— You encouraged the EU Russia Expert Network to devote its 10th meeting exclusively to the role the EU and Russia play for European Security — at a time when there is practically no prospect for common ground to emerge. Why do you think this is an important discussion? Where do you see EUREN's value added in this debate?
— I did so because the security situation on the European continent is threatening to become more volatile, unpredictable and dangerous than during the Cold War. Securing peace and security in Europe remains a shared ambition. At the same time the fear of conventional conflict is back, with Russia's annexation of Crimea and its actions in Eastern Ukraine. Consequently, NATO and Russia have been intensifying their troop deployment and the frequency of military exercises along the common borders. Then we experience intermediate range nuclear missiles coming back to Europe, a threat we believed we had buried. And there are new non-linear or hybrid threats. Or take the arms race of the 21st century: in cyberspace. In such an environment EUREN as a group of deep thinkers from the EU and Russia would be expected to come up with innovative pragmatic proposals on how to stabilize and transform the precarious security landscape.
— What are the most important challenges to European Security in 2019 and beyond? Do you think the main risks lie within the European continent — and can, therefore, be addressed by European nations themselves? Or have they more to do with the shifting international context, in other words with changing policies of actors such as the US and China which are, more or less, out of reach for European actors?
— In the Europe of today, we are looking at a risk cluster of an almost total breakdown of mutual trust, mounting threat perceptions and the demise of the established arms control architecture — such as the CFE, ABM, INF treaties — which has secured peace and stability in Europe post WWII. This is compounded by neo-soverignist and 'my country first' attitudes and the beginning of a new arms race, regionally and globally. Before we blame others, everyone in Europe should take responsibility for their own actions, mistakes or — even worse — past and current violations of international law.
But it is also evident that the global tectonic power shifts influence the situation on our continent. Just consider what is called strategic stability and the ongoing efforts to extend the New START Treaty. At first glance, it seems a matter between the parties to the treaty, the US and Russia. But we Europeans must express ourselves clearly in favour of the preservation of this important layer of nuclear arms control and bring to bear our influence on the parties. And so must others because the non-extension of New START would deal a heavy blow to the Non Proliferation Treaty.
— What are the EU's main priorities regarding European Security? How do they differ, in your view, from Russia's main priorities? Which of those differences are insurmountable, which can be overcome — and how?
— If we want to prevent conflict, or even only military incidents, then stability, predictability, transparency, confidence-building measures, and deconfliction should be the EU's and Russia's joint priorities. These objectives should guide our common agenda. Therefore the deliberations at the OSCE in the so-called Structural Dialogue and the discussion in the NATO-Russia Council will become ever more important. All countries in Europe have the right to the necessary minimum of national security from each other and the duty to create a maximum of joint security with each other. That is why I have suggested to EUREN to give a closer analytical and programmatic look to the inherent tension between two guiding principles contained in the Paris Charter of 1990: all countries' freedom of choice in their security relations on the one hand and the indivisibility of the European Security Space on the other. Are there new ideas as to how we can reconcile these principles?
— The network will focus, among other things, on three regional theaters: the Black Sea region, the Baltic Sea region, and the Arctic. The Black Sea and the Baltic Sea have seen increasing tensions in the past, whereas geostrategic conflict has not (yet) taken root in the Arctic. What can the EU and Russia do to decrease tensions in those theatres?
— Tensions in the Baltic and Black Sea regions are rising indeed. Political and military deconfliction will be necessary to prevent military incidents which could easily spin out of control. Proposals have been made, such as by the President of Finland Niinistö. If the US and Russia have managed under much more belligerent circumstances in Syria, why should NATO and Russia not be able to achieve early warning and military deconfliction in these theatres as well?
As to the Arctic, the geostrategic competition has just begun over the last years. One way to prevent it from developing into conflict is to increase cooperation in the Arctic Council as one of the few functioning islands of cooperation between Russia and the West. Given the geoeconomic and geostrategic implications of Arctic policy, the EU must define more broadly its interests in the Arctic than just in terms of environmental preservation and the fight against climate change. And Russia, in turn, is ill advised to keep blocking the EU – a strong proponent of an international rules-based system — from becoming an observer to the Arctic Council.
— The EU and Russia are locked in a struggle over interference in internal affairs. The EU accuses Russia of using hybrid means to undermine democratic institutions in its member states; Moscow suspects the EU, along with other Western actors, deliberately stirs revolution in Russia and its neighbourhood. Mutual distrust has reached an unprecedented level and is likely to increase further. What can be done, in your perspective, to slow down, if not reverse this dangerous trend?
— Let me ask you a question: looking at the facts in front of our eyes, would anybody in their right mind believe that the current wave of demonstrations in Russian cities has been stirred or sponsored by the EU or its Member States? Those who do are simply in denial of the root causes of such political and social phenomena. At the same time, the EU has all the reason to constrain and strengthen its resilience against malign behaviour of outside actors aiming at weakening its and EU Member States' democratic processes and institutions.
What can be done? If Russia and the European Union do not equally undertake a proactive, sincere effort to forge a functioning model of cohabitation on the European continent, this situation as you describe it is to continue or even indeed deteriorate. Such an effort should be based on a broad definition of our joint security as enshrined in the Charter of Paris. Integrating the human dimension, security, economic cooperation, environment, culture and migration would eventually facilitate the identification of mutual interdependencies and interests.
Seen from the EU, our global strategy stands for such an integrated approach. And as the OSCE experience has shown, this can work even between countries with diverging values, different models of political governance and often conflicting opinions. A broader agenda should be devised such that progress in some of the areas can produce a pull effect or convergence on the more complicated issues.
Respect for Common House Rules and international law — this is what cohabitation between the EU and Russia as the biggest neighbours on the European continent will require. It would be a unique contribution to international peace and security.