Monday, March 31, 2014

First Ever Speaker's Series Event "Let's Talk About That" A Huge Hit At KIS

“Let’s Talk About That”

By: Gregory Kulchyckyj

March 30, 2014

Special to KIS Today

            On the 26th of March, the first-ever event in KIS’s new speaker series took place in the Dramatorium. The fascinating discussion was focused on Ukraine’s current economic and political predicament.

            Panelists included US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Petro Rondiak of Winner Ukraine, Tama Hak-Kovaks of OTP Bank, Adnan Anacali of Creditwest Bank, Kai Gulbrandsen of Kyivstar, and Hans Ferm of PJSC Credit Agricole Bank. Several secondary students volunteered to help host the guests and manage the event.

            The discussion, moderated by Mr Blaho, featured many enticing questions that kept the audience intrigued. For example, the first question was simply, “What is the best and worst case scenario for Ukraine’s future?” As the audience carefully listened, it was said that the best case scenario would be that the Russian army stops in Crimea, along with the Ukrainian government moving forward towards European integration. However, the worst case would be that Russia continues to invade Ukraine, with Putin continuing his mass propaganda campaign.

From a political aspect, one panelist called the current crisis “the biggest security conflict in Europe since the Cold War.” While another stated that this was a “manufactured crisis made by the Kremlin.”

The next questions were aimed towards the business sector. Many agreed that there would be struggles in the short term if Ukraine breaks away from its dependence on Russian gas, and follows the path to becoming a member of the European Union.  However, in the long term, “there will be success of domestic and foreign businesses in Ukraine, especially with the support of the US and the EU.”

Economic over-dependency and reliance on Russia has been seen as one of the main factors of Ukraine’s recent revolution and the crisis in Crimea. Yet, one panelist argues that, “there is a mutual reliance,” meaning Ukraine’s economy is still very much relevant in the eyes of the Kremlin. Furthermore, Ukraine and Europe will not be doomed if Russia cuts off its energy exports. Several reports state that Europe holds enough gas to sustain itself for at least a year. And there will be plenty of other countries from other continents willing to make a great sum of money by exporting gas to the European continent.Russia most likely knows this, but it isn’t just the economic ties that Moscow is desperately trying to sustain.

Panelists with student hosts onstage at the conclusions of Let's Talk About That.
“Putin is on an ideological expansionary quest,” says a panelist who also compared Putin’s March 18th speech to the era of the Bolsheviks. It is a well-known fact that Putin sees the fall of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. It should come as no surprise that the former-KGB agent imagines a similar union in the future.

When the panelists were asked about what needs to be done in order for international businesses to thrive in Ukraine, many gave a long checklist. Overall, the panelists believe that the elections must go well, that the EU Trade Agreement will be successfully signed in June, and that the judicial system, private sector, and infrastructure will be developed. “There is also a strong need for environment care,” says a speaker, especially since Ukraine has the potential of creating a “fantastic agricultural sector.”

Ukraine, also known as the “Bread Basket of Europe,” holds thirty percent of the world’s extremely valuable black soil. Ukraine used to produce 25% of all agricultural output in the former Soviet-Union, according to InvestUkraine. With one out of every four workers employed in agriculture or forestry, Ukraine has the easily achievable potential to become a major competitor in the global agricultural market.

The event became a lot more political when questions were focused upon Crimea and Russian propaganda. “I don’t think Crimea will be recognized by the international community, ever,” according to one speaker. That being said, many panelists agreed that the international community must be more “firm and open.” It has become evident that the majority of Ukrainians want a European future, and had it not been for Russia’s imperialistic aggression, Kyiv would be speeding down the road to recovery.

The speakers agreed that the current economic sanctions won’t stop Putin, and that if the world does want to stop Russia from invading Ukrainian soil, the West must take a stronger approach. “What would happen if suddenly, not a single Russian would be allowed to enter the US and Europe,” asks one panelist, “what would happen if a government official’s child were kicked out of their boarding school? What would happen if all foreign properties owned by the oligarchs were taken away?”

As for Russian propaganda, one panelist states that the entire campaign is simply made “to increase popularity in Russia.” This is unfortunately true, as Putin’s approval ratings have reached a record-high of 80%. But then again, those statistics are most likely to be falsified. It was only a couple of weeks ago that the largest-ever demonstration against Putin was held in Moscow. Various news agencies claim that as many as 100,000 Russians, Ukrainians, and others marched around Russia’s capital city, protesting against Putin’s imperialistic actions and the works of the Kremlin. Certainly this shows that although Putin’s likening has soared, so has the numbers of those furious with the Russian government.

In conclusion, the first KIS speaker series was a great success. Featuring many significant questions aimed at an intelligent and successful group of individuals, the satisfied audience was hesitant to leave. The information gained was extremely valuable, as the event covered many diverse aspects of Ukraine’s crisis, from the first protests in Maidan to the Russian annexation of Crimea. I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next speaker series.

Student Hosts, Gio, Sasha, Audrey, Vova, Chiara and Kirill.