The breakdown in international dialogue with Russia is particularly acute when it comes to the subject of Ukraine, the locus of the breakdown’s very origins. With the exception of the relatively narrow focus on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, strategic dialogue about the crisis among Ukrainians, Americans, Europeans and Russians is virtually nonexistent. This breakdown has the potential to be highly destabilising as mistrust grows and misunderstandings multiply, creating the potential for conflict to escalate.
While there have been a few Track II initiatives to bring Russians and Americans or Europeans together to discuss the crisis, practically none have included Westerners, Russians, and Ukrainians – a far more politically sensitive endeavor, but one that is all the more necessary under the circumstances. Given the wide gulf between elite views on the origins of the crisis and the difficulty of affecting the Minsk settlement process that is already underway, such a dialogue should focus on a topic that allows all sides to rise above present disputes and focus on shared interests, while offering the prospect of common understandings regarding the current conflict.
A scenario-building/foresight exercise regarding Ukraine’s future meets these criteria. We propose to bring together a select, high-level group of Russians, Europeans, Americans and Ukrainians (approximately 15 participants in total) to develop several long-term scenarios for Ukraine. The project is planned to start with one pilot meeting, which should be followed by at least one more meeting. The idea is to agree on a range of plausible outcomes of the crisis for Ukraine (within a 10-year timeframe) as an analytical - rather than a normative - exercise. These scenarios will address issues such as security, domestic politics, geopolitical and geo-economic integration, etc. The group’s task is to determine both a descriptive narrative and a list of positive and negative implications for each scenario. Finally, the participants will specify steps for “walking backward” from each scenario to the present day; in other words, they will propose the steps that should be taken to get from today’s status quo to each plausible scenario in 10 years.
The co-chairs of the group will then draw up a report based on the results of the meetings. The final document should be made available in English, German, Ukrainian and Russian. Once the report is finalised, the co-chairs will organise events in the US, European capitals, Kyiv and Moscow for promotion and awareness-raising. They will also brief government officials on the report’s findings. The report will provide more clarity to decision-makers and the expert community about Ukraine’s choices and their potential impact. It could thus serve as impetus to begin a much-needed reconsideration of both the country’s current course and the policies of external actors toward Ukraine.