V Moscow Conference on International Security concluded

April 30, 2016

The 5th Moscow Conference on International Security has come to an end. I cannot agree with those distinguished experts and media representatives who are saying that in the last five years the Conference has gone stale, because – unlike at the Munich conference – Western political and military leadership was absent. Everything is exactly the other way round.

As soon as one dives into the atmosphere of the Conference – and not only the official one of the Ukraina Hotel Congress Park, but also that on the sidelines – it becomes clear that during those years (and I have participated in all of the five annual events) the Conference has developed both  in terms of quantity and quality.

Despite an exhausting rhythm of the first day, the second day of the Conference opened with the huge hall jam-packed with some 700 participants, including 20 ministers of defence. It is true, that the Western officials were not present. However, as those colleagues from the West who did show up admit: pedestals don’t stay empty for long. Doesn’t the emphasis on the representation of the Asia-Pacific adequately reflect the reality? As the global pendulum swung towards this region, there should be little wonder about such an emphasis.

Let’s get it straight. Westerners were invited. But they got scared as if by arriving they would have blessed “Putin’s aggressive policy”. That’s nonsense, of course. They have missed the opportunity for an open dialogue.

No illusions: the dialogue is not at the podium, which is – quite typically for such conferences – mostly reserved for monologues. However, on the sidelines of the Conference the parties are engaged in active discussions, they seek decisions and elaborate possible future agreements on a number of regional issues. The only reservation is that the European security is not the topic for the discussion due to the absence of adequate sparring partners for Russia on the sidelines of the conference.

There is good dynamics regarding the political-military dialogue with ASEAN members (Southeast Asian participation in the conference was impressive) and with China. Fruitful discussions took place with colleagues from the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America. Those who came are positive-minded. They consider Russia as a key global actor. The visitors are not naive and propaganda or Alexandrov Ensemble cannot propitiate them. They are realists and pragmatists, which is why they came to Moscow and were lining up to meet with the Russian Minister of Defense. And some of them were also striving to buy Voyentorg Russian military style T-shirts. T-shirts aside – they are a matter of taste – when liberated Palmira was being shown on the monitors in the lobby, the visitors forgot about grabbing another cup of coffee. They stopped. And they looked. And they contemplated. 

Avoiding dialogue is incomprehensible and wrong. When Russia was acting in such a manner, I was surprised. But when NATO members, officially without any coordination, ignored the opportunity for dialogue and meetings in Moscow (playing truant, as Lavrov could have said), it was especially short-sighted. The current international environment does not allow us to ignore the opportunities for dialogue. Just stepping in for a minute (in civvies, because being in uniform is not “comme il faut”) – as the American military attaché did – is not a solution either. Or, to put it differently, it is a bad solution.

To be fair, I have to note, there still was quite a number of  Europeans at the Conference. Not all of the Europe is part of NATO yet. Non-NATO Europe was properly represented: a number of European capitals  understands that the silent treatment will deal a blow to the security of the continent and that will be just too costly.