Dr. Karen Donfried, President, The German Marshall Fund of the United States
Reinhard Bütikofer, Co-Chair, European Green Party, Member, European Parliament
Jill Dougherty, former Moscow Bureau Chief, CNN
On Wednesday, February 18, 2015, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Co-Chair of the European Green Party and Member of the European Parliament Reinhard Bütikofer for GMF’s seventh installment of its Transatlantic Talks series. The series pairs government officials from one side of the Atlantic with senior journalists from the other to discuss the most relevant issues to the transatlantic partnership. Jill Dougherty, former Moscow bureau chief for CNN, moderated the conversation, which explored the Eastern European security structure and discussed joint transatlantic approaches to countering Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried welcomed the audience and introduced Bütikofer.
Reflecting upon current events, Dougherty began the conversation by asking if the recent Ukrainian-Russian ceasefire could lead to a resolution. Bütikofer said “even if the ceasefire would hold…it would not lead to a resolution. It would, at best, lead to a frozen conflict.” As German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month, the conflict in Ukraine will not be won in the short-term. Bütikofer stressed throughout the discussion the need for push-back against Russia. In regards to the recent debate on whether the to provide arms for Ukrainians, Bütikofer warns such a decision could complicate the coordinated Western message to Russia. If the United States decides to arm Ukraine, Bütikofer claimed the “strategic imperatives don’t change,” but cooperation amongst the divided Western countries “would be more difficult.” Bütikofer thinks a military solution is not the appropriate answer, as he thinks “the military game is Putin’s game.” As for Ukrainian military preparedness, Bütikofer said, “Ukraine is presently not able to mobilize the powers of its citizens to the best possible, most efficient level because of internal corruption and because of lack of economic strength.”
Regarding concerns about Russia’s potential to invade another neighboring country, Bütikofer hypothesized Russia’s ultimate goal with Ukraine. He does not think the primary objective is to prevent a successful Ukraine, economically and socially; instead, Bütikofer suggests Putin wants to pursue a policy that “does not allow the Ukrainian people the sovereignty over choosing its own alliances.” While the threat of another Russian invasion, Bütikofer believes “there is a clear message – Article 5 stands.” The subsequent fierce military response by NATO members if Russia invades any country protected under NATO Article 5 is an “ironclad truth.” Therefore, in order to raise the costs for Putin to deter Russia from invading another neighbor, Bütikofer recommended further sanctions. In addition, Bütikofer suggests for the United States to continue engaging in Russian issues.
The discussion expanded past Russian aggression during the question and answer session. Topics of discussion included concerns regarding European Union energy security, the German business community’s ties to Russia, and the internally displaced persons (IDP) crisis within Ukraine. He recommended cooperation between the United States and European countries on various security issues, and for each side of the Atlantic to get “involved in all the pertinent conflicts with different roles, of course, but together.”
In conclusion, Bütikofer emphasized the importance of a unified and cohesive approach on behalf of Western allies towards Ukraine. It would be a “terrible miscalculation” for the United States to focus only on Islamic terrorism as a “short-term challenge” and China’s rise as a “long-term challenge.” The “declining power of Russia” should not be a solely European issue. Instead, there is a need for a “constant engagement of the United States in that particular European theater.”