Weighing the Consequences: Ukraine, Russia, and the West
On Friday, May 9th, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Washington, DC hosted a half-day conference titled “Weighing the Consequences: Ukraine, Russia, and the West.” The discussion began with opening remarks from Dr. Ian Lesser, Executive Director of GMF’s Transatlantic Center, followed by three panel discussions: “Destabilization in the Region – Eastern Partnership and Beyond, ” “Energy and Economy – The Viability of Sanctions in a Setting of Interdependence,” and “Strategic Consequences for the Transatlantic Relationship and NATO.”
To open the first panel discussion, Alina Inayeh, Director of GMF’s Black Sea Trust, remarked that Russia’s actions in Ukraine have shifted the international political landscape in three principal ways: European integration of Moldova and Georgia has been accelerated; democracy has slipped from atop the priorities of Eastern European and Eurasian countries due to rising security concerns; and there has been the “shift from NATO towards the U.S.” in seeking security guarantees. Following Inayeh’s remarks, Dr. Daniela Schwarzer, Director of GMF’s Europe Program, noted the internal challenges facing the European Union in defining a response to Russia. She commented that while the developments in Ukraine were first deemed a policy failure, it has become apparent that the situation is very much a “hard security challenge.” One of the major obstacles going forward will be how to formulate a more concrete European defense and security policy in the face of low support for higher military spending and decreasing defense budgets across Europe. Other perspectives on the crisis’ impact on regional dynamics vis-à-vis Turkey from GMF’s Ankara Office Director Özgür Ünlühisarcikli and the Balkans from GMF Senior Vice President Ivan Vejvoda were offered. Vejvoda reinforced the fact that Southeastern Europe – with the exception of Serbia – has made clear that its strategic direction points towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration. To conclude this panel discussion moderated by GMF Managing Director for European Offices Mark Fischer, Georgetown’s Dr. Angela Stent offered some insight into the possible aims Russia has in Ukraine. So far, it appears as though the situation in Ukraine has been a victory for Putin due to the fact that “neither the U.S. nor the EU is able to take any initiative” in the region. This has enabled Russia to achieve its goal of destabilizing Ukraine, with the ultimate objective of negotiating a neutral and federal government in Kyiv.
Following panel one, the next set of speakers gathered to discuss the Ukraine crisis with a focus on energy and the economy. Moderated by Weekly Standard Senior Editor Christopher Caldwell the second panel discussion turned to GMF Senior Advisor Sir Michael Leigh, who described the shortcomings of the Eastern Neighborhood Policy in relation to Ukraine and the role that energy could play in stabilizing the region in the future. GMF Program Officer Kristine Berzina then provided an in-depth analysis on Ukraine’s energy vulnerabilities to Russia and the limited short-term options for diversifying Ukrainian gas supplies. In contrast to other remarks highlighting Russian ability to destabilize the region, Dr. Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow at the Peter G. Peterson Institute, claimed that that Putin is overplaying his hand as the Russian economy is weaker than people believe. Moreover, he claimed that “Ukraine has never had such good economic policymakers,” and recent economic reforms in the country have been outstanding. Nevertheless, Michal Baranowski, Director of GMF’s Warsaw office concluded the panel, asserting that energy dependence is particularly problematic for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. And while Baranowski believes that Russia is more dependent on Europe than vice versa, he paradox that “the further you are from Russia, the cheaper the gas gets.”
To conclude the day’s discussion, the President of the German Marshall Fund Dr. Karen Donfried, moderated the final panel, which opened with GMF’s Paris Office Director Alexandra de Hoop-Scheffer suggesting that the transatlantic security crisis that has emerged in Ukraine should not have been a surprise. Moreover, larger NATO members are becoming increasingly hesitant to extend strong assistance to non-members and this is why “this crisis may well cause further division within NATO.” Dr. Ian Lesser added to this view, stating that the U.S. security engagement in Europe has been put back on the forefront. With Russia’s actions altering previous perceptions of conventional defense and arms control issues, there may now be an impetus to fix the EU-NATO conundrum. Nevertheless, Dr. Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at GMF, characterized the impact of Ukraine on transatlantic relations by calling it “a return of history and geopolitics.” She claimed that while previously there was a strong North-South economic element within Europe, the East-West security dynamic has now been reintroduced. Rounding out the discussion, GMF Senior Transatlantic Fellow Ambassador Temuri Yakobashvili added to the panel by providing a more general interpretation of the events within the region. Ambassador Yakobashvili asserted that the major problem is that the liberal is in throes of crisis because “the main architects of the liberal order are divided themselves.” In conclusion, Dr. Donfried provided a reminder that irrespective of Western reactions, Russian aggression in the region was the impetus for increased tensions. The day’s conversation indicated the need for a concerted, coordinated, and multi-faceted effort from the U.S. and Europe to engage the region.