Atlantic Council

Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East

Mapping Europe’s Strategic Landscape

Radoslaw Sikorski,
Marshal of the Sejm,
Republic of Poland

Stephen Hadley,
Founding Partner, RiceHadleyGates LLC;
Former National Security Adviser

Damon Wilson,
Executive Vice President,
Atlantic Council

Location:  Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.

Time:  9:00 a.m. EDT
Date:  Friday, January 30, 2015

Transcript By
Superior Transcriptions LLC

JON M. HUNTSMAN JR.:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Good morning, everyone.  I’m Jon Huntsman, chairman of the Atlantic Council.  On behalf of Fred, Damon, Fran and the entire Atlantic Council family, I am honored to open today’s conference, “Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East,” which is organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and its embassy here in Washington.

I’m especially pleased to welcome so many distinguished guests to the Council this morning, as well as our much larger television and Internet audience.  And for those of you who want to help us reach an even broader audience, feel free to tweet today using #ACEurope.

Now, today’s conference is part of a broader Atlantic Council campaign to mobilize the transatlantic community around an effective strategy for Europe’s East at a time when Europe’s security is threatened more than at any point since the Cold War.  As many of you remember, we started this effort with last year’s flagship conference “Toward a Europe Whole and Free,” which was initially designed to commemorate the anniversaries of NATO and EU enlargements, but transformed into a rallying point to assess Russia’s actions in Ukraine and to frame a response.  The conference concluded that Vladimir Putin has rejected a vision that Moscow previously shared of an undivided, free Europe in which Russia would find its peaceful, rightful place.  And unfortunately, he is also attempting to prevent his neighbors from determining their own destiny.

As our campaign unfolded, it became clear to us that there is both the necessity and desire among U.S. and European leaders to develop a more deliberate transatlantic strategy toward Europe’s East.  Today, with the backdrop of conflict raging yet again in eastern Ukraine, we aim to define an effective, comprehensive strategy to carry out this vision.  The strategy needs to be a joint effort of the United States, Canada and Europe in order to, one, deter Russian aggression in Ukraine and other countries in the region; two, avoid a gray zone of insecurity between the European Union and Russia; and, three, to advance a Europe whole, free and at peace, in which the door remains open to Russia to find its peaceful place.

To that end, we have gathered an impressive group of policymakers and architects of recent policy toward Europe’s East.  I want to offer a special word of thanks to all of the ministers, former ministers and other guests who have traveled from Europe to be with us on this very special occasion.  I’d also like to welcome so many members of the diplomatic community, the administration and Congress, and of course members of our terrific Atlantic Council Board of Directors.

We owe a special appreciation of gratitude to our Latvian colleagues – His Excellency Edgars Rinkevics, Latvia’s minister of foreign affairs, and Latvia’s ambassador, Andris Razans, and his dedicated team at the embassy – for their generous support and active role in shaping and organizing this special and timely event.  Over the years, we have enjoyed tremendous successful cooperation with Latvia.  We couldn’t be more pleased to be part of their effort to revitalize a transatlantic strategy for Europe’s East in the lead-up to the May 2015 European Partnership Summit in Riga.

The Council could not do its work without strong supporters who believe in our mission, and I want to acknowledge some of our strongest supporters for our work in this region in particular:  Paul Grod and his colleagues, who are with us today representing the Ukrainian World Congress; and the Council’s own George Chopivsky and George Lund.

I am particularly delighted to announce that today the Atlantic Council is launching a new partnership with Frontera Resources, a Houston-based energy firm operating in emerging markets.  This partnership will help us expand our work on Ukraine throughout Europe’s East, particularly to include Georgia and Moldova.  Steve Nicandros, Frontera’s chairman and CEO, is with us here today.  Thank you, Steve, so very much for your support.

Now, last night we kicked off this conference at a reception on Capitol Hill to mark the beginning of Latvia’s presidency of the European Council with Minister Rinkevics at the helm, who was joined by Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom.  At the reception, there was Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator Chris Murphy, who offered substantial bipartisan support for our effort on Europe’s East.

Today we’re delighted to welcome the ministers of foreign affairs of Latvia, Slovakia and Georgia, as well as former National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Speaker of the Polish Parliament Radek Sikorski, all great friends of the Atlantic Council.

We will continue to – this conversation on Monday here at the Council at 2 p.m. when we release a major new report on Ukraine authored by a working group from the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  This report, “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression,” outlines what the United States and NATO should do according to its authors, Ivo Daalder, Michele Flournoy, John Herbst, Jan Lodal, Steve Pifer, Jim Stavridis, Strobe Talbott and Chuck Wald.

