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January 31, 2023

Brussels Forum (March 20-22): “The Russia File”-I

For me, the most important question posed during debates for the tenth edition of the “Brussels Forum”, organized during March 20 – 22, this year, was “What would be the topics dominating the agenda, what would discussions focus on, at the 2025 edition of the Brussels forum?” The attendants answered in 60 seconds, and the wide range of topics suggested by them shows an essential feature: the variety  caused by the extraordinary speed in the succession of events, of change, which is the main feature of globalization and of digital revolution we are presently going through. From demography to economy and jobs, from ‘climate change’ to reshaping Africa, from ‘multipolar Chinas’ to Mars or international security, the attendants revealed, by their very answers, that the world is constantly under fast change, beyond the slow rhythms of the past that, throughout a decade, things that seemed inconceivable not ten years ago, but one or two years ago may happen. And when a panel attendant suggested a change in the question, from “what will be discussed in 2025” to “who will discuss in 2025”, she actually expressed the same feature, because the reference she used was the fact that the South would certainly be better represented in 2025 than it was in 2015, that BRICS may not confirm today’s expectations, and so on.

Ever since the beginning of the conference, on Friday, March 20, the President of “George Marshall Fund – US”, that organized the Forum in Brussels, Karen Donfried, showed that the debates would explore the most significant matters of transatlantic relation, “many evolving and remerging”. Therefore, the main topic concerned the transatlantic relation, but the debate did not include merely representative personalities of this side of the planet, from state presidents (Poland, Estonia) to renowned Ministers and experts, but also personalities of other regions of the world – South America, China, Russia, etc. – which is an undoubted sign of globalization, of the fact that, regardless of their local importance, world regions do not evolve in a greenhouse, but they are in close connection to all the other spaces, and international security is adapted to this reality. As a result, topics such as ‘Great powers in Asia: is strategic competition the new normal?’; ‘Countering the new wave of terrorism at home and abroad’; ‘New visions for energy transitions: balancing energy security , climate change, and costs’; or the innovative Mistery session’ (dedicated to discussing the issues of contemporary world with young attendants), found their natural and useful position for an overall image of contemporary realities influenced by the transatlantic relation.

From the very beginning, Karen Donfired mentionat that, today, there is “most significant threat in Europe because of Russia”. And the first session, that brought in front of the audience German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and the reputed strategist and policymaker Zbigniew Brezinski, hosted by NYT columnist Steve Erlanger, focused mostly on this topic.

Therefore, it was the “Russia file”. Brzezinski mentioned a fact that had become obvious in the last few weeks: the use of nuclear threats by Russia. “Russia in last several weeks has deliberately flaunted nuclear threat. That ‘hasn’t happened in decades”, one of the Twitter posts published by the attendants points out. “Putin’s reference to nuclear weapons” keeps Brzezinski “up at night”, according to his own confession, and therefore, he thinks that an “accommodation” with Russia is necessary. Questioned about his famous statement: “Russia without Ukraine is a grand power; yet, with Ukraine, it is a woldwide empire”, Brzezinski replies: Rusia is an “aspiring empire”, therefore, it lacks the economical and military capacity to be a genuine empire. “I favour deterrence and accommodation”, says a Twitter post published on the official page of the forum by an attendant who was pointing out the bottomline of the American strategist’s position. “@Zbig on #Russia: right balance deterrence & accommodation=reassurance UKR not in #NATO”, another one synthesizes. “Russia an aspiring empire #brzezinski, we need deterrence, reliance on force, and accommodation” is what a third Twitter post names Zbig’s “prescription”. As we may easily notice, each of the quoted attendants points out a different aspect in the American strategist’s position. From ‘accommodation’ to ‘right balance’, between accommodation and deterrence to the factor ‘reliance on force ‘ introduced in the equation, not to mention Zbig’s important completion noticed by another attendant: “Crimea cannot be resolved conclusively now.”

Two mentions must be made.First of all, it should be noted that the Twitter accounts of Brzezinski’s position need to be read and interpreted jointly, as they reflect either the subjectivity of the attendants, or they are posted during Zbig’s conference, without waiting for the conclusion, as it may be seen by watching the video recording of the meeting on http://brussels.gmfus.org/videos/brussels-forum-2015-welcome-conversation-ursula-von-der-leyen-and-zbigniew-brzezinski- , which shows that the urge for accuracy in the age of Twitter requires taking into account the weaknesses of this form of communication. Second, Brzezinski’s position seems to be determined, if we follow the succession of Twitter accounts by attendants, as a result of the “nuclear threat” used by Russia in the last few weeks and the accommodation accompanied by the firm position intended to express desolation would leave aside, at this stage, the issue o Crimea. In other words, Brzezinski suggests a deal with Russia – a mega-Yalta? – based on two crucial conditions: the guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO and delaying solutions to the issues in Crimea, which means maintaining it at this time inside Russia, which means sort of a silent admission of its illegal annexation.

The German Defence Minister, Van der Leyen, shares, overall the same opinion. She points out that Russia must be not challenged by military confrontation; on Twitter, an attendant notes the essence of her speech: “Solution will be @negotiation table not in the killing fields”- and also that the action of resistance to the information war fought by Russia must be enforced: (“Europe needs to generate resiliance to info campaigns from #Russia and ISIS hitting deep) and higher costs should be established, would Russia continue its present actions. Therefore, as one attendant had noted on Twitter, the German official has raised the question: “We have to think about what kinds of costs Russia is willing to accept. Costs of life, or just rubles?

The topic of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO returned in the session that followed the one discussed above, on March 21, attended by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, State Secretary Deputy Victoria Nuland, Konstantin Kosachev, the President of Federal Council of Russia and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU. There was a question from the audience and an afferent reply, as noted on Twitter: “Q: wouldn’t ruling out NATO membership for Ukraine go against what we stand for?” Nuland: “Ukraine is far from ready but it would”. And in other Twitter posts, referring to this episode, “Victoria Nuland reconfirms NATO’s Open Door policy – including for Ukraine, even if membership is not an immediate goal.” and “Nuland at #BrusselsForum10: it is US position that any country can choose its alliances” reveal an official position of America opposed to the one presented by Brzezinski.

The discussion in this second panel, quoted above, was terribly heated. Moderated by David Ignatius, the debate offered the representatives of the West a confrontation with K. Kosachev, Russia’s representative. The latter denied all assertions (even the ones made by Jens Stoltenberg) referring to the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine or to the challenging attitude of Russian fighter aircrafts and pointed out the NATO responses to eventual cybernetic attacks on member states (while Nuland replied that they were not “in a planning session”). Here are a few Twitter posts reflecting this heated atmosphere, at a panel meaningfully entitled “Zero-Sum? Russia, PowerPolitics, & the Post-Cold War Era”. At Kosachev’s insistences that Russia had no troops in Ukraine, Stoltenberg replied “you can only move from zero-sum to win-win if there is respect for the rules & minimum trust”; “precondition for win-win is a respect for the rules. Need trust and truth.” and “can’t go back to win-win without respect for rules, basis for trust. Situation undermines Europe”. After watching the discussion live, the US Embassy in Brussels posted on the official Twitter page of the Forum (11,980 tweets and 20,623 followers): “Worried we’re foreclosing closer transatlantic community Vancouver to Vladivostok many of us have worked towards.” There is concern, therefore, that the security architecture built slowly and legalized in the era that followed the Cold War, applicable in the space from the planetary space between Vancouver and Vladivostok (therefore, a politically expanded Eur-Asia, is shattered by the Russian actions in Ukraine).


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