Olga Dibrova: "In Search of Strategic Depth for Ukraine"

(to the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's Independence)


From the President of the United States to the Presidents of Ukraine and other countries

USA and Clinton


"America is a country that changed my life," I wrote in 1996, referring to a year in the United States under the Freedom Support Act. Winning a competition organized by the US government was my first major international event and was an inspiration in itself. At that time I was an ordinary schoolgirl in Kryvyi Rih. Yes, with excellent schooling with in-depth study of English, music and ballet classes, literature, community service, constant self-improvement, but I still thought that on such a scale, decisions would be made "in connection". And, fortunately, I was wrong… After all, I was among the hundreds selected among thousands of students from independent states - the former Soviet republics, who applied to participate in the program. Ahead was studying in an American school, living in an American family, a lot of training, travel, communication. It turned out that this was the beginning of my great diplomatic journey.

An unexpected and incredible end to my "American Year" was a meeting with the then President of the United States B. Clinton - my first representative functions, because I was chosen to represent Ukraine. I still remember how he behaved, smiled, was intelligent, informed, approachable, easy-going, and paid attention to everyone. In my opinion, this is exactly how the head of state should behave. He was also impressed by a master class on protocol from B. Clinton ("an unexpected pleasant surprise"): his unexpected offer to visit the study - the famous oval office. So eleven teenagers received a lifelong memory and a photo in the heart of the White House. The opportunity for direct communication between the president and the schoolboy then impressed me and became an example to follow.

It was interesting to reread my memories and reflections of the time, in particular why Americans have such programs. Here is the conclusion of a seventeen-year-old girl: “They didn't just invite teenagers to feed and show their well-being. They wanted us to accept their values… ». Among the impressive, fascinating, attractive was the fact that I did not perceive that, in my opinion, we are better. For example, relationships in the family, between friends, excessive independence and often, as a consequence, loneliness, attitude to money. It often seems to us that somewhere everything is fine. And I still believe that there is no better place to live than Ukraine. In fact, America gave a boost, opened new horizons, showed many examples, but also learned to love their homeland more.


Turkey, translation


         The next time I was with the president soon enough - a year after graduating from the Department of Oriental Studies of Kyiv National University. T. Shevchenko and the Institute of Journalism of the same institution. After working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she got mainly due to her knowledge of the Turkish language, she was appointed to the Embassy of Ukraine in the Republic of Turkey. And immediately found herself in a big action called "the official visit of the president." I do not remember how many of them were later, but all special - solemn, with lots of events and dignitaries around.

For me, each visit was special because, in addition to my direct diplomatic duties, I translated the presidential talks into Turkish for almost twenty years. Therefore, I had the opportunity to communicate with all the heads of the Ukrainian state, starting with L.D. Kuchma, and the Turkish state. The visits were a real physical test for me - you do preparatory work until the night: organizational issues, abstracts for talks, speeches, coordination of joint statements, and then two or three days of non-stop translation. It was difficult, but interesting.

An interpreter during a visit is often the closest person to the president. You need speed of reaction, and the ability to behave and communicate. It is important not to mumble too much, neither during the event, nor after, because everyone is interested in what was behind closed doors. In addition, an incredible number of people are looking at you. I often thanked for my ballet lessons and experience on stage.

         Translation and knowledge of the language opened up many opportunities for me. The Turks really paid me back a hundredfold for their efforts to learn the difficult Turkish language. Thanks to the translation, wide contacts, the attention of journalists, they knew me, answered my calls at any time, shared thoughts and feelings, gave me the opportunity to study society and politics from within. With the President of Turkey RT I knew Erdogan, the current and previous foreign ministers M. Cavusoglu and A. Davutoglu, long before they took office - they all did not change their good attitude after the political upsurge. Almost everyone in his time publicly praised my Turkish. Although in some places you blush from such attention, it is nice when President Erdogan, coming down from the flight of stairs, first of all asks: "Olga, how are you, what news?". I will always be grateful to Turkey for its respect and special treatment.

         My knowledge of Turkey was accumulated during two long-term business trips to Ankara - a total of more than six years. In my eyes, this country has made a rapid leap in both economic and foreign policy spheres. The world community has spoken of Turkey as a regional leader. I told about it to the Ukrainian delegations who visited the Turkish capital. And, finally, I decided to write a book as soon as the state can reach a completely different level in a decade, because a rapid leap is exactly what Ukraine needs (an excerpt is given below).


