Europe at a Crossroads: European Security Challenges in the Post-Crimean Age

On Saturday, April 2nd, the Conflict Management and Defense and Security Clubs of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies held a conference titled Europe at a Crossroads: European Security Challenges in the Post-Crimean Age. As a current Master’s candidate at the SAIS Bologna Center, and a former John Cabot University student and intern for the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs, I was fortunate enough to attend.

Following opening remarks from Dr. Erik Jones, the Director of European and Eurasian Studies at SAIS, the morning sessions focused on the evolving relations between Russia and the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and how these changes affect European security. Ambassador of Ukraine to Italy, Ambassador Yevhen Perelygin, began the session by naming the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine as one of Europe’s largest security challenges alongside the influx of migrants and the proliferation of terrorism. Harkening back to the late Yeltsin period, Ambassador Perelygin explained his view that Russia failed to sufficiently reform itself in the late 1990s, and this has, in part, enabled President Putin to pursue an aggressive foreign policy in the region while maintaining strict control over power and information within Russia. After elaborating that many policymakers in the United States and Western Europe mistakenly thought Russia was moving toward liberal democracy and was a potential partner for the EU and NATO, he explained that the West must act in the face of Russia’s ongoing involvement in eastern Ukraine and other “frozen conflicts,” just as Ukraine must act by turning its attention to internal reforms to strengthen both its economy and democratic development.

Next, former Hungarian Ambassador Istvan Gyarmati also spoke of the crisis in Ukraine but in a wider geopolitical context, explaining that President Putin understands that Russia is in relative decline and faces massive challenges in sustainably reforming its economy. However, the Ambassador insisted that the West’s inaction over Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 was an act of “appeasement,” and that instead NATO and the EU must intensify their cooperation with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova while simultaneously confronting Russia more proactively.

Offering a different perspective and focus on one of the wider region’s “frozen conflicts,” Ambassador of Armenia to Italy, Ambassador Sargis Ghazaryan, used his time to discuss the ongoing conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and where it stands on the regional agenda. After delving into the long history of the region’s ethnography and border revisions, the Ambassador insisted that all concerted efforts by the mediators to improve the situation on the ground have failed; that back in the ’80s and ’90 the conflict preventions and crisis management by the International Community have been poor; and that the Azeri forces violate the ceasefire on a near daily basis. Given the ongoing tensions between Turkey and Russia, Azerbaijan’s refusal to appease the situation, and ongoing violence on the border, the Ambassador emphasized the many challenges that stand in the way of a lasting peace, but concluded by insisting on the imperative to implement CBMs proposed by the OSCE in order to avoid the use of force for the settlement of the conflict.

Following the midday break, the conference resumed by breaking into smaller workshop sessions on Conflict Management in the Balkans and Hybrid Warfare and its Challenges to European Security, and then recombined for two final sessions on ongoing conflict and post-conflict zones in Europe’s east and southeast from both a security and legal perspective. Led by Dr. Jan Joel Andersson, a Senior Analyst with the EU Institute for Security Studies, the session on hybrid warfare focused on Russia’s use of unconventional and hybrid tactics in Ukraine, which allowed the country to successfully annex territory with relatively little violence and minimal reaction from the West through a combination of disinformation, unmarked troops, and covert military aid. Outlining Russia’s methods, Dr. Andersson highlighted the EU’s comparative lack of resources and investment in countering Russian disinformation, and then outlined the potential areas of possible future Russian hybrid operations, including the Baltic states, the Baltic Sea, and the region surrounding and supplying Russia’s exclave, Kaliningrad.

Moving away from military tactics, Giovanni Faleg, a consultant for the World Bank Group, and Mateusz Krupczysnki, an analyst for the National Center for Strategic Studies, gave their thoughts on the European Union’s relations and involvement with conflicts in the Mediterranean and eastern regions, from Libya to Ukraine. Again focusing on the geopolitical elements, both speakers elaborated on the history of Europe’s involvement in these regions and how the EU is (or is not) equipped and prepared to work toward greater stability in these regions. Finally, Guillaume Van Der Loo, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies, led an in depth presentation on the legal aspects of the EU’s Association Agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, and how these agreements relate to these countries’ security, democratic and economic development, and future. Through this legal focus, Van Der Loo illuminated how the EU has successfully encouraged democratic and economic reforms in these states, yet how the acceptance of EU regulations and requirements, even when not resulting in membership, can also cause reversals in previous liberalizations made by national governments according to EU preferences.

With the conference’s closing, SAIS MA candidates Andras Olah of the Defense and Security Club and Denisa Pacholska of the Conflict Management Club gave some closing words and thanked the speakers for their time and preparation. Given the recent flare-up of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, the on-going migration crisis, recent terror attacks, and continued EU engagement with unfolding events in Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Africa, this conference was certainly well-timed. With excellent insights into the geopolitical, strategic, tactical and legal aspects of these security concerns, the conference was certainly a success in depicting the wide array of challenges facing Europe today, and the myriad elements it must consider in its responses.