Chair: Katri Pynnöniemi, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Chair: András Rácz, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Panel 1: Nordic and Baltic Countries
In his keynote speech, Toms Rostoks stated that when the military conflict in Ukraine began to unfold, perceptions of security and insecurity changed. Latvia has some of the same vulnerabilities than Ukraine, because there is a relatively large Russian population. Therefore the Ukrainian crisis is a main security concern in Latvia. How then has Latvia reacted to the situation in Ukraine? When countries are facing the deteriorating security environment, they basically have two choices: to bandwagon or to balance the source of threat. Due to Latvia’s NATO membership it has chosen to try to balance the source of threat. The government of Latvia was not very successful in trying to convince that something similar could not happen in Latvia, but later the situation has improved and also the defence expenditure has begun to change. The Baltic States have begun to think in a much more serious way about their security.
Even though the Baltic States have begun to do something to increase their military security, there are concerns regarding the current security environment. First of all, there is a possibility that the deterrence that the Baltic States have created together with its NATO allies may fail. The second concern is that if there is a military aggression against Baltic States, perhaps NATO is not ready. Third, in the worst case scenario, if there is military aggression against Baltic States, Latvia would have to go to NATO with overwhelming evidence that it is clearly an Article 5 situation and they should have a capability to prove that. Lastly, there are concerns whether Latvia’s increased defence spending will be spent efficiently.
In her keynote speech Hanna Ojanen argued that the basic assumption has long been that the only thing that really can change the Finnish debate on NATO is a major change in the security environment. Now that we have the change, some observers have been surprised to see that the Russian threat has not influenced the public opinion on NATO more than it has. The crisis has tended to reinforce both views of the debate leaving the total picture unchanged. Another character that we find in the debate is that it still quite often gets dampened down. Now we seem to have a kind of provisional NATO consensus of ”maybe”. Another feature of the continuity in the Finnish debate is that the arguments used in the debate tend to be more or less the same. Those advocating NATO membership speak about enhanced security, the threat posed by Russia, the difficulty of coping alone, and the possibility of taking part in important decision making. Those against would refer to the Russian threat, would see an absence of gains in security, would look at the cost of membership, would see a need to increase defence spending and a risk of being drawn in to conflicts and wars. They would also see the centrality of the United States in the alliance as a problem.
Although the arguments are more or less the same, the public opinion has shifted. Perception of the Russian threat is growing. More people are in favour of NATO membership now than before. However, Ojanen argues that these changes don’t immediately bring Finnish NATO membership any closer. The possibility of applying for NATO membership will figure in the next government programme that will not rule the application out. People in Finland would like to have a referendum on this issue. A positive vote could be ensured by referring to national security.
Stefan Ring’s paper was presented by FIIA Programme Director Arkady Moshes. Ring started by stating that there has always been a fear of Russia in all of the Baltic States. With the membership in NATO their situation improved, but they are still lacking the capacity to defend themselves without support from abroad. Within NATO, the Baltic countries have been among those member states which repeatedly have argued for a stronger support for Article 5 and a traditional focus on territorial defence instead of international conflict management. The hopes for a peaceful development in Europe have now fallen into pieces. In the Baltic region, this and the aggressiveness of Russia even before the Ukrainian crisis has led to a higher level of readiness among the NATO member states, and in Finland and Sweden. For the NATO members in the Baltic region, the membership has been very important. One reason is the extensive disarmament among European countries. There is a common understanding in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that Western Europe is in great need of military and political support from the United States to be able to balance an aggressive Russia. The three Baltic States realise that the credibility of Article 5 more or less totally depends on the United States.
Together with Russian big investment and modernisation of its military organisation, new conditions for a military strategic assessment in the states around the Baltic Sea are now in place. The most comprehensive changes have been in Sweden and Denmark which earlier had a more or less total focus on international conflict management. All the countries around the Baltic Sea realise the need of cooperation to be able to handle the security challenges which they are facing. Their own military capabilities are not sufficient to handle a severe armed aggression by themselves. Neither are there any signs of the considerable increases of the defence budgets which are necessary for attaining a sufficient military capacity in order to meet an armed aggression by themselves. One important condition for these countries is therefore a united EU and NATO where the members look upon the development in the same way.
