Dr. Karen Donfried, President, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF)
Dr. Lars Hänsel, Director, Washington Office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation
Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs
Dr. Stephen Szabo, Executive Director, Transatlantic Academy
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On July 21st, 2015, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs Elmar Brok for a conversation exploring Russian aggression in Ukraine. Co-hosted with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the European Parliament’s Liaison office, the event featured introductions by GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried and Konrad Adenauer Foundation Washington Office Director Dr. Lars Hänsel.
Donfried began the event by welcoming guests and Elmar Brok, underscoring Brok’s role as a leader in shaping the future of the European Union’s strategic relations with Russia, and called Brok “a committed Transatlanticist.” Introducing the event’s moderator, Executive Director of Transatlantic Academy Dr. Stephen Szabo, Donfried noted that the Academy’s focus next year will be on Russia and the West.
Following Donfried’s opening remarks, Hänsel also welcomed guests and emphasized the significance of the challenges that the transatlantic community faces today. He also praised Brok’s expertise and contributions to the larger conversation on transatlantic relations.
Szabo began the conversation by inquiring how the transatlantic community’s relationship with Russia has arrived at the present state, probing for the driving factors of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine and beyond. Brok suggested that Russia’s actions are deeply rooted in the Putin’s failure to modernize the nation, arguing that there were two components of this failure: the first being a failure to implement economic reform and the second Putin’s changing of the role of the presidency. Brok attributed the outbreak of the Maidan movement to Russia’s interference in Ukrainian domestic politics blocking the nation’s European Union Association Agreement. Comparing Poland to Ukraine, Brok underscored the similarities the two countries shared 25 years ago. He also cited Poland’s success in developing a market economy and democratic society as hope for Ukrainian reform, emphasizing Ukraine’s potential with a well-educated population and strong infrastructure and agriculture capabilities.
Szabo then pointed questions regarding the future of the Minsk agreement and the conflict as a whole over the coming months. In response, Brok stressed the importance of maintaining sanctions and condemned Russia’s hybrid war in Ukraine’s East. He argued that Russia is preventing Ukraine from implementing the reforms it desperately needs. On a positive note, Brok argued it is a good sign that the Ukrainian Rada has begun to undertake constitutional reform and that, though the fighting continues, the frontlines have not changed significantly over the last three months. Referring back to the Polish example, Brok called for further regionalization as a solution in Ukraine both for ending the conflict and again emphasized the role of modernization and reform. As the conflict simmers, Brok assured that further Russian aggression would be met by more sanctions, the one weapon Brok said the EU has at its disposal.
In the open question and answer session, the conversation focused on the role of Germany in both NATO and EU contributions to aiding Ukraine. Brok called for increased military coordination among European NATO members, stating that “we are moving, not fast enough in my opinion, but we are moving.” With regard to Iran, Brok referred to the recent Iranian nuclear deal as “promising,” and as an example of the success of sanctions, while recognizing the deal’s inherent risks.