Moscow International Security Conference 2016 edition

Last week, I was once again in attendance at the Russian MOD’s Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS). This was the fifth such conference and the third that I’ve attended. In the past, I’ve summarized all the key speeches by Russian participants. That seems less necessary this year as video from the entire conference has been posted online, both in Russian and in English.  I do have the slides from most of the speeches, which have not been posted online by the organizers, and will post them over the next few days. Other than that, it seems more valuable to write up my general impressions, rather than focusing on the specifics of what was said.

The overall tone was less hostile toward the United States than last year. Last year, the speakers were quite open in declaring that the United States was creating threats to international security by undermining governments of states that refused to go along with U.S. “diktat.” This year, the formulations were much more indirect, along the lines of “some [unnamed] states are continuing to have a negative impact on international security by promoting exclusive military blocs, establishing military bases around the world, and dictating their will through the use of their military superiority.” While the target of such formulations is of course entirely transparent, the mere fact that the United States is not being mentioned by name is a sign that the Russian government is at least making an effort to shift its rhetoric to a less hostile stance.

The desire to reestablish a relationship with the United States was made clear when the topic turned to the threat of terrorism, the primary theme of this year’s conference. Here, the Russian officials made sure to argue that the ability of the United States and Russia to cooperate in Syria shows that the two countries can work together and stated that they hoped that such cooperation could be expanded to a broader range of issues. This line was prominent in all the speeches, and particularly in those of Nikolai Patrushev, Sergei Shoigu, and Valery Gerasimov.

Of course, the unspoken subtext underlying this call for cooperation was predicated on the notion that Russia and the United States could solve all the world’s security problems if only the United States followed Russia’s prescriptions on how to act. This was most openly stated by Sergei Lavrov, who said that what the West needs to do is to drop its anti-Russian policies.

While Russia’s relationship with the West was still one of the primary topics for discussion, it was certainly less central than at any of the past conferences. The majority of the non-Russian plenary speakers were from Asian states, and one of the two initial substantive plenary sessions was on military cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. After the usual opening lineup of Russian government heavy-hitters (Patrushev, Shoigu, Lavrov, Bortnikov), the first plenary on the threat of terrorism included the defense ministers of China, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as Hamid Karzai. The Asia-Pacific panel included more Asian defense ministers, this time from India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Laos. The most striking thing about this panel was the lack of any participation by Russian officials. Unlike the first panel, where Valery Gerasimov presented the Russian government’s view on the threat posed by international terrorism, the Russian government chose not to present its view on Asian security issues. The only Russian on the dais for this session was conference host and panel moderator Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, who said little of substance on the topic at hand.

It seems to me that the Russian government’s lack of participation in the Asia-Pacific discussion was quite deliberate. Russia is in a bit of a bind in the region. One the one hand, it is dependent on its “strategic partnership” with China, especially since the deterioration of relations with the West. On the other hand, it is looking to develop security and especially economic ties with a number of Southeast Asian states — most particularly Vietnam and Indonesia — and to deepen its existing relationship with South Korea. The disputes between China and its Asian neighbors, particularly the maritime border dispute in the South China Sea, places Russia in a difficult position. I would not be surprised if the absence of a Russian speaker on the Asia-Pacific panel was a deliberate decision taken so as to avoid having to make the hard choices about how to thread the needle on the sensitive issue of China’s security relations with its neighbors.

Finally, a few words about the general atmosphere. The conference was much better organized than last year, when panels repeatedly ran over time and the agenda had to be modified on the fly. Shoigu was not visibly unhappy, as he was last year. The conference was also much larger than in the past. The plenary sessions took place in the large Congress Hall, rather than in the meeting rooms of the Radisson Ukraina hotel as in the past. The increase in size was also notable in the addition of breakout sessions and the expansion to a second day of panels.

