The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) hosted an online policy event on October 21st to highlight the Kremlin’s ongoing violations of international norms and look at how the United States, along with its allies and partners, should determine and impose effective consequences on the Putin regime to safeguard transatlantic security. The context framing the discussion included the recent Zapad 2021 Russian military exercise, Russia’s persistent presence in Belarus and Ukraine, the NATO summit and President Biden’s meeting with President Putin in June, and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and its political implications. Three speakers shared their expertise and policy recommendations for addressing the threats posed by these and other examples of bad behavior by the Kremlin. The event was moderated by Executive Vice President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Michael Sawkiw.
Elisabeth Braw led off the discussion with recorded remarks. Ms. Braw is a journalist and defense analyst. She is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she specializes in the challenges of rising national security threats, particularly in the form of hybrid and gray zone warfare. She is also a columnist for Foreign Policy, where she writes on national security and the global economy. Her full profile is available at www.aei.org/profile/elisabeth-braw.
Ms. Braw noted that the threat to national security goes beyond disinformation with the intent to target and harm democracy in Western nations, and that this threat is nothing new. The innovation in the types of threats coming from Russia and Belarus is new, which is illustrated perhaps most acutely in the weaponization of migrants on the border between Belarus and Lithuania, and China’s offensive use of hostages for coercion. These new means of exercising political agendas are unpalatable and unthinkable to liberal democracies, creating an ongoing challenge to predict what might come next. If we do try to predict, we will always be one step behind. She therefore recommended that target nations create more resilience to whatever comes next so that whatever it is, it will have limited effect.
The next two speakers were live panelists. The first was Konrad Muzyka, an experienced independent defense analyst and the Director of Rochan Consulting, a Polish-based defense firm that provides consultancy services on the Russian and Belarusian military capabilities and objectives in the East-Central European region. His full biography is available at icds.ee/en/autor/konrad-muzyka.
Mr. Muzyka presented a detailed report on Zapad 2021. Zapad is Russia’s major military exercise in the western part of the country that takes place every four years. This year’s exercise scenario made clear that Russia continues to consider NATO as its primary opponent, particularly in recent years for NATO’s tacit support of regime change in Belarus. The exercise showed that Russia will maintain its forces in Belarus for as long as necessary and that Belarus serves as a main forward logistical hub in range of NATO territory. While analysis of the exercise will be ongoing for several months, these preliminary observations indicate that the traditional military threat from Russia remains even while the Kremlin’s development of hybrid tactics evolve.
Alex Tiersky finished off the panel presentations. Mr. Tiersky is a national security and foreign affairs expert with extensive experience in policy analysis, with specific areas of focus including transatlantic relations, arms control, diplomatic operations, and foreign policy legislation. He currently is the Senior Policy Advisor and Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. More information on Mr. Tiersky and the CSCE is available at www.csce.gov.
Mr. Tiersky provided an overview of the Helsinki Commission’s role as an independent commission of the U.S. Federal Government to monitor compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advance comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental, and military cooperation among the accords’ 57 participating nations. He stressed that the CSCE’s mandate receives very real bipartisan support. While the U.S. foreign policy apparatus may have “parked” Russia to deal with other issues, the Kremlin’s military aggression and encroachment on sovereignty in Ukraine and Georgia, and buildup throughout the region, cannot be ignored. It is important to maintain policies such as shoring up NATO’s defenses to ensure it remains a credible deterrent, support to Ukraine’s and Georgia’s ability to defend themselves, and keeping NATO’s door open to new members. He noted that the Helsinki Final Act guarantees the sovereignty of nations to choose their alliances. Moscow agreed to its terms when the Soviet Union signed on in 1975 and the Putin regime should be held accountable for its violations of the accords. He ended his remarks by stressing the importance of constituent participation in advocating for policies that uphold the CSCE’s work.
Please see the full video of the webinar, posted at ceecadvocacy.org. This summary did not capture the full impact of the speakers’ messages and watching the full event is highly recommended. The CEEC holds two to three policy events per year and looks forward to planning its next event in early 2022.