Munich Security Conference raises red flags on Ukraine

The Munich Security Conference that took place from February 6 to 8 and has never been so relevant

Maria Dubovikova
Maria Dubovikova
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The Munich Security Conference that took place from February 6 to 8 and has never been so relevant, since the end of the Cold War, as it is now. Numerous global challenges and geopolitical shifts the international community faces are causing deep concerns for the future. The world is no longer bipolar or unipolar, but chaotic. This was indicated by Lauren Fabius during the Chairman’s debate panel on the February 8 with Frank-Walter Steinmeir, John Kerry and Laurent Fabius himself as key speakers. This chaos makes the world less manageable and more unpredictable. The discords and misunderstanding, accumulated over the past years between the countries, between and within the alliances and camps, now make them tangible.

This conference in Munich with its great format that unites thinkers, representatives of expert communities, politicians and decision makers for free debate and exchange of views is the must in the tough times we are facing.

The 51th Munich Security Conference 2015 and its agenda were determined by two major challenges and problems – Ukraine and ISIS

Maria Dubovikova

The 51th Munich Security Conference 2015 and its agenda were determined by two major challenges and problems – Ukraine and ISIS.

Key sticking points

The Conference has revealed three key issues.

The first one is that for the West, the ISIS threat is still mostly hypothetical. This was remarkably obvious due to the fullness of the hall. The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi spoke to half-empty hall, answering a question “Are we losing the war on terror?” Conversely, panels devoted to the Ukrainian matter passed with a full house. The reason is clear: The conflict on the European continent, on NATO’s doorsteps, with European countries and major powers, including Russia, is a cause for deeper concerns that the tragedy in the Middle East and even the terrorist threat that is not a new one.

Furthermore, there is a widely supported international coalition that is fighting ISIS and trying to bomb it out. What is more, Western powers seem to understand that these evils cannot be fought only through military means, on battlefields. On the contrary, Islamism and extremism should be fought in minds, at schools, by societies, the ideas should be fought by ideas and John Kerry nicely stated this. So, in terms of common strategy on how to counter ISIS, the situation is clear. But as for the Ukrainian problem, this is absolutely a new threat that caught unawares all the sides of the conflict and there is no vision of a common strategy and so the deepest concerns come here.

The second key issue revealed by the Conference is that there is no common perception and understanding of the Ukrainian case. “Let’s say what we see” was the frequent appeal during the panels, but it has appeared, that even if the countries see the same things, their perception differs and so differs the proposed way to find the way out. Language used by the speakers is remarkable. By the language itself we can divide them into two groups. One group assesses “Russia’s aggression” while the other frames it in terms of a “Ukrainian war.” The term “Russian aggression” was designed to describe the mess in Eastern Ukraine is common for the most hawkish part of European community and the United States. Even if we address the new U.S. National Security Strategy revealed on the February 6, we’ll find out that Russia is mentioned in the document 15 times, along with “Russian aggression” that we can come across four times.


The perception of the conflict as Russia’s doing allows Kiev to decline all responsibility. This perception sets the stage for strong measures to counter the Russian threat. NATO is strengthening and reinforcing its capabilities along Russia’s borders, lethal aid is being delivered to Kiev, support is being given to Ukrainians “fighting for freedom.” In this camp there is discord over the question of lethal aid, or at least over the possibility to delay it and to resort to it as a last measure. As for those who use the term “Ukrainian war” to describe the current crisis, they consider that all the sides bear responsibility in what is going on there. They stay strong on the importance of a peaceful settlement of the conflict through diplomatic means. They see the resolution as the decentralization of Ukraine. They oppose the delivery of lethal aid to Kiev not seeing how fueling the conflict with arms can contribute to its settlement. They understand that Russia is neither a partner nor a rival – it is a neighbor. They have a clear understanding that if all diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict through diplomatic means fail, war will follow.

This is the third issues broached in the Conference. The probability of a new full-scale war on the European continent is no longer a probability, it’s already considered as a possible scenario of the current crisis. This is the most undesirable one, especially for the European continent that went through two World Wars. They understand that Holland-Merkel initiative is truly the last resort to settle the conflict diplomatically! Because if the initiative fails, in all probability Kiev will get the lethal aid and taking into account Russia’s stance, this will end in complete bloodshed.

“The European Union is weak and divided at a moment when we have to be strong and united” stated Martin Schultz. This is true – the European Union is not united facing the current crisis. But to jump directly into the hell of war, being strong and united, is much worse than to have disputes and debates and keep each other from taking fatal steps. If there are disputes, then there are grounds for them. If there are grounds, then the situation is not as simple as some observers try to make it seem. It is time to look at the situation, not through rose-tinted lens, but as it is.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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