Protocol and appointment as ambassador


         Of all the areas of work that the Foreign Ministry had to deal with, and there were many of them, the brightest was probably the protocol. For almost five years as a leader (or boss, as it is commonly called) was a real school of life. In my post, I had to organize a huge number of visits of high-ranking officials to Ukraine, large-scale events, constant communication with ambassadors, and participation in diplomatic receptions. The chief of protocol is the first person the head of a foreign state sees upon arrival in Ukraine, and the last person he sees when leaving. All the experience, impressions, lessons - material, at least for a separate article, so I will share just a few basic conclusions.

The human factor in international relations is the main thing. The key to success is in contacts between people.

You can't do anything without a good team. I will always remember the "deputy's gift" - determining the day of the inauguration of the newly elected President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky three days after the vote. Were it not for the commitment of the staff of the State Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we would not have been able to receive more than forty foreign delegations, organize heads of diplomatic missions and much more.

I call the protocol geopolitics in the palm of my hand. During my diplomatic career, I participated in a large number of negotiations, read thousands of pages of analysis, but it was the work on the preparation of visits in the protocol that gave me the best understanding of the real attitude of foreign countries to our country. In such work it is shown who is friendly to us, and who is superior, who wants to help, and who to use, who to cooperate, and who to counteract.

Working on the protocol prepared me well for the highest level of my diplomatic career - the position of ambassador, because a modern ambassador is both an organizer, a public speaker, a thoughtful analyst, a "soul of the company", and a few other lines of different characteristics.

In December 2020, I began my mission as Ambassador of Ukraine to the Republic of Finland. Interestingly, thanks to the protocol, my acquaintance with the President of Finland S. Niinistö took place before my appointment - during his official visit to Ukraine in September 2019. This fact became a good link in a personal conversation in Helsinki on the occasion of the presentation of credentials.


Looking for strategic depth for Ukraine


Fate has led me to two countries with extremely interesting and special foreign policies. To some extent, their geopolitical location is similar to Ukraine, as it is located at the crossroads between East and West. The history of Turkey and Finland, whose starting positions were not favorable, had interesting examples of how states used their geopolitical position, increased influence in the international arena, and addressed complex foreign policy issues.

 I was lucky enough to see with my own eyes the period of Turkey's rise during 2000-2010. So, here is an excerpt from my book "Turkey We Don't Know" (published in 2011). Finland, which has spent most of its history within Sweden and the Russian Empire, has been able to become an authoritative member of the international community in just over a century of independence. She wrote a paper on the basics of Finland's foreign policy specifically for this publication.


"Make friends, not enemies - a way to strengthen international positions"

Olga Chubrikova (now - Olga Dibrova), "Turkey we do not know", 2011


From the edge to the center

When you look at the map, it seems that nature itself has called on Turkey to connect West and East. However, throughout most of the twentieth century, eastern Turkey has been an integral part of the West, a strategic partner of the United States in the region.



This is how Ahmet Davutoğlu defines Turkey's place in the world, who has been called the "architect of Turkish foreign policy" in recent years (A. Davutoğlu has long been the chief adviser to Prime Minister RT Erdogan, since May 2009 - Minister of Foreign Affairs) :… Draw a map of a complex network of global relations during the Cold War, Turkey would be a border country. As part of the Western bloc, it served as the southern outpost of Western powers and the easternmost country in the West. Institutionally, Turkey was in the West and considered the most important member of NATO. After the end of the Cold War, a new definition of Turkey as a bridge country emerged in the early 1990s (Insight Turkey, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2008: Turkey's Foreign Policy Vision).

Today's Turkish leadership positions its country as an integral part of several regions: the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Caspian, Mediterranean and Black Seas, and the Persian Gulf. Based on this, her behavior in the international arena has changed.

                                               Х Х Х


"Zero problems with neighbors" and new foreign policy approaches


More recently, Turkey's relations with virtually all neighboring countries have been described as conflictual, if not confrontational. This created constant problems with security at the borders, negatively affected the image of the Turkish state in the world, and hindered the development of trade and economic ties.

In recent years, there has been a rethinking of Turkey's place and role in the world in Turkish foreign policy, as well as a change in approaches to the implementation of foreign policy goals. This period has already begun to be called the "Davutoglu period". He introduced the concept of multivectorism into Turkish foreign policy doctrine instead of a unilateral focus on the United States and the European Union. Davutoglu's main goal was to gain Turkey's status as an influential player on a regional and global scale, as well as to create a zone of stability and security along the country's borders - the so-called "zero problems with neighbors" policy. Prime Minister Erdogan, when referring to the basis of Turkey's foreign policy, often uses the phrase "make friends, not enemies."