So, without further ado, let me now invite Craig Kennedy, former president of the German Marshall Fund, to the podium to introduce our co-organizer, Latvia’s minister of foreign affairs.  Please.  (Applause.)

CRAIG KENNEDY:  Thank you.  Thank you.

So it’s my honor to introduce the foreign minister of Latvia, Edgars Rinkevics.  For the past 20 years, he’s been an important part of the Latvian government and Latvian foreign policy community.  As a very young man, entered the Ministry of Defense and became really one of the core members of that ministry, very important in terms of Latvia’s membership in NATO, was – I think it’s fair to say – the architect of the NATO Summit in Riga in 2006.  Throughout his career, even before he became foreign minister, he’s been very central to much of the thinking in that part of the world on the Eastern Partnership.  I’ve worked with him closely on Ukraine issues, on Georgia, on Belarus and other matters.  I think for many of us in the room, as I look around, he’s been both a great guide, a counselor and a terrific friend.

So it’s my pleasure to invite Foreign Minister Rinkevics to come to the fore.  (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER EDGAR RINKEVICS:  Well, good morning.  And thank you, Craig, for those very nice words.  Good morning, all, friends.  I see many here in this room, and I think that we have endlessly – and, at least since I have been in this business almost for 20 years, we were endlessly debating transatlantic relations.

Europe, where we are heading, in 1990s it was a totally different world.  We thought that there is almost an end of history, and as EU and NATO enlargement completes, we will see the kind of new world, better world emerging.  Now, in 2014-2015, we all are struggling with some basic key questions:  What the world looks right now, both when it comes to Europe, when it comes to Europe’s East, but also in a wider sense when it comes to southern neighborhood of Europe, Middle East, also many challenges arising throughout the world.  And we clearly see that we are entering kind of turbulence period where we need to develop clear strategy how to address those challenges.

And unfortunately, as there is a very good Chinese saying – and I will rephrase it – Latvia has taken EU presidency in very interesting times.  So I would say that the curse of any EU member state at the present moment would be may you live in interesting and challenging times.

I would like to address today a couple of points when it comes to our priorities and our policies vis-à-vis current situation with our eastern partners.  Also, some of issues, some elements of our strategy towards Riga Summit, towards EU policy vis-à-vis Eastern Partnership, but also I think we should, if we look at the title of this conference, not to forget also NATO track and NATO dimension, which currently EU partnerships with our six countries – Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia – is one, and then we do have the NATO enlargement process, or NATO process in general, with some of those countries, which should not be forgotten.

If you talk about Latvia’s vision of Eastern Partnership or what should be delivered in Riga, I would definitely say that we see this summit as one which needs to and must reaffirm strong European commitment to its eastern neighborhood, to all six countries.  I think it is very important, especially taking into account what was happening since the last Vilnius Summit in Ukraine:  annexation of Crimea, aggression of Russia and support of separatists, and also sending troops into the eastern Ukraine; also, to some extent, bullying of some of eastern partners.  We are sometimes forgetting to mention explicitly, but still let’s not forget Moldova, let’s not forget our Caucasus friends, all of them, particularly those who have signed association agreements like Georgia.  But also let’s not forget countries that even six months ago seemed to be on the other side of the fence, but still, by not recognizing events in Ukraine, also that country is getting a really strong message, and I’m talking here about Belarus.  So the first and major task for Riga Summit would be a strong signal to eastern partners, a strong message to the European public, throughout the world, that Europe is as engaged in the Eastern Partnership as it was, let’s say, three, four, five years ago.

Second, I think that we all understand that currently we have a very different group of those partners.  We have two countries that are part of Eurasian Economic Union.  We have three countries that have signed association agreements.  Two of them are already implementing; one has postponed implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement to the beginning of 2016.  And then there is country that is actually looking for some particular partnership with European Union, I mean here Azerbaijan.  So I believe that we need to address differentiation vis-à-vis those partners.  We have to find the right tools, the right approach to each of them.

If we talk about, for instance, Armenia, that can become a very interesting case because Armenia, while for understandable, to some extent, geopolitical and geostrategic reasons, as perceived in Yerevan, is a part of Eurasian Economic Union, it still wants to have the new agreement with the EU initiated at Riga and to negotiate also how best to develop relations with the EU in those fields that is of the interest of both.

If we talk about our three partners that have signed association agreements, I believe that all of them right now needs our help, not only financial but also expertise as provided by the European Union that really assists and also enhances the implementation of Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreements, so – which means structural reform of economy, first a reform of the political and legal systems, better preparing those countries for even deeper cooperation with the European Union.

