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How Ukraine’s Think Tanks Influence the World


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The Dark Side of the Ukraine Conflict

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Think tanks play a crucial role in influencing foreign policy and strengthening international collaborations. Their activities range from contributing to diplomatic negotiations and advising relevant actors to organizing events for international exchanges and engaging with foreign publics. However, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine poses significant challenges to these activities, particularly in terms of safety and logistics. Despite these obstacles, Ukrainian think tanks have adapted their strategies and continue to shape diplomacy effectively.

Adapting Diplomatic Engagements

Relocating Events Abroad

Russian attacks have made it difficult to plan and host events in Ukraine. To overcome this, Ukrainian think tanks have started co-organizing events with EU-based think tanks in European capitals. This strategy allows them to continue discussions and engage with international stakeholders outside the war-torn regions of Ukraine. These collaborations also help keep the global community informed about Ukraine’s situation and needs.

Enhancing Transparency and Oversight

The imposition of martial law in Ukraine has hindered public transparency and civil society’s ability to oversee domestic reforms, especially those related to EU accession. In response, Ukrainian think tanks have developed closer contacts with European policymakers. This backdoor approach allows them to voice concerns about deficiencies in the reform processes and advocate for necessary changes, ensuring that Ukraine remains on the path to integration with the EU.

Amplifying Voices Abroad

Understanding the importance of collective public diplomacy during wartime, Ukrainian experts have broadened their outreach on various platforms. They have increased their presence on social media, given regular interviews to foreign media agencies, and published commentaries in major newspapers. This proactive dissemination of information helps shape international responses and maintain global support for Ukraine.

Proactive Agenda Setting

Perhaps the most notable change in the profile of Ukrainian think tanks is their shift towards a proactive agenda-setting role. Driven by the urgent mission to support their country, they have taken the initiative to engage with issues of national security and domestic developments on multiple platforms. This has allowed them to voice their positions in international forums and behind-closed-doors meetings effectively.

Key Priorities

Several key priorities have emerged from these efforts:

  • Debunking Russian Disinformation: Ukrainian think tanks have been instrumental in countering Russian propaganda and misinformation campaigns, providing accurate information to the global community.
  • Lobbying for Assistance: They have actively lobbied for international assistance to Ukraine, emphasizing the need for military support and humanitarian aid.
  • Advocating for EU Integration: Think tanks have consistently highlighted the necessity of integrating Ukraine further into the EU, a message that has gained significant traction among international stakeholders.

Unified Voice and Grassroots Efforts

The escalation of the war has exerted a unifying effect on the international engagement of Ukrainian think tanks. Unlike the often top-down approaches supported by international donors, the synchronization of messaging among these think tanks has developed at the grassroots level. This bottom-up initiative has strengthened their collective voice, making their advocacy for Ukraine’s military support and EU integration more compelling and cohesive.

Think Tanks as Knowledge Actors

Ukraine’s think tanks have played a crucial role as knowledge actors during the conflict. By 2022, the country was home to around 90 think tanks with diverse expertise. The escalation of Russia’s war in February 2022 significantly impacted these organizations, forcing many to relocate and adapt their activities. Despite facing physical insecurity and continuous missile attacks, Ukrainian experts have persevered in their mission.

Humanitarian Work and Volunteering

At the start of the invasion, humanitarian work and volunteering became priorities for many Ukrainians, including think tank members. This shift in focus led to the temporary suspension of certain projects and a reevaluation of funding priorities by donors. As a result, some think tanks ceased to exist, while others adjusted their activities to align with the immediate needs of the country.

EU Candidate Status and Reforms

The granting of EU candidate status to Ukraine in June 2022 introduced a new dynamic to the work of think tanks. Despite the ongoing conflict, they positioned themselves as proponents of domestic reforms and advocates for strengthening EU-Ukraine links. This dual focus on wartime priorities and long-term strategic goals has reinforced their role in shaping Ukraine’s future.

Proactive agendas

Ukraine’s think tanks have demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability in the face of conflict. By relocating events abroad, enhancing transparency, amplifying their voices, and setting proactive agendas, they continue to influence diplomacy and advocate for Ukraine on the international stage. Their unified efforts, driven by grassroots initiatives, have made significant contributions to the country’s public diplomacy and strategic goals. As Ukraine navigates the challenges of war and seeks closer integration with the EU, the role of its think tanks remains indispensable.

Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem
Zain Saleem is an Islamabad-based Senior Journalist

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