According to Davutoglu, the state's place in world politics is determined by its geopolitical location and historical heritage. It is these two categories that make up the "strategic depth". To strengthen this depth, the state must rely on geopolitical, historical, religious and cultural ties with neighboring regions, creating a network of allies around its borders.

Implementing this approach, Turkey has achieved an unprecedented establishment of good neighborly relations with previously hostile countries: Syria, Iraq, Greece, Armenia, Russia.


Turkey's voice is growing stronger


A. Davutoglu is convinced that the state can achieve regional and world leadership only by ensuring its foreign policy presence in the maximum number of countries and regions, as well as active involvement in all world processes: solving major international problems, resolving crises and conflicts.

It is difficult to name a region or destination where Turkey is not active today. Against the background of establishing contacts with neighbors, strategic relations with the United States continue. At the same time, ties with the former Soviet countries are developing. Turkish foreign policy experts and diplomats often refer to the collapse of the Soviet Union as an opportunity, opportunities to enter new markets, gain new political partners, implement transport projects and energy supply projects to Europe. Turkey makes full use of this chance.

                            Х Х Х

It is worth emphasizing the qualitative change in Turkey's relations with Muslim countries. If before the Republic of Turkey, as the only country of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that is also a member of NATO, was perceived with caution, now it is seen as a defender of the values ​​of Islam. Whether it's caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in Denmark, or the problems of Palestinians or Muslim communities in the Balkans, Turkish leaders are actively voicing their position, taking on the role of "the voice of the Muslim world in European structures."

The use of Turkish diplomacy by the unique geopolitical location of its country has been particularly evident recently. The Turks claim to be able to understand the East and to mediate East-West dialogue - they believe they can help Christian and Islamic civilizations understand each other.

"The most important feature of Turkey is the fact that it is a democratic, secular, social, legal state, 99% of whose population are Muslims. Turkey is a bridge between the West and the 1.5 billion Muslim world… Turkey, which has traditionally been important geostrategically, makes an important contribution to solving global and regional problems in a large area " York Times », 16.09.2008).

Today's Republic of Turkey positions itself as a country that enjoys the trust of virtually all regional actors - while maintaining strategic relations with the West and remains part of Western security mechanisms. In recent years, one of the main directions of Turkish foreign policy has been the settlement of regional conflicts, the creation of a zone of peace, stability and security around its borders.

Speaking at a meeting of the UN High Level Group (November 14, 2008), Prime Minister RT Erdogan said of his country's role in shaping the future: "Turkey feels responsible for its special geographical location, rich history and cultural heritage ... Turkey is a country designed to be a factor in peace."

Conflict mediation efforts are being carried out by Turkish diplomacy in several areas: between Israel and Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Iran and the West.

I would like to dwell on the actions of the Turkish leadership during the Caucasus crisis of August 2008, the discussion of which did not leave indifferent any Ukrainian house.

In that situation, Turkey really found itself between two fires. On the one hand, the United States is a strategic partner and long-term ally of NATO, as well as Georgia with important energy and transport projects. On the other - Russia with all the above economic advantages and a strong "gas lever". A difficult situation ... Here were the actions of the Turks. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in support of Georgia's territorial integrity. However, immediately after that, in the midst of hostilities, Prime Minister RT Erdogan took the initiative to create a Platform for Stability and Cooperation in the Caucasus, which was designed to become the basis for dialogue between all countries in the Caucasus region. In order to discuss this initiative, he will pay a working visit to Moscow on August 13, Tbilisi on August 14, and Baku on August 20. At the end of the month, the foreign ministers of the mentioned countries met in Istanbul. In other words, Turkey has avoided having to take someone's side in the conflict by becoming a regional peacemaker.

In an interview with Milliet, Erdogan then said: "It would be wrong to push Turkey in one direction only. After the Georgian crisis, some want to push Turkey into either the United States or Russia. One side is the United States: our closest ally. The other is Russia: the most important trading partner. We will act in accordance with the national interests of Turkey. "

Consultations on the Platform have been going on for some time. It is not easy to unite countries that have crossed the line of military conflict. At the moment, there is reason to believe that this initiative will suffer the fate of other Caucasian pacts, none of which has been successful. The important thing is that - Turkey came out of the crisis almost on its border, maintaining relations with all its partners, and even gaining bonuses in the international arena - the peacekeeping step was praised by the EU, the United States and Russia.

