EVENT TRANSCRIPT: “Eastern European Security: 5 Years on from Maidan”
DATE: 1:00 pm-2:00 pm, 26 February, 2019
VENUE: House of Commons
SPEAKER: Ambassador Renatas Norkus, Edward Lucas, and Orysia Lutsevych
EVENT CHAIR: Lord Cromwell
Welcome to this meeting, my name is Godfrey Cromwell. I’m a member of the House of Lords cross-bencher, which means I am a politically independent person. I am also the Director of the British East-West Centre, which takes close interests in Eastern Europe and the C.I.S. countries. We have a team, for example, in Moldova monitoring the elections there currently. And a very topical outcome of the result is to be hanging absolutely between, shall we say, East-looking and West-looking groups within the Parliament. I have also 10 people currently in Ukraine as part of the run-up to the elections there, and we will be sending out a further 75 under the aegis of the OSCE for election monitoring over there. But you didn’t come here to talk to me or hear from me, so let’s get on with our issue of ‘Eastern European Security 5 Years on from Maidan.’
If I may set the scene a little bit before I introduce our illustrious panel, when Russia went into Ukraine in 2014, there was really very little appetite for opposing armed aggression with matching force; a lot of words were said, but not a great deal happened. Subsequently, NATO has beefed up its presence in the Baltic area, the Baltic states, and in Poland, possibly to discourage further military ventures. So I really got two questions which I would like answered today: If the Cold War meant peace, but is now a faded memory, where are we today? That’s what I want to know. And the second question is: Why are the West, a term that has resurfaced, while the West may advocate its values and its institutions, is that really enough to keep Europe safe? So I think that’s my cue to introduce our panel. On my right I have Renatas Norkus, who is the Ambassador from Lithuania, welcome and thank you very much for spending the time with us. I won’t run through his CV because I think you have it in front of you, but he has a long term engagement with Russia and that part of the world in his various, previous posts. I also have Edward Lucas, a well-known writer specializing in trans-Atlantic security and European matters, a series of books, The Cold War- The New Cold War, forgive me, and in 2011 we had Deception, everything spooky between East and West, and coming up I believe, do we have Cyberphobia? Or has that already come out yet? Came out a couple of years ago, shows how out of date my reading is. Looking forward to hearing from him. And Orysia Lutsevych, who is with Chatham House, particularly on the Ukraine Forum and looking at the use of NGOs and other features of political control.
I’m not going to say any more than that other than to do the housekeeping, which is that each speaker only has ten minutes to speak to you, and then we will stop at the end of the three speakers, and we will take questions and we will see how long we go from there. I will aim to wrap this meeting up at about 2 o’clock. Okay, without more ado, our first speaker. Ambassador, thank you.
AMBASSADOR RENATAS NORKUS:
Thank you—thank you very much, Lord Cromwell. Also, I want to thank the Henry Jackson Society for organizing this important topic of discussion. I mean, it’s a comeback to try and cover this theme because now all the EU ambassadors here in London are so much preoccupied with so many discussions that are ongoing as we speak in the House of Commons and beyond about Brexit, so that we hardly have time to really look at other issues. But nonetheless, I’ve spent a good portion of my humble career dealing with security policy, in my capital as a security policy director, or as an ambassador to the OSCE, or Russia, and obviously one way or another you have to cope with all these. For my country, mostly existential question, which is how do we make sure that we can assure our security in this time, which is very challenging. But several years after Maidan, it probably will not be an exaggeration to say that 5 years ago, during that revolution, modern Ukrainian nation was born. Nation building is an ongoing effort—we cannot stop; it is never finished or complete. And it is true about any political entity, and it is especially true about such a young democracy as Ukraine. A lot, of course, is yet to be done, but what we can say with confidence is that as happened in my country, is that modern Ukraine is here to stay. Ukrainian people, civil society, time and again prove their commitment to make Ukraine a success.
I will come back to Ukraine at the end of my short speech, but now let me say how we, in Lithuania, view the security situation. How do we perceive it? Of course the attack on Georgia in 2008 and the illegal annexation of Crimea and the covert use of military and paramilitary forces by the Russian state in Ukraine, but also beyond Ukraine, in Syria for that matter, redrew the political map in Europe and the region, and shook up the rules based international peace order. While the Russian state can no longer be trusted to uphold its word and its international commitments, as it violated among others, the Budapest Memorandum, Helsinki Accords, United Nations Charter, and most recently IMF treaty. In short, Russia has chosen competition and confrontation over cooperation.
Why we view the Russian state as a considerable threat or a security concern or a challenge? Firstly, it has capabilities to act on a very short notice. It tests them regularly in exercises such as [inaudible]. Secondly, it has willingness to change international recognised orders by force; it did so in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. Thirdly, on the other hand, political willingness to solve frozen conflicts is merely non-existent. Neither is there any progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements nor in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Artsakh and Transnistria have been for a long time simmering. Fourthly, geography of Russia’s military engagements, an example of which is Syria, there are also indications of Russia’s military engagement in Africa, such as the provision of military equipment for the Republic of Central Africa and presence of private military companies in Africa such as the one we know from the conflict in Syria. Finally, the threat is longstanding, and we are in with it for a long haul. Russia’s military posture is driven, in our view, by a system that does not depend on personalities alone, and therefore it will remain in the future irrespective of election results or any other political changes that might take time to take place in the Russian Federation.
