Opinion leaders from government, media, academia, and the corporate world convened at the Atlantic Council today for its “Toward a Transatlantic Strategy for Europe’s East” conference to discuss the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s renewed assertiveness in Europe’s eastern neighborhood, and the security challenges facing the countries that remain on the margins of democratic transformation in Europe’s East.

The conference, aimed at mobilizing the transatlantic community around an effective strategy for Europe’s East, began with a welcome by Atlantic Council Chairman Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. and opening remarks by Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia H.E. Edgars Rinkēvičs. Today’s conference was organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and marks the beginning of Latvia’s 2015 European Union Presidency. Rinkēvičs described the crisis in Ukraine as the “biggest challenge” and stressed the urgency of supporting Ukraine, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and economy.

“We have to do what we can to push for continuation of our eastern programs, strong transatlantic relations, and try to do our best to assist those countries that are really struggling to overcome the legacies of totalitarian rules,” he said.

The first panel of the morning featured Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland H.E. Radek Sikorski and Founding Partner of Rice Hadley Gates LLC and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley  for a discussion on Europe’s strategic landscape.  Prompted by a question from the moderator, Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson, about Russia’s strategy Sikorski said, “Ten years ago, and until about a year ago, it was possible to imagine credibly that the West and Russia were on a very broad convergence course. […] Now, we face the prospect of either having to accept Russia’s rules or live in a world of no rules, which is especially troubling for the weak.”  

The second panel of the morning included Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic H.E. Miroslav Lajčák, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia H.E. Tamar Beruchashvili, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Mr. Vadym Prystayko, Undersecretary of State for Development Cooperation, Polish Diaspora, and Eastern Policy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland Dr. Konrad Pawlik, and Chairman of the International and Interparliamentary Relations Committee for the Milli Mejlis of the Republic of Azerbaijan Dr. Samad Seyidov, with Senior Fellow for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University Paula Dobriansky serving as the moderator.

Speaking from the Ukrainian perspective Prystayko said, “We spent the first part of this morning talking about what Russia needs, what Russia fears, what they want, and how we can give them something at the expense of Ukraine so they will be satisfied and they will leave Ukraine. […] What we believe in Ukraine now is that they don’t believe that NATO is a serious threat. They are doing what they want.”

The afternoon session, moderated by Vice President and Director of the Transatlantic Relations Program for the Atlantic Council Dr. Fran Burwell, featured comments from Former European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy H.E. Štefan Füle, Member of the Consejo de Estado of Spain and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain H.E. Ana Palacio, Chairman of the Human Rights Committee for the Parliament of Ukraine Dr. Hryhoriy Nemyria, and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs for the European Parliament Mr. Elmar Brok.

Highlighting the importance of the United States becoming a more active partner in Eastern Europe Nemyria said, “The condition for solving the [Ukraine] crisis is the United States and the European Union working together and in coordination, which will require more leadership from the United States than it is now.”

To conclude the daylong conference, Ambassador-at-Large for the Eastern Partnership of the Republic of Latvia Ambassador Juris Poikāns joined Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson to thank those in attendance for their participation. In closing, Ambassador Poikāns noted the beginning of Latvia’s 2015 European Union Presidency and stressed “the continued strengthening of the Eastern partnership.”