Having moved to a new foreign policy concept, which is based on the principle of activity in all directions, the voice of Turkey in the international arena has acquired a completely different sound. I once discussed with a colleague, a Turkish diplomat, the international events of recent years, and he remarked, "Earlier, before making a statement, we waited for Washington, then London, then Brussels, and only then did the Turkish Foreign Ministry respond." Now the situation has changed radically. Multivectority bears fruit.

                                                Х Х Х

In conclusion, on the example of Turkey, the political, as well as human, psychology of acquiring friends instead of enemies has once again proved its effectiveness and efficiency, and the method of dialogue as opposed to conflict and confrontation has proven its effectiveness and ability to "open many doors."


Fundamentals of Finnish foreign policy


Finland is a small country with a population of 5.3 million in northern Europe. Obviously, it does not belong to the list of great powers, and yet it is noticeable in the foreign policy arena. Ukrainians are best known for their policy of neutrality during the Cold War, the role of a traditional platform for dialogue between the West (USA) and Russia, and the Helsinki Final Act. At the same time, Finland is a successful, prosperous, deeply integrated into the world economy and export-oriented country with a GDP per capita of $ 49,041. USA (2020, 22nd place in the world), a high level of domestic political stability and social protection.

Finnish experts acknowledge that Finland has always had a unique foreign policy due to its proximity to Russia: the length of the common border is 1,340 km. Finland's geopolitical location has forced it to choose its own path to security, protection of its own well-being and strengthening its international position. Thus, the policy of neutrality during the Cold War, which enabled economic integration with the West, on the one hand, and the balance of power with the Soviet Union, on the other, was later replaced by lack of membership in any military alliances and maximum European integration.

According to the classic definition (https://finland.fi/life-society/finnish-foreign-policy-a-brief-intro/ FINNISH FOREIGN POLICY: A BRIEF INTRO By Hiski Haukkala, March 2010), the essence of Finland's foreign policy is to "preserve what it has (it is about the republic and its political institutions), and carefully push for change in such a way as to have its own opportunities and give other small countries room for maneuver. " The result is the protection of a world order based on international norms and the rule of law, where the power of the strong is constrained by effective multilateral institutions: “A lesson to be learned from the history of Finland: the largest ".

         Despite the western tilt of modern Finnish foreign policy, Russia does not lose its significance. Even in difficult times, Finland maintains, albeit a difficult one, a dialogue with Russia. Only during the first half of 2021, despite the pandemic, Foreign Ministers P. Haavisto and S. Lavrov had two physical meetings, Minister of Development and Foreign Trade V. Skinnari visited the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Presidents S. Niinisto and V. Putin had telephone conversation. Countries are linked by strong economic ties. Russia is Finland's sixth export partner, with about 600 Finnish companies operating in the Russian market with significant investments.

The obvious priority for Finland is to protect national security. According to Finnish researchers T. Vaahtoranta and T. Forsberg (Tapani Vaahtoranta & Tuomas Forsberg, "Finland's Three Security Strategies", in Mathias Jopp & Sven Arnswald, The European Union and the Baltic States: Visions, Interests and Strategies for the Baltic Region. Finnish Institute of International Affairs & Institut für Europäische Politik 1998), Finland has three main security strategies for Russia. The first is balancing, namely balancing Russia's military presence in the Nordic region, primarily by developing its own military capabilities, as well as encouraging the presence of the EU and the United States. The second - non-provocation of the Russian Federation, in particular avoidance of confrontation with the neighbor. An example is the refusal to include in the bilateral agenda the territory of Karelia, which was annexed by the Soviet Union under the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. The third is the strategy of strengthening norms and institutions. Practically - "restraint of the Russian bear". Finland supports the democratization of Russia in order to link it with numerous multilateral ties with the West. It should be noted that world events over the last decade have significantly reduced the Finnish side's optimism about the latest strategy.

Finland's current foreign policy has a very conservative basis. The Report of the Government of Finland on Foreign and Security Policy, published in October 2020, (https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/162515/VN_2020_32.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y) identifies the main goal of strengthening positions in the international arena, protection of independence and territorial integrity, strengthening security and welfare of the population. The interconnectedness of security and global responsibility is noteworthy. Based on this, one of the main tasks is to "engage in international cooperation in order to prevent armed conflicts and situations that would jeopardize the security of Finland and the functioning of Finnish society." It should be emphasized that in this context we are talking, in particular, about the unimpeded access of Finnish companies to international markets. The values ​​applied in the implementation of foreign policy are also clearly defined: human rights, rule of law, democracy, peace, freedom, equality. The main focus of the Report is on the importance of shared responsibility for tackling global challenges (climate change, pandemics, etc.) and protecting the world order on the basis of the rule of law.