Well, before Vilnius Summit I think that all of us who are true friends of eastern partners were really hoping that, through the process of implementation of association agreements, through also the cooperation we have, and also through some success stories, we would be able to speak about European perspective to at least some of those countries that are wishing.  We all understand that Riga is not going to be the city where that European perspective is going to be, let’s say, announced.  But at the same time, Riga has to be the city where we do not lose perspective and where we still work to make, when time comes and when both the EU and eastern partners are ready, when we are actually ready also to speak about deeper and broader engagement with our eastern partners.

Then, of course, (if there is ?) liberalization, but is the kind of public diplomacy as well as very symbolic issue for those countries that are engaged in Eastern Partnership like Georgia, like Ukraine.  If criteria is met, then these liberalization programs should be announced in Riga.  And here I do believe that even if there are some doubts, especially after some terror acts in Paris, we still have to keep our promise if eastern partners like Georgia, Ukraine, some others are actually implementing criteria.

Well, I would definitely say that the biggest challenge – and it is very difficult to envisage how developments in Europe, how developments in the eastern part of Europe will be proceeding in the coming three, four months, but the biggest challenge is, of course, Ukraine.  And when we talk about Ukraine, yes, we are ready to provide, as I said, program for implementation of the CFTA, of all those acronyms that European bureaucracy really likes to invent.  At the same time, we should understand that we need to address some of issues now – in January, in February, not in May, not next year.  And here I speak not only for the strong support to territorial integrity, but I am also speaking about the state of Ukrainian economy.  And I believe that – and we have discussed it yesterday also with my American counterparts – we still need to get European, IMF, international effort to get a comprehensive aid package which is linked to the results of reforms.  But Ukraine needs our assistance much earlier than any of Riga Summits or any other kind of nice gatherings happen.

Also, I still believe – and I wouldn’t be kind of complete in my remarks if I don’t mention Russia.  I do believe that when we speak about current situation – and this is a topic, I believe, that will be covered extensively throughout the day through our discussions, but they should not forget that also not only America, not only Europe should look at Russian propaganda, fighting it within European Union, the information warfare elements, but we also need to extend a helping hand to our eastern partners because they are also affected – affected in a way that, if you look in some countries, there are more Russian TV, more kind of efforts put in denouncing European values, denouncing everything that NATO and the EU is doing.  And I think that this is something that we also have to address when it comes to Riga Summit, when it comes to our further cooperation with our partners.

I believe also that we can use tools we have developed in the EU like Energy Dialogue.  We have a(n) excellent cooperation where Slovakia and Ukraine has opened the reverse flow of gas.  We probably can engage in more robust Energy Dialogue.

We can use our common security and defense policy as a tool to reform security sectors in some countries, but also I think – and this is going to be a very important part – we should also address issues of rule of law, we should address issues of fighting of corruption.  In famous oligarch case – and here I would start, and that is going to be our approach in Riga – with strengthening media freedom.  The Riga Summit will be accompanied by media freedom event where you invite journalists, experts, also politicians to address those issues because, let’s be frank, we cannot get the real reform, we cannot fight corruption, we cannot fight some of issues that are very difficult to tackle if there is no free media.  Actually, our presidency will have more than only one event on media freedom, also online freedom, and I think that this is something that we also should not forget.

And finally, two short remarks, because I really don’t want to speak – a long speech I would very much entertain some of – some of questions under the wise leadership of Craig, but I do want to say that when we talk about the transatlantic approach, we also should not forget other tool, and that’s NATO, we have for aspiring nations.  We have made, I think, very good decisions at Wales, where we have granted Georgia a very specific program, and I do believe that we also have to do our best to help Georgian military in its development.  But we also should not forget that, to some extent, the further NATO enlargement with those countries that are ready.  And I do hope that by the end of this year Montenegro will fulfill all criteria and we will be able to do what has been announced in Wales, actually start accession talks, is also a key to keep us all engaged.

Finally, I think that there is the big question, why we still are so much caring about the Eastern Partnership why we are still caring so much about European enlargement.  Where is – where is – where is this kind of purpose?  We all talk about a vision of Europe whole and free and at peace, but I also want to remind that there is still also the vision of founding fathers of European Union that any European country, if it’s ready and if it wishes, can join European Union.  I still believe that, if we have our borders, eastern and southern, stable, secure and prosperous, it comes actually to the benefit of our own security, of our own interest.  We cannot – and I think EU is not going to be the one that is forcing hands to join or not to join EU.  I think that the very good example is Armenia.  We have seen, when under certain pressure from Russia, it decided not to sign association agreement.  This example – when the EU said fine, you can do what you want; we are ready to cooperate with you at the level you wish – is a perfect example of how to address different choices.