When it comes to broader challenges posed by Russia, indeed if we read updated pages of documents that they produced, clear indication of NATO as a threat. It is stated in the official documents and is publically referred to by Russian politicians, and it is constantly broadcast on the TV for the public. While we at NATO, until very recently, were aiming at building a strategic partnership with Russia, cutting defence budgets and military structures and focusing on expeditionary forces out of area operation, Russia was increasing its investments into defence, modernizing its armaments and military structures, renewing its strategy documents and tactics. Russia is well into implementation of its military reform plan, which was introduced after the war in Georgia. Some setbacks not withstanding due to financial and technological difficulties, Russia by and large, in our view, at the risk of modernizing up to 70% of military equipment by 2020.
Russia is extremely active in the information field, of course Edward would be the best here to, perhaps, expand on that. They’re using their propaganda tools, such as Russia Today, misinformation, news, trolls, leaks, in order to confuse decision making and public opinion. Russia also employs conspiracy theorists, alternative truths, lobbying, PR agencies discrediting others in the international arena, not only in Georgia and Ukraine, but also beyond their neighbourhood.
Russia supports European extremists and anti-European Union rules. Immense division and instability in the target countries creates division inside the European Union and NATO. Other forms of action include cyber activity, refugee flows, and population resettlement in order to change the composition of frozen conflict regions. Proxy groups, pseudo-NGOs, youth organizations, and also up to who attends, there are also other tools that are subordinated to Russia’s disruptive policies such as cultural diplomacy, the promotion of Russian culture abroad and the promotion of Russian language, cultural exhibitions, tourism, etc. compatriot policy.
At the same time rising militant nationalism and chauvinism inside Russian society is a result of government efforts to mobilize the population and increase acceptance in the name of higher national objectives. Interestingly enough, nationalism in Russia is fostered and tolerated whereas nationalism in other countries is presented to the Russian public as an extreme Nazis. The Kremlin increasingly sees Europe [inaudible] peace not as an opportunity for prosperous persistence, but as a threat to geopolitical agenda and the regime’s survival.
When it comes to my country, although Russia has tried to demonstrate an intentional, positive dynamics in relation to the West in general, mostly last year, its strategic goals remain the same: to change the global power balance within its perceived zone of interests, and that zone includes the Baltic region. Indeed, Russia has never stopped treating the Baltic states as part of its exclusive sphere of influence. They were using [inaudible] to use political, economic, and energy resources for propaganda, cyber information, and other coercive open and undercover things. You would not be surprised that Russian intelligence services use Russian diplomatic missions in Lithuania as their cover; before the Salisbury attack, one third of Russian diplomatic personnel in Lithuania were linked to the Russian intelligence services. These are the facts that are now openly discussed by our intelligence organizations, including the military, which produce open source, open reports which are published in public. In addition to traditional Russian cyber activities, a new phenomenon has been observed, that is large-scale malicious ransomware programs. So far, they have not caused any serious damage, but this might change in the future.
Russian military snap exercises regularly complicate tactical warning with intention along the Russian borders. They’ve been increasing their military capabilities near Lithuania’s borders. It is broadening its range of military actions in the region, including not only the deployment of the [inaudible], but also [inaudible] its long range strike aviation and air defence capabilities in Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad has become the most militarized zone within Europe, with massive A2AD capabilities, these capabilities about gaining control of the Baltic sea and airspace. Short-range nuclear capable ballistic missiles were deployed in Kaliningrad last year. Also two frigates aimed with nuclear capable cruise missiles can reach up to 2,500 kilometres. Around 25,000 troops are permanently deployed in Kaliningrad, and it is estimated that up to 7% of the region’s population is related to military in one way or another. I mentioned already, large scale military exercises, so all these elements can lead into partial or full occupation of a NATO member and to militarize the relation of the Baltic states and its allies. This sounds quite grim, I would understand. But I think that’s where we live, we live in such a reality that in order for it to really paint the picture in a rosy colour, what’s the response? In short, one could say—I would say that Lithuania, first and foremost, is a credible ally, and that is our response number one.
Our Parliament approved the defence budget last year 2% of GDP, we have an ambitious armed forces development program, including procurement of important equipment, self-propelled artillery and air defence systems, we restored military conscription back in 2015 to help with recruitment into the professional service, and generates sufficient numbers of reserves. To cope with our conventional challenges, my country has upgrading its crisis response system, particular attention is given to [inaudible] and cyber defence domains, we are constantly screening information on the environment and trace fake news, fake news mainly aimed at discrediting credibility and reliability of our national defence and NATO forces in Lithuania. We have taken practical steps to implement cyber defence plans, starting from this year, all national cyber security capabilities were consolidated under the Ministry of National Defence. We have been doing quite tangible work in making sure we can do, nationally, as much as we can, in terms of being more resilient, in order to distinguish truth and lies, being able to come out of society to a population and to strike a very productive cooperation between the state institutions and the NGOs and also the media in Lithuania. Of course, NATO comes as an umbrella that has now deployed troops in the Baltic states as the enhanced forward presence. The battle groups that are in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, with NATO’s troops on the ground to deter [inaudible] and perceived military risk.
