Martin Hurt, ICDS.ee 6 June 2013
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation organised a conference on European Security in Moscow (MESC 2013) in the third week of May. Drawn from academia and government, the approximately 300 participants came both from Russia and other former Soviet republics as well as NATO and EU member states. The aim of the conference was to present the official Russian view on three topics: missile defence, NATO enlargement, and arms control. Although MESC 2013 was well-organised and achieved its instructive objective, it did not fully provide the opportunities for an open discussion such as the participants may had expected.
The conference highlighted the different understandings of European security between the host nation on one hand and most of the visiting speakers on the other. Nevertheless, on both sides many officials remain stuck in Cold War-era thinking patterns that, in light of today’s realities, have a negative impact on the overall security situation.
The decisions made by twelve sovereign nations to join the EU and NATO from the late 1990s and onwards have unfortunately been misinterpreted in Moscow as a hostile step. Certainly, the reasons why these states decided to replace their old eastward bounds with closer ties with the rest of Europe and the United States were obviously unpleasant from the Kremlin’s point of view. Yet, instead of trying to become a more attractive partner to these countries—and to the EU and NATO as a whole—Russia aims today at gaining respect by threatening its neighbours through increased military activities. This has already led to a public debate in Sweden and Finland over the previously unthinkable notion of possible future NATO membership.
True friends can only be made by attracting them, not threatening them. Disagreements on the above-mentioned topics will probably not be resolved even after intense discussions. If views on basic values, such as human rights and freedom of speech, differ significantly, there is little prospect of achieving positive results when it comes to issues like missile defence and NATO enlargement.
Conferences such as MESC undoubtedly have some value in bringing together officials and academics with very different views. Given this fact, future MESCs will eventually attract more and more interest from the participants.
On European Security from a Russian Perspective