June 2, 2023

Roundtable with Fletcher School

Arik Burakovsky, Volodymyr Dubovyk and Jeffrey Taliaferro.
Arik Burakovsky, Volodymyr Dubovyk and Jeffrey Taliaferro.

On 31 May, the ICDS was pleased to host a roundtable with Arik Burakovsky, Assistant Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program, Jeffrey Taliaferro, and Volodymyr Dubovyk, our guests from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, who were joined by Oleksandra Tsekhanovska, an expert on propaganda and disinformation prevention from Ukraine.

Chairing the meeting was ICDS Senior Fellow, James Sherr, who set the tone of the wide-ranging discussion by drawing attention to divergences in threat perception — both in Europe and across the Atlantic — with regards to Russia and the strategy, and tactics that Moscow uses to achieve its goals. Thanks to a common fond of historical experience, Finland, the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine have an understanding of Russia and its wars that is only intermittently grasped in other parts of the West. Nine years after 2014, much of NATO adheres to a stereotyped and outdated understanding of how wars begin and how they might be prosecuted below the threshold of Article 5.

ICDS Head of Studies and Research Fellow Tomas Jermalavičius, continued by pointing out of these worries. Although the Russian military has been weakened by fighting the war in Ukraine, capabilities in some domains — such as maritime and air — have hardly been affected. In the land domain, quality might have diminished significantly, yet quantity remains a major problem.

The question now is what we do with the threats we are facing. Having seen Russian atrocities in Ukraine, NATO’s old approach (deterrence by punishment) is no longer politically acceptable in the region. It, consequently, predicates a more potent allied presence to ensure forward defence and thus deterrence by denial. Regenerating proper capacity for a large-scale protracted war will be an arduous process, and the West currently lacks both political and societal will to start moving in that direction at full speed (as evidenced by a recent public opinion on increasing defence spending conducted in various European countries).

Therefore, unless Europe invests heavily in its own defence and manages to sustain a high enough level of such investments, the US will soon lose interest in our region and will focus on the challenge of China. However, Ukraine’s success against the Russian invasion might have made everyone too relaxed about the military threat that Russia still poses. Many tend to misinterpret this success as buying us peace rather than time, Tomas Jermalavičius warned.

Speaking on the basis of Estonian experience, Ivo Juurvee, Head of the Security and Resilience Programme at ICDS, recalled that Moscow had tried and tested everything apart from military attack — propaganda, cyberattacks, economic measures, etc. — against Estonia over the last decades. Russian military interventions, such as the one against Georgia, served as further wake-up calls for the Estonian government and triggered a change in its threat perception, as well as amendments to the National Security Concept. Estonia has reimagined defence as not only a military matter but that of society as a whole. To these ends, it has established a national stockpile agency, created a public warning system, and invested in integrated border control and SWAT, among other security measures.

ICDS research fellow, Igor Gretskiy, emphasised that our key message to Russia must be that Ukraine will be a part of the West and its security system. The Kremlin realises that the ‘Russian world’ might not be as viable a concept as it used to be and thus has been internationalising some new ones. For instance, it has started promoting the notion of “ethnocide” to undermine the West in the Global South. Russia’s influence and activities there will only increase, Igor Gretskiy cautioned, unless Ukraine achieves its full spectrum of goals, including the liberation of Crimea.

ICDS research fellow, Ivan U K Klyszcz, continued by stressing that Russian policy in the Global South — for example, information policy and and sanctions evasion — is directly connected to its war in Ukraine. Russian policy in all spheres and regions is proactive and aggressive, and the case of Mexico, a US ally and partner, is illustrative. Klyszcz characterised the Kremlin’s use of broadly defined “compatriots” as endemic to the Russian imperial and expansionist approach.

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