As we speak about the deterrents, we are also open to dialogue. We need to continue to keep our links with Russia, to avoid further complications, but that dialogue has to be meaningful, it has to be open, it has to be based on strength. And that is where we have been investing lately. Now, coming back to Ukraine, Maidan represented the manifestation of the will of ordinary Ukrainians, the first motivation to come out to the streets of Kiev, was by the willingness to defend the European choice against a decision by then Mr. Yanukovych not to sign the association agreement. Maidan grew and evolved, but the very first motivation was precisely the European one. I will never forget seeing the streets of flax in Kiev. It was very clear proof of the European Union’s, or the European, power of attraction. We have never seen anything similar before, that should have boosted our confidence, our meaning Europe’s confidence, but also should have put much more serious responsibility on us. Whether this is something fully acknowledged by the European Union, I’m not sure. And I don’t know if we are full ready to use this power as an organization, but I believe and we believe in Lithuania, that we should.
Ukraine has also changed in many significant ways since five years ago. This is the largest country in Europe, so the significance of this change cannot be underestimated. Today we see a new Ukraine, a country which managed to achieve more, since Maidan, than in the previous twenty years. Even if clearly many reforms are still ahead, the country has achieved a significant amount of progress forming its society and governance and started changing its way of doing business. We saw an impressive biography of the Ukrainian nation, and I believe that we are heading towards fulfilling the success story of Ukraine, which would be a pre-modern, democratic, prosperous. Challenges are tremendous, but I think we are on the right path, and I am so glad that although Maidan and what happened those days was a tragedy when people died, but I think the further developments have forged a critical partnership between Lithuania and Ukraine. I know Ukrainian defence attaché is here, I haven’t seen such a passionate bilateral cooperation any time before as it now is since the days of Maidan. With this grim security situation in the region, I still believe that we have a good future, if we stay together, like-minded, within the Europe family, and the role of the United Kingdom will be crucial no matter how things will end up with the Brexit process. Thank you very much.
Ambassador, thank you very much indeed. Grim? Yes. Thought provoking? Certainly. And I’m sure we will have questions for you later when we get to that part. It is now a pleasure to turn to Edward Lucas to talk about his views.
Well, thank you very much indeed, Lord Cromwell, thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for organizing this event. Thank you for coming. I’m in some difficulty here because as Norkus was talking I was crossing out every point that I was going to make because you’ve made many of them already, so I’ve got to say first off thank you for making this point. But actually, in a deeper sense, I think it’s really important for us here in London and our counterparts in Brussels and Berlin and Paris and Washington, DC to realize that all these parts were made many years ago by our friends and allies and partners in Eastern Europe.
We were warned back in the 1990s by Estonians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Ukrainians and others that there were problems brewing in Russia, problems about Russia’s internal trajectory away from quasi-democracy with the return of the KGB, but also the return of the call it what you will, neo-Imperialist idea that Russia was entitled to a sphere[inaudible]. This is not a new problem; it is only completely new to people who have not been paying attention. I think we, as Westerners here, have to approach this with real humility because we were warned, and we didn’t listen to those warnings, and we treated the people who gave us those warnings with patronization and we belittled them. Look at the speech that Lennart Meri the Estonian President gave in the summer of 1994. It’s still there on the Estonian presidential website, and you read it and you think “Gosh, why did no one listen?”
Actually one person who was absolutely [inaudible] to that speech was the head of the delegation from St. Petersburg, who was a humble and corrupt and little known politician called Vladimir Putin, and he was so incensed by this speech that he got up and walked out and slammed the door behind him. So I wrote this book called The New Cold War in 2007, and is there anyone here for the Foreign Office? The British Foreign Office, the Russian Foreign Office need not [inaudible]. The Foreign Office coined a phrase which was supposed to be insulting but I found it crazy complementary which was “Crazy Edward Lucas Talk.” And they said “That’s just crazy Edward Lucas talk”. I am pleased that now Crazy Edward Lucas Talk is now a mainstream approach of our foreign and defence establishment, which is not what you’ll hear the Defence Secretary say when he gets his [inaudible].
So that right, we are now awake to the problem. The 2014, I think was the absolute–I think in 2014 when we saw the combination of Russian tankers being really powerfully deployed in a very vulnerable country under the Yanukovych regime, which was not just utter incompetent and really corrupt and brutal, but also treasonous. So you have the perfect storm in Ukraine. But you also have the perfect storm in the West, where you have the EU having not thought through at all what it was doing with the so-called Eastern Partnership. You have the fall out of the disastrous 2008 NATO summit, which offered NATO membership but with no date to Georgia, so you’re creating and open door for the Kremlin, and they kicked the ball through it. And that is what the Maidan protests against the Yanukovych regime was doing at home in the way it was trying to steer a country into the clutches of the Kremlin. So you had indecision, naivety, complacency in the West as well as instability in Ukraine.