In view of the above, four priorities of Finland's activities in the international arena to ensure national interests have been identified: the development of foreign policy and security cooperation; strengthening multilateral cooperation; dissemination of shared responsibility (for countering global challenges), advocacy of human rights "as a basis for foreign and security policy"; peacekeeping activities.

         To date, maneuverability is one of the main characteristics of Finland's actions in the international environment. Thus, one of the main tasks - to prevent the involvement of Finland in the armed conflict - is carried out in several ways. On the one hand, the country's defense capabilities are strengthening - defense spending has increased by 50% in 2021 (4.87 billion euros against 3.17 billion euros in 2019) - 1.4% of GDP. Cooperation with the countries of Northern Europe is deepening, first of all with Sweden. Cooperation with the United States is being developed, including security in the light of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, which includes the supply of new multi-role fighters to Finland. Finland strongly supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine both bilaterally and within international organizations, usually co-sponsoring relevant resolutions. The partnership with NATO is expanding, in particular with the aim of increasing the level of combat readiness, combat capabilities and interoperability of the Finnish Armed Forces with Partner countries and NATO countries. Finland has been a key contributor to the development of EU and NATO capabilities to counter hybrid threats. The European Center for Countering Hybrid Threats is headquartered in Helsinki. The expansion of the PRC is being countered, in particular in the framework of the Arctic Council.

On the other hand, a dialogue with the Russian Federation is maintained. Efforts are being made to maintain Finland's traditional role as a negotiating platform between the United States and Russia. Thus, Helsinki was chosen as the meeting place of the Presidents of the USA and the Russian Federation D. Trump and V. Putin in July 2018. Finland often assumes the role of the "voice of the West", based on its geopolitical position and unique historical experience. "We are part of the West, but we are also a neighbor of the East," said Finnish President S. Niinistö (Finland's President Is Loved at Home and Respected by Putin and Trump (foreignpolicy.com)). Finland is concerned about the state of the arms control regime, which is undergoing a significant transformation due to the confrontation between the United States, China and Russia, which poses significant challenges to Finland's security. It is no coincidence that it was in Helsinki on October 5, 2020 that the US-Russia negotiations on the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty took place.

Finland is also working to maintain its image as the birthplace of the Helsinki Final Act. Thus, recently the President of Finland S. Niinisto initiated the 2025 summit of heads of state, with the participation of the United States, Russia, China and other countries, to reaffirm commitment to the fundamental principles of the Helsinki Accords: sovereign equality, non-use of force, inviolability of borders, territorial integrity peaceful settlement of disputes, non-interference in internal affairs, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, conscientious observance of international law, equality and the right of peoples to dispose of their destiny.

For decades, Finnish diplomacy has focused on increasing its international influence and prestige. Apparently, she managed to find her "foreign policy brands", which made Finland recognizable and her voice important in the world: peacekeeping; conflict prevention and effective resolution; providing international assistance with an emphasis on overcoming poverty, ensuring equality and improving the quality of education; promoting international cooperation in combating climate change.

It should be noted that significant resources are allocated to these areas, including international assistance (humanitarian, technical and advisory) in the field of development - 66% of the budget of the Finnish Foreign Ministry for 2021 (711 million euros + 671 million euros of budget programs administered by the Foreign Ministry) , for Finnish peacekeeping activities - 6% of the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland for 2021 (53 million euros), about 500 Finnish servicemen participate in 10 military crisis management operations under the auspices of the UN, EU, NATO and the Global Coalition against ISIS.

As President S. Niinistö noted, "Finland is always ready to offer good services to support negotiations on strategic stability" (Speech by the President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinistö at the opening of Parliament on 3 February 2021 - Presidentti).

Although Finland and Turkey are certainly different historically and politically, it is all the more interesting to see similar steps taken by these countries in foreign policy: promoting peace, mediating conflict resolution, and establishing East-West contacts. These countries manage to use the features of their own geography and history and turn them into domestic benefits and international bonuses.

I hope that Ukraine will find its "strategic depth" on the basis of its geopolitical location and historical heritage, and most importantly - the values ​​that have determined the development of our society over the centuries. An invaluable testament was left to us by the exemplary statesman, Holy Prince Yaroslav the Wise: But if you live in hatred, quarreling in strife, then you yourself will perish, and you will destroy the land of your fathers and grandfathers, which they acquired with great labor. "


                                    Olga Dibrova,

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Finland

Posted in Politics