Panel 2: Post-Soviet Neighbourhood
Richard Giragosian spoke of the implications of the war in Ukraine for the security situation in the South Caucasus. He pointed out that it is not the reality of the Ukrainian war that is most important in the Caucasus, but rather the perception of the war and of Putin’s Russia which are much more defining factors. The local leaders in South Caucasus have reacted by embarking on a more authoritarian tendency in reaction to their own insecurity. They seem to sense an opportunity of distraction and have initiated an authoritarian crackdown within their own countries. In Giragosian’s view, this inherent fragility only enhances the geopolitical vulnerability of the region and allows Russia to maximise its leverage and consolidate its power and position in South Caucasus. Giragosian argued that Ukraine has emerged as a test of Western commitment and resolve. Putin’s Moscow is following its own cost-benefit analysis, while the West was applying the wrong one. Giragosian pointed out that the Kremlin is less and less a predictable or rational actor. There is a new stage of Russian retrenchment now underway; however, defined by a disengagement from the global economy and a more inwardly focused turn. Russia is building a new iron curtain within the former Soviet space and is embarking on a destabilisation campaign targeting the Nordic and Baltic theatres. It is the reckless nature of Putin’s policies that makes the unpredictable dynamic of Moscow’s policies and activities even more challenging. Giragosian argued that Putin’s weak, reckless and unpredictable Russia is a more serious opponent than the Soviet Union during the Cold War which was defined by more predictable and stable decision-making. Putin has become very good at losing friends and gaining enemies. Giragosian argued that Putin may have gained Crimea but has lost Ukraine forever. He also noted that there is a counterproductive trend for Russia within its so-called ”near abroad”, where there is a fear of, and a backlash against, Putin. In Armenia, for example, a traditional pro-Russian stance remains firm, but no longer translates into a pro-Putin posture. Giragosian wanted to underline the importance of the battle to win hearts and minds. When negotiating the Association Agreements, for example, the European Union failed to properly define and defend its values and lost a psychological battle against Russia. Giragosian argued that the European Union needs to more clearly define and defend its values, focus more on its transformative and soft power tools, and adopt and pursue a more effective communication strategy. Giragosian was also worried about a new battle space emerging in Central Asia, and a new theatre of operations in South Caucasus. The one instrument of leverage may be the unresolved conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh where Russia could seek to deploy peacekeepers which would stay permanently, dooming such a peacekeeping mission to prevent, not promote peace.
Anton Shekhovtsov spoke on the current and future state of Ukrainian-Russian relations from the Ukrainian perspective. He noted that the recent debate has been focusing on the West and Russia, and that Ukraine has been lacking a voice in this debate, especially in Russia. Providing a voice to Ukraine is important, although it has very limited possibilities to be an actor in the current geopolitical situation of the crisis. Shekhovtsov echoed Giragosian’s statement of Russia having gained Crimea but having lost Ukraine forever. There is general disappointment and a feeling of betrayal towards Russia in the Ukrainian society. Positive attitudes have diminished and currently there is a very negative attitude towards Russia and Russians. According to Shekhovtsov, there was an emotional divorce of Russianness from Russia during the revolution. He also said that after the revolution, Ukraine has become more homogenous. Ethnic Russians or Russian speakers in Ukraine are no longer considered an ethnic minority but an inseparable part of the Ukrainian society, as they are seen fighting for the independence and the unity of Ukraine. There has also been a change in attitudes towards the EU, the support for joining the EU has increased and there has been a huge drop in support for joining the Eurasian economic union. A large part of the population also supports not joining any union. It is very clear for the Ukrainian society and its decision-makers that European integration is the way for the Ukrainians. With regards to NATO membership, support for joining has increased and Poroshenko signed a law abandoning the non-alliance alignment of the state. Regional differences still exist but the country is increasingly homogenous.
Stanislav Secrieru spoke on the implications of the Ukrainian crisis for Moldova. Ukraine is important to Moldova as its biggest neighbour and an important trade partner but also due to the sizeable Ukrainian minority in Moldova and in Transnistria. Ukraine is also vital for Moldova’s energy supply, and it represents a buffer for Moldova from Russia. The annexation of Crimea meant that the buffer between Russia and Moldova shrank and it made Moldova more vulnerable. Secrieru pointed out that the public opinion of Moldovans has shifted through the conflict in Ukraine and there is a greater perceived threat of a regional war. In spite of this, support for neutrality remains high. Opinions on the annexation of Crimea split the public opinion. Due to the embargoes and the disruptions in trade, Moldova has become keener to start energy cooperation with other countries, and farmers have started looking for new markets due to the embargoes. Secrieru also noted that the number of exercises of Russian troops in Transnistria has doubled.
Panel 3: Russia
Ivan Timofeev spoke of the impacts of Ukrainian crisis on Russia-Euro-Atlantic community relations especially in the view of security issues. He said that political processes are non-linear which means that the local crisis may have unintended global consequences – this is the case in the Ukrainian crisis. The global impact in this case means that the crisis correlates with the cooperation between the West and Russia: already the cooperative spirit has diminished and dialogical connection has been lost. This, according to Timofeev, will be harmful not only to Russia but also to the US and EU, which indicates that all the sides are losing. The loss of cooperative spirit may have, in Timofeev’s opinion, an impact on how to solve or prevent other global threats, for example ISIS’ terrorism or cyber security issues. Timofeev had a two-fold recommendation for the situation: first, the connection between the Ukraine crisis and the global issues needs to be cut, and second, the emphasis should now be laid on the possible future outcomes and mutual losses. In other words, the current crisis cannot be solved unilaterally.
