Russian aggression.

Ambassador Nepop noted in conclusion that the international community had not reacted properly over the act of aggression by Russia against Georgia. The absence of an appropriate response had been interpreted by the Kremlin as a weakness of the West and as a green light for continuation of its imperialistic policy, which had led to the attack on Ukraine. If Russia would not face the world democracies' opposition to her policies, the threat of continuation of the aggressive policy of the Kremlin remained and continued.

"The only remedy for this situation is a clear opposition of the EU and NATO, the strengthening of sanctions and political pressure, deepening cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia as well as including our countries to these organisations," she said.

The ambassador reminded attendees of the study "Mystification and Demystification of Putin's Russia" recently presented by the Political Capital institute in Hungary, which states that the Kremlin is not successful in painting Russia as a likeable country, but does everything to depict the country as more powerful than it is in reality. She said Russia is not so powerful and the West is not so dependent on Moscow as Russia tries to assert in the European consciousness. It meant it was quite realistic to force the aggressor to respect international law again.

Ambassador Nepop announced the third conference on the topic of the de-occupation of the Crimea will be held in April, to be organised jointly with the Croatian Embassy and focusing on the Croatian experience of the reintegration of occupied territories and the possibility of Ukraine to use this experience.

The first event was the conference "De-occupation of Crimea: the West's non-recognition policy and the Baltic lessons learned", co-organised by the Embassies of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania together with the Hungarian Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy on 6 March in Budapest.

The latest conference was held in the premises of the Ukrainian Self-Government in Hungary.


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