On June 25, the German Marshall Fund of the United States hosted Tim Judah, a correspondent with The Economist covering the Balkans and a correspondent for the New York Review of Books (NYRB) covering Ukraine, for a discussion titled “Ukraine, Minsk II, and Deadlock.” The discussion was moderated by Derek Chollet, counselor and senior advisor for security and defense policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Chollet began the discussion by stating that the U.S. government often turns to journalists on the frontlines. Specifically for Ukraine, he emphasized the importance of reporters, like Judah, who provide accurate, up-to-the-minute reports on the realities policymakers need in order to govern. These realities, Judah opened with, trying to illustrate for the audience what it’s like on-the-ground in Ukraine today.
Judah explained how difficult life is for people living in the Russian-controlled area of Ukraine, partially because of systems and infrastructure failures in the war zone. The people in Eastern Ukraine have been left disillusioned and disgruntled. The lack of proficiency and accuracy of forces fighting in the region increase the potential for collateral damage. Consequently, there are whole areas of towns that have been laid bare.
Many of the middle class, especially families, left last year and have not returned. Judah stated that the civil society in Ukraine blames both sides for its current state. There is no cash in ATMs, most shops are closed, and the previously modern supermarkets now have only a few brands of each item. The Ukranian economy is not attractive to foreign investors. Citizens are constantly worried about being called to fight, so more and more people have left while the economy has stagnated. Of the 4.5 million people residing in Eastern Ukraine before the conflict, only 2.5 million are left, Judah emphasized. This has resulted in 1.5 million internally displaced people in Ukraine, 600,000 in Russia, and 200,000 in Belarus, Poland, and elsewhere.
Judah and Chollet then discussed Ukraine’s need for economic and military assistance. Judah emphasized the need for economic support to stabilize the economy and prevent bankruptcy. Militarily, Ukraine needs help. Ukraine now has new trucks and uniforms that they have manufactured domestically, as well as guns, bullets, and other weapons. But they are in need of more technological advances like radar and targeting tools. They are already being provided with some training from other countries like the U.S. and Canada. For example, volunteers from humanitarian organizations have helped with combat military medical training. Judah stressed that these high tech tools and training are more important for Ukraine than military equipment.
Questions posed to Judah from those in attendance focused on assistance from the EU, sanctions on Russia, and Ukraine’s reforms. Judah acknowledged that European countries might supply weapons to Ukraine if Russia invades another city, like Mariupol. However, he believes that the sanctions against Russia have been more successful than expected because of their negative affect on vital businesses in Moscow. Ukraine has also been trying to make reforms, but according to Judah, the Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko said that about 20% of the work is the government creating the reforms, and 80% is getting their ministers to act on them. Judah said that they have been trying to make reforms, but “their system isn’t able to do it.”
Judah also addressed Russia’s plans for Ukraine. It has been a propaganda war, where Putin is trying to assert a specific alternate reality. According to Judah, “modern technology makes it easier to spread lies and propaganda.” Judah believes that the West needs more journalists in Ukraine, and they need to report on the truth. Without that, Russia will win the propaganda war. Putin opportunistically took Crimea and thought he could replicate it, but failed. The rebels succeeded when there was little resistance, but then the Ukrainians recovered militarily. Judah stated, “Ukraine's military is no longer in chaos like last year.” It now is organized and has been able to hold off Russian forces; however, Russia still holds about two-thirds of Donetsk and Debaltseve. Judah addressed the “ceasefire” and how the lines have not moved, though both sides continue to fire at each other to hold lines where they are Judah concluded, “It’s not a ceasefire in the sense that everybody has ceased firing.”