Nikolai Kaveshnikov spoke on the impact of the Ukrainian crisis on EU-Russian relations. He stressed that the problems in the relations between Russia, the EU, the US and NATO have been accreted at least since the last 10 years. The inefficiency of the security architecture in Europe, increasing geopolitical competition between the EU and Russia’s integration projects, the inability of Russia to deliver an attractive model of political and economic development – all these problems had enabled the start of the Ukrainian crisis. Russian policy in 2014 was not only about Ukraine, but about the whole system of relations with the Western core of the global community. Kaveshnikov also proposed some practical ideas to be implemented to solve the situation in Ukraine. According to him, the implementation of the second Minsk agreement is of crucial importance. Implementation is a responsibility not only of Donetsk & Lugansk but of Kyiv as well, and political pressure should be asserted not only by Russia on Donetsk & Lugansk but by Europe on Ukraine as well. Ukraine’s economy should be stabilised by joint efforts of the EU and Russia, and even though the level of trust is ”below zero”, cooperation should be built, and this should happen not based on mutual trust but rather out of necessity. In this respect, he stated that the risk of Ukraine becoming a failed state is real and that would be harmful for everyone. Frozen discussions on economic issues could be revived in the format of negotiations between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union. Finally, Kaveshnikov mentioned that the level of propaganda in Russia, Ukraine and Europe should be decreased.
Natalia Zubarevich concentrated in her speech on the economic crisis in Russia. In her opinion, the Ukrainian crisis matters but the economic problems were there already before the crisis took place. This is what makes the started transformations much more difficult. She said that the current economic crisis in Russia started in 2013, due to internal factors: the institutional framework of Russia is weak. However there are external factors as well that – according to her – have formed the situation. These external factors are the drop in oil price and sanctions. According to Zubarevich, internally the most problematic factors have been destabilisation of the regional budgets, investment decline and population income drop. At the moment, 45 per cent of Russian regions encounter the risk of having too high debt and budget deficits. To summarise, she said that the situation is very difficult as this crisis is a non-global one and based on internal factors. What is more, the current crisis is long in duration, so the instruments previously applied to economy are no longer useful.
Panel 4: Visegrád States
In his opening lecture Alexander Duleba explained the wider context of the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, briefly overviewing the past thirty years of the EU’s policy towards those Southern and Central European states which were then neighbours but have become members of the union. Transformation of neighbours into members takes a long time, but it is possible and the EU has a rich toolbox to be used for it.
He pointed out that Ukraine is the first case when the EU foreign policy has to face tanks, which is indeed a shock for all the stakeholders involved. However, he argued that giving up the Eastern Partnership would endanger the credibility of the whole three decades of the EU´s transformation potential; therefore, it needs to be continued both in the Riga Summit and also thereafter.
András Deák argued that in terms of energy security the Visegrad region is in a much better situation than it was in 2009, due to three main reasons. First, the North Stream pipeline guarantees better supply security; second, the interconnectivity in Europe has improved a lot; and third, European gas hubs increase the flexibility of the market. All in all, the gas system is much more resistant to supply cut-offs than it was in 2009.
Regarding further diversification, he pointed that although the 2009-2012 period was the ”Golden Age” of Visegrad gas diversification, nowadays the process has slowed down considerably. The main reason is that although technically the full replacement of Russia as a gas import source would be already possible, in terms of price the alternatives are not competitive at all. (This factor is particularly relevant because in the whole Visegrad region, the social affordability of energy prices has become much more politicised than it was before.) Besides, Gazprom gas has also become cheaper, thus at present the competition is going on between Gazprom gas and LNG. All in all, market processes, i.e. the decrease of gas prices are going against the strategic policy goal of diversification, simply due to the high investment costs it would require.
Jakub Groszkowski explained that expectations on the Visegrad cooperation should be more realistic. The Visegrad was never intended to solve intra-Visegrad differences, but to foster cooperation in issues where shared interest already exists. Hence, the present disagreements on Russia do not mean the crisis, or the end, of the Visegrad project. Particularly because in other fields the cooperation is quite successful; for example, regarding the building of North-South energy interconnectors across Central Europe, or defence cooperation.
Regarding Russia, he explained that the main difference is whether Russia is perceived more as a potential business partner, or mainly as a security threat. He stressed that both discourses are present in all four Visegrad countries, thus the reality is much more complex than it is often pictured in the media. Though there are considerable divisions between the four member states regarding the EU sanctions against Russia, finally all of them voted in favour of them. This indicates that the occasional business-related interests vis-à-vis Russia are unable to overwrite the fundamental Euro-Atlantic orientation of the region.