So even if there, as always, is skepticism about Eastern Partnership, about probably the need to address some of challenges, let us all remind ourselves that actually – and this is, of course, the case for the Baltic States, it’s also the case for those countries that joined the EU and that actually got out of these totalitarian regimes – that this transformation process, that this large design is still not over.  And if we have the problem in Ukraine, if we have the problem at our eastern borders, ultimately it is going to influence all of us in Europe as well as, to some extent, in the United States.  We have so many challenges apart from Europe to address that I believe that we have to do, but we can really to push for continuation of our eastern programs, our strong transatlantic relations, and of course to try to do our best to assist those countries that are really struggling to overcome the legacies of totalitarian roles and to become part of the community of our values.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

MR. KENNEDY:  So we have to be quite quick to let the next panel get up, but let me ask two questions.

The first is, I think when Americans look to Europe now, they see a European Union that is quite divided on how to deal with some of the big issues that you talked about, that there’s real fault lines both geographically and ideologically within the European Union.  Is that a realistic outlook on Europe?  And what are the prospects that a more coherent European perspective on the Eastern Partnership will emerge over the next months?

MIN. RINKEVICS:  Well, I think that it really very much depends on how events in Ukraine unfold.  But if we speak about this famous European divide, I think we always see the kind of most visible part, the discussion about eastern neighborhood, also a discussion about southern neighborhood – and frankly, sometimes we are as equally divided over Middle East peace process as many other issues.  And if you get a kind of internal EU process debating agriculture or transportation, telecommunications, then you see that it takes years to get to some kind of decision.  So it’s a big part of the process as the EU has been built.

And I do believe – I do believe that, while there are differences, one thing that we have seen over the last year, probably I would love to see much more efficient, active response by the EU when the annexation of Crimea started.  I think we lost time, we lost in debates, and only when MH17 was shot down then actually we got into strong policies.  But even with that, we have seen that the unity of the European Union over the situation in Ukraine, even if everyone was left equally unhappy – those who wanted, probably, tougher action and those who probably didn’t want action at all – at the end of the day we got some kind of common denominator.  I think this is very important, and I think that it is something that still came as a – quite a surprise, also, to those leaders in Russia that are currently shaping foreign policy.

So I think we will spend quite a time trying to find the best strategy vis-à-vis Eastern Partnership.  That’s why I think that we really need to focus on a strong political message.  While we have also sometimes quite an exchange within the EU internally, where some countries that are very concerned about events in the south neighborhood say that we have blowed it up with the East so we should concentrate now with events in southern neighborhood, well, in that case of course you get lovely exchange with those who are kind of looking more at the East, are saying that also EU has not been terribly efficient when it comes to the southern neighborhood.  So I believe that we are living in so complex world that we have to keep both perspectives in balance.  But if we actually lose any interests in the East of the EU, we are not gaining automatically any kind of leverage – (audio break) – think that this understanding should prevail in our discussion.

MR. KENNEDY:  OK. So last question and then we’ll turn it over to Damon and the next panel.

I know yesterday you had a number of meetings here in Washington, and I assume a lot of it was talking about what Europe wants from the United States in terms of dealing with the Eastern Partnership.  I guess I’d ask also the question of why.  What’s the argument you make for why the United States should be deeply engaged in solving these problems in Eastern Europe?

MIN. RINKEVICS:  I think because, first of all, the world is so interdependent nowadays that if you get, let’s say – and I think there has been quite a strong understanding here in Washington.  If you, let’s say, let Ukraine fall, then the big question:  Who is next?  And then, of course, we can get into a situation where the core of NATO and core of the Euro-Atlantic community is challenged, where the real commitment is.  So if you don’t stop Russia now, you don’t know where are you going to stop next – be it Central Asia, and from Central Asia if you get the situation in turmoil, you easily get the whole region around Afghanistan exploding, be it – be it so-called frontline states in Europe.  So I think that actually – while we are talking about Ukraine, this is a core argument.  While we are talking about the Eastern Partnership at large, I think that we all should understand – and I think that there is also a growing understanding here in the United States – that actually, again, those issues are very, very interrelated.  If there is problem in Caucasus, inevitably will lead to larger issues like, for instance, foreign – there is fighters coming from some of countries and so on.  So you cannot simply ignore one region and think that the other region is more important.

So I’m afraid the biggest problem is, we all understand challenges; the trouble is that we don’t have enough resources.  And so we have to address this issue as good friends, the U.S. and the European Union.  Thank you.

MR. KENNEDY:  Thank you so much.  Damon.  (Applause.)