And since then, I really do think things have gotten a lot better. NATO has transformed, regardless of its membership. If you had said 10, 12 years ago that we need to have several hundred British troops in Estonia, people would have said “That’s Crazy Edward Lucas Talk.” And if you had said we would put some Apache helicopters there as well, which we’ve just done, people would think that you’re absolutely bonkers. Now it barely even made a headline, but because our security thinking has been transformed, we have realized that there is indeed a problem. Now, we don’t think that there is a huge pressing immediate threat, we don’t think that there’s going to be a snap Russian invasion of the Baltic states, but we know that Russia is capable of it, we know that it is testing it, and we want to make it absolutely clear that if you attack any NATO country you will be killing hundreds of soldiers from many NATO countries, including the ones with nuclear weapons. And that, I would say, has made the Baltic states safer more than they have ever been in their more than 100-year history. And that’s a huge achievement; we haven’t solved the problem, but we have tripled the forces we’ve got and the ability to reinforce quickly to a developing, I think we’ve basically pushed the security problems in the Baltic way down which is a huge plus.
NATO-EU cooperation has increased dramatically. 10 years ago when I was in a new cohort, you could hardly get NATO and the EU in the same room because the [inaudible] and the Greeks made it very, very hard to do anything. Now they talk all the time; and there is a very natural division of labor, which is that NATO isn’t in charge of the railways and roads and things like that. That is what the EU does, and the EU is playing a really important role now in improving the infrastructures so we can move forces around Europe. That’s just one think that we can rationalize in conjunction with all those other things that are good. But NATO and the EU are almost working together as a team also on these soft issues like energy and things like that, saying things like the gas market should run with the EU. Again, not perfect but it’s a transformation. The EU itself has transformed, I remember after the war in Georgia we had put a picture of a jelly, this is after the EU had met with the response team in Georgia and imposed the weakest possible sanctions against Russia for the shortest possible length of time. So we put a large jelly on the cover with pictures of all the EU leaders and the title of it was ‘Europe Stands up to Russia’. That has changed, how many years are we? 4, 5 years, and we’ve still got sanctions. People didn’t think that was going to happen, they said ‘oh well the Germans have got their commercial interests with Russia and the Italians—you know, there’s no way there are going to be serious sanctions’ but there are serious sanctions and there continue to be serious sanctions. The Germans continue to force even the real, sort of, outside edge countries like Greece and Hungary and Italy to still follow its line on the sanctions.
Now you can argue that the sanctions aren’t enough, I wish there were more, I wish they were different, but still the EU has shown a kind of sanction we had never expected back then. Bilaterally, the security ties with Ukraine are forging ahead. We have really good Ukrainian-American military cooperation. Interestingly, it’s not just the Ukrainians learning things; the Americans also are learning things from the Ukrainians because the Ukrainians actually understand this kind of warfare in a way that Western militaries have often forgotten. And they have also started figuring out how to deal with Russian electronic warfare, which is something we have no experience with or can deal with. It is a two-way street. Meanwhile, Russia has not moved from tribe to tribe, if you prefer to say that, that sugar rush they got from Crimea, that sugar rush they got from the attack from Syria, it hasn’t transformed Russia—Putin hasn’t transformed, he’s actually less popular not more popular as the weeks go by that his network is basically stagnating and I don’t think anything is going to be changing any time soon. I think that the Ukrainian intervention didn’t catapult Russia into a new orbit of successful, great [inaudible] and it allowed for so many wonderful things to happen.
Meanwhile, what about Ukraine? Ukraine’s survived three kinds of crises. There’s the constitutional crisis because Yanukovych basically destroyed the political system. The outcome of that is that we now have an election where we don’t know who is going to win. It is an immense privilege there; if you turn on the telly in Russia, we won’t have that. It was the economic financial crisis in which the country signed up for all sort of bad things, and they got through that as well. The Ukrainian economy took a hit, but it’s great and we can assume that next year it is going to be better. This year is going to be the best year so far. And then most importantly there was the geopolitical [inaudible] crisis. Anyone here remember that [inaudible], the Russians were going to take a huge swathe of Ukraine, all the way to Odessa, and rob Ukraine of the sea, and people really thought that Russia could do that. And now we still have problems, we see them squeeze the Sea of Azov and such, but basically the Russian grand design is that the Ukrainians, who are pretty much on their own, brought Russia to a standstill in Western Ukraine. That is an astonishing feat for a country that is poor and small to stand up against one of the strongest militaries in the world and to fight them to a standstill. So those are all the good news.
The bad news is that, first of all, this sacrifice is hugely being born by Ukraine. And there is something so obnoxious about this, that the richest, strongest, and safest countries in the West sit back and let the poorest, weakest ones do the fighting. Ukrainians are fighting or dying for us. And we are not helping them enough to do it. Russia is still making huge strides in foreign politics, particularly in Italy and the new Salvini government that we now know actually took money from the Russians, Salvini’s party, for NordStream 2, sort of the energy-security abomination that is going through although I think that the EU is actually neatly putting some serious obstacles in their way which means it won’t have quite the sort of effect that the Russians were hoping it to. Fundamentally, the West is still very much divided. Clausewitz, the German military theorist said “if you have a contest between a party that has great means and weak will and a party that has weak means and great will, the party with the great will will win.” And what Russia’s advantage is is that they are decisive. Putin and his guys are opportunistic, they’re very innovative, they try lots of different things and if it doesn’t work they just lie about it and move on. So if you move swiftly and decisively and innovatively. And we did do this, we are still constrained in our silos, and fundamentally we put money ahead of security. And Putin puts security or geopolitical strength ahead of money. And that is a huge weakness, because as I said in my book, if you think that only money matters, then you are defenceless when people attack you using money. And I think that will be written on my tombstone.
