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Trends in European security: Ukraine and beyond

Written by Sten Rynning, Head of Center

At the Center for War Studies we invite you to join the discussion on trends in European security. On Tuesday 2 June we have an inaugural lecture by Peter Viggo Jakobsen - new part time professor at CWS - and then a wider debate with Joachim Finkielman (NATO), Theo Farrell (King's College), Frederik Harhoff (CWS) and then hopefully also you. It is an open event and we look forward to welcoming you.  

Core of the crisis

The Ukraine crisis looms large. My assessment is that the core of the crisis is about regime survival, in the East as well as in the West. In other words, there is no easy way out.

Regime survival to Putin is about maintaining the rule of Russia in his hands and within his network of clients, friends, and comrades from the KGB years. The Russian state is slowly but surely losing its public character and becoming a private enterprise serving the Putin clan. At their disposal are all the trappings of statehood, and they deploy them skilfully to mobilize opinion in their favor. This case of 'Oriental despotism' would be threatened by any large state in the neighborhood that managed a different - more Western - path to modernity. As Ukraine looked set to embark on this path, Putin intervened. 

Recipe for stability

Regime survival in the West is about the institutionalized cooperation embedded in both NATO and the EU. These institutions are strong because its members are committed to the concerting of Western power and policy. It has been a recipe for stability since the 1940s. The Ukraine crisis threatens the concert in two notable ways.

First, it encourages those who long for pan-European unity and thus regret 'Western' policy. These are the Gerhard Schroeders of Western Europe - those who believe that the West mistreated Russia in 1990-1991 and now is paying the price.

Second, it kindles a nationalist tendency in the West. Each Western nation reads the crisis slightly differently. Some allies are alarmed, others clearly not.

The United States has reacted fairly strongly but, I suspect, because it wants to protect its foreign policy credibility more generally and in regards to its Asian allies in particular. The Obama vision for Europe is certainly hard to spot. Meanwhile Britain is (foolishly) busy defining itself in opposition to 'Europe', and no one is able or willing to lead Europe alongside Germany.

The games of Putin

Putin can see this, of course, and meddles. If he can fragment the Western concert, he is winning. If not, his game is a losing one. This is the most basic trend I can spot these days, and it tells me that we should stop pretending we can build a pan-European order. Europe's stability depends on an explicit and carefully managed balance of power.