Central Eastern Europe: United by Regional Security
When it comes to regional interests, Russia seems to be the only thing on which the Central and Eastern European (CEE) states can reach an agreement. On October 9, Warsaw served as a gathering place for leaders and ministers of foreign affairs of the “Bucharest 9” (B9). The format created at the Central and Eastern Europe presidents’ meeting in 2014 includes Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. This was the second meeting of B9, while preliminary consultations took place last November in Bucharest.
The meeting focused on coordination among the B9 in NATO activities, “to address current security issues in the CEE region and identify areas for further cooperation,” reported Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski. The meeting should be seen as a CEE effort to seek common security goals in a run-up to the NATO summit in 2018.
The large-scale Russian-led military exercise Zapad 17 brought a feeling of uncertainty to the region. In reaction to the exercise, the Polish Foreign Minister pointed out that countries from the eastern flank should thoroughly analyze these maneuvers and encourage Moscow to engage constructively in the OSCE. This uncertainty among the CEE states about Zapad contributed to the issue of potential Russian aggression dominating the discussions at the B9 meeting.
Even though normally the B9 represents different interests and, in many cases, does not act as a united block, when it comes to security issues and Russia, the region often speaks with one voice. The meeting reaffirmed a regional two-track policy toward Moscow which, on the one hand, seeks to develop a dialogue with the Kremlin and, on the other hand, constantly invests in improvement of regional defense capabilities.
A dialogue with Russia could be the most challenging, as many countries from B9 feel hostage to Russian manipulative foreign policy. The Baltic states that struggle daily with Russian fake news and Kremlin meddling could find it hard to call for an increased dialogue. Therefore, the NATO–Russia Council and the OSCE Structured Dialogue — organizations in which the Baltic states and all of the B9 are members — should be recognized and supported as the most promising platforms for negotiations. These platforms outweigh the disadvantages of bilateral dialogue between a small CEE state and large power by granting strong and equal representation to all members of the B9.
What should be noted is the regional increased awareness of modern threats. The B9 acknowledged the importance of countering cyber and hybrid risks. They called upon strengthening cooperation and enhancing resilience. In the past, there were many similar statements; however, the situation could improve after actions such as the newly established European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats in Helsinki as it becomes fully operational. Its symbolic location in the Baltic region could give new incentives for the region to finally act together and be more successful in meeting these 21st century challenges.
Finally, as clearly stated in a Joint Statement, the region reaffirms its commitment to transatlantic security. This message clearly confirms its continuous dependence on the Euro-Atlantic security structure, with the United States’ military commitment at its core.
Looking at the year ahead, the B9 should consolidate and come to the NATO 2018 summit with one regional robust message. The B9 should promote an increase in military spending and call for constructive and equal dialogue with Russia. The Warsaw meeting was an indication that there is a readiness to speak as one when it comes to security among the CEE states.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.