I’ll finish up, I just want to look a bit ahead into the future. I think what we’re seeing is that the vulnerabilities in our system are very important. We have vulnerabilities to money, propaganda, subversion, assassination, intimidation, the manipulation of our political system, psychological warfare; I actually wrote an article on this called the ‘Toxic Twenty’ which are the top twenty Russian tactics that you can read online. And the big difficulty for us is how do we defend ourselves against these complex mixtures of a threat? Because the easy ones would be to say put the intelligence agencies in charge of it and ban everything we don’t like. So, if you have a convicted Russian spy you hire him at a university as we do, as we do in Bath University, look it up. Jailed in Denmark, for spying on his students. This guy is a professor of international relations at Bath University. Now I don’t want to be in a situation where MI5 calls up the university and says ‘you can’t hire this guy’ because he’s a convicted Russian spy. I don’t want that; I want to live in a society where universities have the right to do things that are really stupid. On the other hand, I want to see at least something done [inaudible] where we need to find a normative mixture of legal criminal justice, counter intelligence, all the other tools we have, which preserves the essence of our system. The openness, the structures, the institutions, but at the same time protects us against the attacks that a society can suffer from with a closed mind. So it’s not just about Russia; I’m more worried about China. I think what Russia has done is exposed lots of vulnerabilities, but often it isn’t able to go off on those vulnerabilities. China is a far more serious threat here than Russia, and I think that what we’ve seen with Russia over the past 25 years is just overture in comparison to China. But I will perhaps leave that for the discussion, thank you very much indeed.
Thank you very much indeed. Yes, I think we will probably have to leave China for another time, but we’ll see where the discussion takes us. Our final speaker, please.
Thank you, thank you Lord Cromwell. Thank you very much for hosting this very important debate, and I think I would like to thank, also, the Henry Jackson Society for putting back Ukraine on the agenda because clearly it’s slipping from the news’ front pages then its sudden fatigue or the Ukrainization of discourse is taking place. This is a very dangerous trend that we at Chatham House definitely are trying to prevent with the Ukraine program that we are running. It was very interesting, Lord Cromwell, the questions you asked.
So where are we today? I think we are today really facing the final collapse of the Soviet Union because in a way, we assumed that the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union collapsed, and relatively bloodlessly if you take it in the scale of a conflict. But that was a delusion in a way, and I think the conflict in Ukraine is the continuation of the collapse of the Red Empire, where Russia over the past decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union still exercised various types of control over the territories of some of the Republics, including Ukraine because it is still a key location for Russia’s European power. And it’s no coincidence that our most read report on Ukraine is called ‘The Struggle for Ukraine.’ These are the dual struggles; one of course is the internal struggle for Ukrainians to build a country they imagine that is built on the rule of law, and then there is the external struggle in those geopolitical terms that we have discussed.
And the other question you asked, are just the values and principles enough? I would say it is not enough but it is a very important part of this struggle. And I would like to say Russia, monumentally opposes those principles and values. If you look at recent [inaudible] articles, he fancies a little [inaudible] in geopolitics. This is where he openly says that the ideology of Russia is Putinism, it goes beyond Putin, and the substance of it is basically the deep police state that ensures control, capacity to defend and to attack, and all those fluffy nice words of democracy and human rights are just hypocrisy of the West that is covering the institutions which can do that, but deep down they are as rotten as we are, but at least we are not pretending. This is the gist of right now what Russia is. If you look at what Ukraine is trying to achieve, it is the opposite. It’s kind of building an anti-Russia, if you want, where Ukrainians are aspiring for more democracy across the regions, from East to West and South, 86% say we want to have more functional democracy. They want to have accountable governance; they do believe that it actually is effective and it’s not fake news. But the government could listen to the citizens and there could be transparency and accountability. Ukrainians have quite strong pro-European choice, 53% of Ukrainians support membership in the European Union, despite, if you think about it, all the trouble that is happening in the Union. And why is this the case? Again, I think it embodies the model of statehood that is based on the rule of law and gives an opportunity to people, you know, to develop businesses, to grow, to educate, to basically make their dreams come true.
Of course, Russia is trying to obstruct it and it uses the full spectrum warfare that the Ambassador and- so described in detail, these theatres of warfare include conflict in the East and Kerch and Azov Sea escalation, including NordStream 2, include trade war where Ukraine struggles to deliver its goods to Kazakhstan for example, because Russia blocked passage through its territory. And now the most active theatre of operation is of course the elections. And this is something that Russia is not in any way have a favourite the way they usually do around elections. They would like to see the incumbent president gone, basically, because it in a way blocks Russia’s strategy and opens up a new window of opportunity, so whoever comes would be an advantage. One important narrative that they are pushing around elections in Ukraine is the legitimacy of elections. If you follow Russian state media, they already say that the elections will be illegitimate because, for various reasons, either the government already has the candidate and it’s all decided, either people in the southeast who want to have a representative are woeful or they are not given a level playing field, so funnily enough Russia is giving a lesson in democracy to Ukraine.
