Security in Europe after Ukraine

24.11.2014, Riga – keynote speech at Baltic Assembly, Nordic Council, Benelux Parliament, GUAM PA, Visegrad countries meeting


Putin has chosen confrontation instead of cooperation with Europe and the West in general.

Despite president Obamas restart with Russia when Medvedev was president – and we must remember that some good things were done during this period, for example, sanctions agains Iran, and we can hope that this may become a historic day if an agreement is reached today with Iran – and Germany’s continuation of its Ostpolitik of dialogue dating back to Willy Brand during the Cold War – Putin has turned his back to such policies of cooperation. He has choosen instead naked military force and a huge propaganda machine as his policy instruments on a global scale to further his agenda in Europe.

The current situation

There is one conclusion that all agree on despite different approaches to how to deal with Russia after the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s armed agression in eastern Ukraine. There can be back to business as usual as happened after Russia’s war against Georgia in 2008. Why is it different this time?

The former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the Association agreement together with the the free trade agreement at the Vilnius summit last year in November. Unlike Armenia, which backed away from signing the agreements after its president Serzh Sargsyan visiting Moscow two months before the summit and decided to join the Euroasian union instead, the Ukrainian people rose up in defiance of their president which resulted in the downfall of the government.

Ukraine chose Europe and Russia began using covert, then overt force to block Ukraine from her choice. This put Russia on a direct collision course with the EU. Previously conventional wisdom said that Russia was only against NATO, not the EU. Not any longer.

If anybody had any doubts about this despite Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, then let me quote the Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin who explained why Russia abstained from voting to extend the EURFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzogina last Monday (Nov. 10) at the Security Council:

“… we are against having an inernational presence in the field of security that could be viewed as an instrument to accelerate the integration of the country into the EU and NATO.”

In 2012 the EU and Bosnia-Herzegovina launched the high-level dialogue on the accession process.

So there we have it. Putin’s Russia has decided to seek confrontation not only with NATO but also with the EU. And that is why there is a difference between Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. This then is not just an Ukrainian crisis. It is just as much a Russian crisis, and certainly also a European crisis.

As the Financial Times wrote recently, Moscow has upturned the organising assumption of postwar European security that national frontiers could never again be altered by military force. This organising principle now has been broken and we don’t know what further awaits us.

NATO has responded and has drawn up defence plans and enhanced its capabilities to protect its members closest to Russia. The EU has imposed sanctions and Germany has been the main driving force in the EU bringing together the 28 member states in reaching agreements on this while at the same time being the main interlocutor with Putin. Angela Merkel has spoken more than thirty times with Putin on the phone and she talked to Putin in Brisbane during the G20 summit at the Hilton Hotel for over six hours until well into Sunday morning. They must have spoken German since Jean-Claude Juncker joined them at half time and there were no interpreters.

Figuratively speaking one can say that both Merkel and Putin were East Germans since Putin worked in Dresden from 1985 to 1990 as a KGB agent and learnt to speak fluent German. He also loved German beer. His cover was that he was an interpreter and translator.

Putin did his best to clarify in detail Russia’s approach to Ukraine. Merkel was not impressed. Later Merkel said that the EU will not yield to Moscow like East Germany did and that this applied not only to Ukraine but also Moldova and Georgia, and, if “the situation continues, we’d have to ask about Serbia, about the Western Balkan countries”.

Putin has miscalculated and lost Berlin. But his answer is not a return to international rules and norms, but, instead, in punishing Germany. Now Russia has stated that she is against giving Germany the presidency of the OSCE in 2016!

Nobody wants a new Cold War, but it seems that confrontation with Russia will continue. Are we seeing before our eyes the first contours of a containment policy of Russia emerging? We may need to revisit 1946 when George F. Kennan wrote the “Long Telegraph” which outlined the basis of the West’s containment policy toward the Soviet Union.

One thing is certain. Europe has to write a new Security Strategy to replace its first strategy written in 2003. The first sentence of that strategy reads:

“Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th Century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history.”

Not any more.

The second sentence reads: “The creation of the EU has been central to this development.”

The first sentence will have to be revised. The second sentence might well be revised to read that the EU together with USA and other western countries in containing Russian aggression until Russia returns to accepted international rules and norms.


Of the six countries in the Eastern European Partnership only three remain committed to the European way, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldava. Armenia, though it still looks toward Europe, is joining the Euroasian union, while Azerbaijan is seeking to find a middle course between the western and eastern unions. It has declined to sign the Association agreement with the EU, but wants to sign a strategic modernisation partnership with it that will be mostly technical in detail.

Latvia will preside over the EU for six months next year under these dramatic developments. Lithuania presided over the EU last year when these events began to take shape. Only a generation ago nobody whould have dreamed that the Baltic states would regain their independence and would in a very short span of time hold the presidencies of the European Union.

In doing this Latvia will follow up on the Lithuanian precedent and focus on the Eastern Partnership with special attention to Ukraine. In addition, Latvia will also focus on Central Asia, where, irrespective of states joining or not joining the Euroasian union, all harbor fear of Russia. They do not want to loose their contacts with Europe. Clearly Ukraine compels a revision of the EU’s Central Asian strategy.

But in this vast region there is another strong player that has emerged since the break-up of the Soviet Union in addition to Russia and that is China. The question that needs to be answered is what will be the EU’s global role in a rapidly changing world?