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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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The Munich Security Conference was held under the slogan of transatlantic unity facing Russian challenges, with the focus on «Ukrainian question»

The annual Munich Security Conference, held under the theme «Polypandemic», took place on 19 February 2021. For many years, the Munich Security Conference has been a central international forum for debate on security policy issues. This year's event was special, because, firstly, it was held online, and secondly, for the first time the incumbent President of the United States of America participated in the event. Thirdly, the Munich conference 2021 was held without representatives from Russia and China. Speakers included US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, President of the European Council Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

During their speeches, the conference participants focused on the restoration of transatlantic unity. Joseph Biden several times reiterated the US intentions to work closely with European partners to jointly counter security threats. The readiness of the United States to fulfill, if necessary, its obligations under Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which contains the provision that an attack on one member state is an attack on all NATO states, was also noted. During his speech, Biden repeated the phrase «America is back» several times, once again indicating his intention to actively join the solution of international issues, including the Ukrainian issue. The President of the United States stated that the security of Ukraine is «a vital issue for Europe and the United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in turn, called on US President Joe Biden to work closer together to counter the challenges from Russia and China. «There are many things to do. Germany is ready to open a new chapter in the transatlantic partnership», she said. Speaking about Ukraine, the Chancellor noted the lack of visible progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements and noted that «when it comes to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, we have not achieved any progress in recent years». According to her, the conflict in Ukraine and Russia's behavior is one of the important challenges facing the EU-US transatlantic partnership. «Therefore, we need a tough agenda for Russia, a common agenda. We must offer cooperation, on the one hand, but, on the other hand, we must clearly understand our differences», the Chancellor added.[1]

The speech of French President Emmanuel Macron, who seems to have changed his attitude towards the North Atlantic Alliance with the election of Biden as the President of the United States is also worth attention. «I really do believe in NATO», Macron said during the Munich Security Conference, more than a year after stating that the alliance experiences «brain death». The French president said his concept of «European strategic autonomy» in the defense sector does not mean the intention to move away from the United States, but that it will make Europe a more reliable partner and strengthen NATO. As Oleksii Izhak noted in his article for the «Mirror of the Week», Macron, and other French presidents before him, have always talked about European independence, choosing arguments appropriate to the times. It follows from Macron's speech that France, like Germany, will support the strengthening of NATO with the necessary resources.[2]

In general, the speeches made during the Munich conference are positive for Ukraine. European partners understand the lack of progress in the Minsk format, but whether they are willing to raise the price for Russia for aggression against Ukraine to further resolve the conflict and return the occupied Ukrainian territories remains a question.

A few days before the Munich conference, Vladimir Putin, commenting during a meeting with the leaders of the State Duma factions on the closure of Medvedchuk's channels in Ukraine and the sanctions against Nord Stream 2, said: «Why does everything revolve around Nord Stream 2? They want to make Russia pay for their geopolitical project» «Ukraine»». Using the term «geopolitical project» Putin once again questions the statehood of Ukraine. The same term was used a few days later by Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin. With the growth of solidarity within the North Atlantic Alliance, the aggression of the Russian Federation is increasing too. After the closure of pro-Russian channels, the conflict in the East has escalated. As the Kremlin has lost its leverage inside Ukraine, Russia is stepping up its military component. Therefore, the active support of Western countries and a real increase in pressure on Russia is extremely necessary for Ukraine today. However, despite calls for greater unity and deterrence of Russia at the Munich Conference, there are still inconsistencies between Western nations in their approaches to relations with Russia. The Nord Stream 2 project mentioned by Putin is a prime example.

The German government and parliamentary factions of the ruling coalition are currently considering four options for the Nord Stream-2 pipeline amid threats of US sanctions. Writes European Truth referring to the German business newspaper «Handelsblatt». The federal government is discussing how to satisfy the claims of Americans and force them to abandon sanctions against companies involved in the project. One of the possible options is to use the pipeline as a «shut-off mechanism», i.e. to stop gas supplies through Nord Stream-2 if Russia reduces the volume of gas transported through Ukraine. This scenario raises many questions «from a legal and political point of view», although it is generally welcomed in Washington. The second option involves a temporary halt in construction for the period of negotiations with the United States. Also the creation of a commission for the participation of representatives of the USA and EU countries is being discussed. The third scenario envisages significant attraction of investments in the energy sector of Ukraine and strengthening of cooperation in the field of energy. According to the fourth option, the construction should be completed, despite the threats and criticism of the project, but this will inevitably worsen relations with the United States. The German government is trying to find a solution package satisfying the claims of all interested parties.[3]

To sum up, Munich Security Conference 2021 was held under the slogan of transatlantic unity. The United States reaffirmed its determination to actively cooperate with European allies in solving international problems, while the leaders of European states, in turn, determined their intentions to take on greater responsibility in the security dimension. However, the question remains whether Europe is really ready to sacrifice economic interests and increase pressure on the Russian Federation, which, against the background of Western statements, escalated the conflict in Donbas in response to the Ukrainian government's actions aimed at combating Russian propaganda and reducing Russian influence inside Ukraine?