But of course, usually their operation, different measures of operation, spike around elections because it is a sensitive process for any democracy and what Russia does on one side of the political debate in Ukraine, they are building these tribes that are polarizing society. These tribes exploit all kinds of grievances and alienation like they exist in any society, and we’ve seen that in a way Ukraine is a laboratory that what is lately deployed in the US and the European Parliament elections, and these can be different things. It could be an anti-vaccination group, it could be an orthodox group, it could be traditional values anti-feminist group, it could be people who are losing jobs and have economic grievances. SO these tribes have been mobilized and then they have been fed with all kinds of information. So Ukraine in a way, despite an impressive endurance or perseverance, has been doing relatively well but of course that’s not getting rid of vulnerabilities. And I think we all have to be honest in understanding where Ukraine’s vulnerabilities are because this is the only way forward in building a resilient member of the European security infrastructure.
And we have looked at, we have studied last year what are the vulnerabilities that are particularly exploited by Russia because there is a fine line between what is internal and external, but one of the things that works for both actually is the political structure that is in Ukraine that is inherited from this proto-Soviet time where a lot of political elite captures business and sought power through this fusion politics and business makes the system very fragile in a way because it is an order that is built on the pluralism of elite but it is prone to sudden shifts and Ukraine has seen shifts in 2004, in 2014, but they are tectonic plates crashing with each other because the institutions of representative democracy are not translating the will of different stakeholders into representative democracy. And Ukraine has to absolutely address this issue and right now in Ukraine the political reform has to be on top of its agenda to strengthen its own security, because right now the system, because as I said the system is fragile and prone. And this would be the best action actually, if you build Ukraine that is strong, that is accountable to its citizens, we will deter Russia. And I think that’s important and an important consideration to keep in mind. So of course it’s not just about Ukraine, ad Ukraine is at the forefront and Russia is testing all its measures in Ukraine, but if we make Ukraine well governed, Russia will either have to up its cost and eventually Ukraine’s example will be the future of Russia one way or another. Frankly speaking, the Baltic states having membership and integrating quite quickly into the European governance and security structures, but the kind of post-Soviet transformation that is happening in Ukraine hasn’t happened yet. Really now Ukraine is at the forefront of experimenting, and its experience is so useful. I think we should really cherish and study it because it will be applicable for other countries in the future, including Central Asia.
Something I want to quote President Tusk when he came to Ukraine last week and he gave a very moving speech in the Ukrainian Parliament in Ukrainian and it was to the anniversary of the Heavenly Hundred. And he said that Ukraine persevered even though your friends and allies do not always offer you enough assistance. That is perhaps not so much about the United Kingdom, because I think out of the collection of European states the UK is trying to stand strong with Ukraine, but still we have to collectively think about more aspirational and more realistic ways to integrate Ukraine with the western structures. That is so important to be the anchor of reforms, because we cannot just rely on public spirit and civil society and even the private sector in Ukraine. The West has to stay and be alongside Ukraine, and there are different opportunities on the European Union side. There could be a Customs Union Plus Plus, something that is being discussed with Turkey. There could be better integration in the European energy market, there could be more opportunities for people to people exchanges of representatives of European universities in Ukraine. There is still a lot that has to happen on human capital.
On the NATO side, I do agree that NATO kind of really captured its mission after the Crimea and Ukraine Donbass, but right now Ukraine has this comprehensive assistance package with NATO, but that is not enough. There is, for example, an option of an enhanced opportunities program which is a special package which is now available to Finland and Sweden and Georgia, but is not available to Ukraine. And then in the future, triggering a membership action plan could be an option if Ukraine really works towards integration probability with NATO. We have to think strategically and long term, because Russia is not backing out. And just to finish, I think there is a certain EU fatigue to enlargement, but Putin has no problem swallowing former Soviet Republics and has no indigestion. So what we have to do is to make sure that the neighbourhood is, at large, for Europe to feel that it is more indigestible to Putin. Thank you.
Thank you very much. I think I would make a distinction between having a frozen conflict as a convenient buffer state and ingesting it, but we’ll come to that. I had a gentleman over here who indicated he wanted to ask a question. I would invite anyone else who would like to ask a question to catch my eye, okay, okay. You were first, sir. Please.
I would like the opinion of all the speakers on the impact of Saakashvili on changing nationalities, and what possible road do you see for him in the future?
Thank you, and can I just point out this question as a model in its brevity? Because we have about 20 minutes remaining. Who would like to take that question?
Well, you know I don’t think there’s much future for Saakashvili in Ukraine. I think his adventure in Ukraine is pretty much over, but I must see that the team that came with him along into Ukraine, because he arrived not single-handedly, there were quite a few ministers from his government, of Interior, the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs, who helped tremendously to reform Ukraine’s public procurement, police, and right now heading the major anti-corruption program in Ukraine. So Saakashvili perhaps not, but his team? Those are reform-minded are still staying in Ukraine and helping. He too much wanted to play big politics rather than do a real reform.
I am [inaudible], Ambassador you rightly explained the fact that Russia has allies like Iran, which is very close to Russia and they share anti-American, anti-NATO policies, and they work together. The other problem within European countries, especially Eastern Europe, arising from anti-Semitism, anti-American, anti-NATO view from Hezbollah, and also left. Would you consider Iran as a country working with Russia to undermine Europe and ask the Europe to withdraw from the territory where [inaudible] was asking? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR RENATAS NORKUS:
Thank you for the question. Indeed, we are not living in a regional, a sub-regional bubble, and all the processes are related. Of course we very much follow, as part of the European Union, developments of the Russian Federation when it comes to broader geography or international engagements, and we observe a worrying of relationships and partnerships when it comes to Russia and the programs with Iran and other nations. At the same time, of course, we have to be very careful not to be too vocal as a smaller country. We have been quite supportive of Israel, we have a very established bilateral cooperation with Israel, and also we have a huge [inaudible] and Jewish community that used to be a part of Romania and is now across the world. So we have these interests and we often times support Israel even when the European Union is sometimes hesitant to support Israel. But, there is no clear cut answer to your question, it is part of a bigger diplomacy, it is part of a bigger international negotiations, and we have to be, as a smaller country, quite careful not to really push too much on boundaries of power and opportunities and possibilities.
My name is John [inaudible] with major Western democracies would it be fair [inaudible] and have they forgotten the original [inaudible]?
I think the answer is [inaudible], Germany is a democracy, and I am a huge fan of Angela Merkel, I think she’s done a very good job, she gets Communism, she gets Putin. She has deep sympathies for Poland. And I think she’s done a very good job at pulling Germany away from where it was in the Schroder era, when they thought that their job was to be Russia’s best friend. That has changed, does anyone here remember the [inaudible] EU, [inaudible] Russia in 2007, and Russians, Putin was characteristically brute and placed arbitrary sanctions on Polish meat exports to Russia which is a very big deal for Poland. Angela Merkel, in her first meeting with Putin, and went up to him and said in Russian ‘You screw with Poland, you screw with the EU; You screw with the EU then you screw with Germany.’ And he was absolutely flabbergasted, he could not understand, because in his view Poland is not a serious people, Poland is not a serious country. And why was this German leader sticking up for Poland? He couldn’t understand it. So I give lots of marks to her.
It’s like a see saw. On one end we’ve got Angela Merkel, and on the other end we’ve got German business, which is pretty pro-Russia. You’ve got institutions in Germany which are all very averse to confrontation. You’ve got German public opinion keen on being friends with Russia and avoiding confrontation, and you’ve got the German left, the Social Democrats. It’s not an easy balancing act, and for her to outweigh that. It will be very interesting to see her successor is able to take over her role. I think the big strike against Germany will be NordStream 2. I think that’s really bad. But I think that Merkel’s thinking or understanding was to get into a position where the EU would last minute objections that would block the end of NordStream 2 and its effect. And I think that’s actually where the EU has said this pipeline needs to be under EU competition rules, but will the Germans try to implement these rules if they get it wrong with European Court cases. So I think that at the last minute she’s let the EU avert disaster. You know, it’s a huge question at the moment, but I think yes the German public just doesn’t want confrontation. On the other hand, as Ambassador Renatas would say, we do have German troops in Lithuania defending Lithuania. That would have been utterly inconceivable 10 years ago, to have the German combat troops in the Baltic states practicing every day how to defend the Baltic states from Russian aggression. That would be unexpected ten years ago.
And just a quick comment. I think it takes time for Western policy makers to change from seeing Russia as a strategic partner to a strategic threat. I guess I am reciting two speakers, that was his phrase that he coined, and I think in Germany in particular, with more information in particular about Russian involvement in the Western Balkans, because in some way they almost feel that this region is closer to their heart than Ukraine if you want. They really are starting to wake up to wider all of Russia, not just in Ukraine, because whether we like it or not there is still some people who say ‘it’s Russia’s sphere of influence, why don’t we let them sort it out, why should we ruin our relations?’ I think over time, with more information and intelligence, more understanding of how Russia really diverges from what it was in the 90s, it will be more sustainable policy than just some wishful thinking right now.
AMBASSADOR RENATAS NORKUS:
Can I also have a quick follow up? I very much agree with Edward and Orysia, I think if you take Ukraine as an example and try to see what is the involvement of Germany and how German politicians, you think first and foremost of Angela Merkel, have been playing. I think if it were not for Germany, with this bids process which has been criticized as not effective or moving fast enough, but it actually managed to halt an invade, halt a problem that was a huge issue in fighting. I think if it were not for German leadership, we would have had much more difficult process when it comes to some sort of regulation of the Ukraine The other thing is Germany, now 10 years ago, you could see the demonstrations in Germany against German involvement in Afghanistan and [inaudible], not really a fighting force but a reconstruction force, Germans would still demonstrate against Germany’s involvement in the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Now, German troops are on the ground in the Baltic states, in Lithuania, and they are leading the leadership, which is a huge change. I am not saying that the Germany could not do more; obviously, they could be more, but at the same time Germany has been leading the sanctions as well. If it were not for German good will to really work in concert with the United States and other European countries, the European Union when it comes to sanctions against Russia, I think we would have seen much, much weaker responses. So Germany still continues to play a very effective player.
I would say that as far as we’ve all dealt with Putin, I would give us a score of 6 out of 10 over the last 5 years. Would you think that’s too high?
It depends on what you count as 10.
In a perfect world.
In a perfect world there is no Putin.
I am very suspicious—I don’t like giving numerical orders to things because there’s so many different—I think there’s, in this country, we have started to rebuild over the 1990s, particularly in government. And we’re doing—I think we’ve got the deterrence down, we’re going better at that. Our resilience and protect ourselves and our allies, I think that’s a pretty British resilience [inaudible]. WE need to build up a lot more non-kinetic, non-military deterrents. I just am, I’d give us a B- on resilience and a B+ on deterrence.
We are out of time but I have two more people who want to ask questions. I’ve got you madam and you sir, together.
Just, it’s similar to the person over there who asked about Germany. I just wanted to say about sanctions, Germany takes a lot of gas from Russia.
When the Soviet Union had stationed the infamous Cuban missile crisis, that was regarded by the West, and America in particular, as particularly provocative. Why should not the alignment of the former Warsaw Pact countries’ alignment with NATO and the EU, why should not that be considered as equally as provocative to the Soviets and an explanation of their reaction rather than it being aggression. Because certainly the presidency before any of this, Russia did not seem to be aggressive. As the Ambassador said, it’s not the personality it’s the system.
First of all, if you don’t think Russia was problematic in the 1980s, that’s concerning because you weren’t paying attention. I was living in the Baltic states then, and I remember what Russia was doing in the Baltic states, in Ukraine, in Belarus, and other countries, we saw the return of the KGB and all sorts of other things happening, so don’t think it was better. But the deeper answer to your question, which you seem to regard as squares on a board, these are real countries. Their people are real people. Their hopes are real hopes; their fears are real fears. They have their own wishes for their own security. And if they say ‘we’re scared of Russia’, maybe it’s because they understand Russia better than you do. That isn’t just a square on a chess board, that is a real country concerned for their safety. Now, I didn’t say you have an automatic right to join NATO or the EU, there are standards and it is a fundamentally political decision, but I think the idea that these countries have no agency, that this is something we decided to do. That we expanded eastwards and took it all in, that is at risks being an almost orientalist idea where you are not taking into account the other countries concerned.
AMBASSADOR RENATAS NORKUS:
Yes, very much along the same line. I think the voluntary nature of all these countries wanting to join, one way or another—it’s not that NATO enlargement was put upon us. It was that we asked for it, we wanted it, and they said yes. The Yanukovych went to the summit in 2013 and he did not sign the Association agreement then, instead of that, they decided to pursue a different course. In the end of now, 5 years from then, we have Ukraine in the DCFTA, they have free visa regime with the Schengen area, things still happened through the democratically elected government due to the will of the people. It’s not something that the Cuban missile- we were a part of the Soviet Union at that time, occupied, and we did not have a single say on the Cuban missile things happening. Now we are having a say when there is a discussion going on at NATO on, regarding the missile defence issues. We have our say that we wanted to be a part of that system and have our say. And I think that is basically the answer to your question.
I think over, it would be helpful to think of it as an area of joint opportunities for the economy, for the strengthening security, because as long as we just view it is as a closed society, it will turn into that kind of society. I think that this is the risk, times are calling for a radical rethinking of how do we shape our collective future in Europe? The tools that were useful in enlargement in 2004 that helped countries so much overcome this being a buffer zone are not working. That is why we need to think more creatively about the opportunities, different coalitions, countries that would see the alliances that would help each other economically and non-military terms. But just to say on also that the EU and NATO integration, for countries like Ukraine, and I’m sure Georgia and in Moldova, it’s not the end goal it’s the mans of strengthening themselves as nations. This is something that Putin fundamentally dislikes, it is not so much the expansion of the NATO border to his border. What is existentially threatening to him is that he cannot expand his kelptocracy, his security services, his energy resources, banking, whatnot, because he sees it as an extension of wider Russia, and that is undermining wider European security.
Thank you for your questions, thank you to the panel. We’re supposed to end on a consensual note, but I want to continue the discussion outside of this room. My mother always used to say that if you’re faced with a bully, you have to stand up to them. My real question is whether we have the stomach for it, because as Edward has rightly said, the Russian administration is untroubled by the democratic process and accountability of the process by any kind, really, it can act fast and decisively. Are you seriously suggesting, as Edward has been, with the build up of NATO forces and such, that we are really prepared to match force with force if it comes to it?
I think we have got to keep in mind that Russia is not the Soviet Union. Russia is 140 million people. It is a 1.3 trillion GDP in pounds. The West is a billion people, throwing in the Japanese and the Australians and all, and we are a 40 trillion dollar GDP. Even Europe on its own is 20 trillion. We are so much bigger than Russia. I’m not saying that we pt an imaginary line at the Baltic states and try defend that line at the Baltic states, all we have to say is while Putin has 200 billion dollars in assets in the West, and if any assets come into the Baltic those assets will be frozen, seized, and brought to court. How do you like that, Mr. Putin?
AMBASSADOR RENATAS NORKUS:
I think the Ukraine has proven that it is possible to fight back. Even without a huge army of NATO, if you are not able to fight in your own land, then no one will come to support you. I think Lithuanians will fight back, we are not 100% sure what would happen, but I think that the main emphasis needs to be put on deterrents, and not only them but punishment. We cannot afford to be deterred by punishment, because it is too late.
Just a quick comment. Russia in its own history has never won against the united West. Never. And Putin perfectly understands it, that is why he is fighting so-called proxy, hybrid war in Ukraine. He is afraid of a united Western front, and if they are deploying a full spectrum warfare, not only in Ukraine as we discussed, then Ukraine should do the same. Starting with the going after the money, especially in the town we are sitting in, because that creates and maintains Russian resilience that I am not sure we want.
Thank you all once again to our speakers, thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for organizing this, thank you very much.