While in the previous two years, one had a sense of being at a conference that was an opportunity for a wide range of representatives of rogue (and quasi-rogue) states to get together, this was largely absent this year. Sure, the Iranian Defense Minister took the opportunity to go on about “Zionist terrorism,” but this was the exception, rather than the rule. The 2016 list of speakers notably excluded senior officials from countries such as North Korea and Cuba, who had prominently featured in past years. They were replaced by representatives of countries such as Argentina, the Phillippines, and Chile. In addition, the presence of senior officials from South Africa and most major Asian and Middle Eastern states highlights the global nature of the event. The absence of Western officials, which looks set to continue as long as military cooperation between Russia and NATO remains frozen, prevents MCIS from becoming a truly global conference. But even absent the West, the high level of representation from a wide range of countries from around the world is a clear indication that the MCIS has become a regular stop on the global international security conference circuit.

 

Moscow Conference on International Security 2015 Part 1: The plenary speeches

Last week, I was once again in attendance at the Russian MOD’s Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS). As I did last year, over the next couple of weeks I’ll write up some of the key speeches and then conclude with some takeaway thoughts on the event.

The Russian speakers at the plenary session included Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev delivered greetings from Vladimir Putin. So pretty much the same lineup as last year, with the addition of Patrushev. The links above go to video of the speeches, with Russian language audio. Texts of the speeches have also been posted: Shoigu, Lavrov, Gerasimov, Patrushev.

For those who don’t understand Russian, here are some highlights of the speeches:

First up, the greeting from Vladimir Putin, as read by Nikolay Patrushev. The greeting highlighted the significance of holding the conference just before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, noting that it is a reminder that history cannot be forgotten and of the threats presented by the glorification of Nazism, the encouragement of xenophobia and extremism, and pretensions of any country to world domination. The speech also noted that the current system of international security was developed collectively in the aftermath of the second World War on the basis of mutual interests and partnership. Any distancing from these rules leads to one-sided and non-workable efforts to resolve global threats. Furthermore, crude interference in any country’s internal affairs through scenarios such as “color revolutions” just increases the space where violence and chaos are rampant. The rise of the Islamic State highlights the rapid growth and global spread of extremism and terrorism that no single country or grouping of states can defeat. Coordinated action by the entire global community, based on international law, is the only way to address this threat.

Sergei Shoigu gave the first substantive speech, expanding on the themes in Putin’s greeting. He highlighting the leading role played by the Soviet Union in defeating Nazism, while noting the contributions of all countries that participating in the fight. He then transitioned to the need for the world to unite to fight the rebirth of fascism, xenophobia, racism and militarism and to tie Russia’s perceptions of the current international situation to the fight against Nazism. Specifically, he focused on the threat posed by “countries that consider themselves winners of the Cold War and want to force their will on others” to the stability of the international system that was created after World War II. He warned against unilateralism in international affairs and against efforts by any one country to develop absolute military superiority.

He then returned to the previous year’s theme of the threat posed to the world by color revolutions, noting events over the last year in Hong Kong and Venezuela as continuing the effort by the United States and its allies to sow chaos in states that oppose US policies. He then turned to Ukraine, calling it the greatest tragedy caused by the color revolutions policy. He said that in its efforts to make Ukraine into its satellite, the US had crossed all conceivable lines in promoting an anti-constitutional overthrow of the legal government that resulted in a civil war and forced Russia to react. With the war having already resulted in 6,000 deaths, “how many more victims will be needed to force Ukrainians in the southeastern part of the country to feel themselves European?”

Shoigu also highlighted the Kosovo precedent: While Western countries blame Russia for unilaterally changing European borders for the first time since World War II, they ignore the planned dismemberment of Yugoslavia that “served as a laboratory for Western efforts to develop techniques to destroy a sovereign state” and culminated in the removal of Kosovo from Serbia without any respect for international law. Shoigu also blames the West for sowing chaos around the world through its ill-conceived military interventions, particularly in Iraq and Libya, which have resulted in the long-term destabilization of entire regions of the world. As a result, he denies that critics of Russia’s actions in Crimea have any moral right to blame Russia for violating international law.

Instead of adopting Russian ideas for building a common system for European security, Western states have enacted sanctions and launched an information war against Russia. They have renewed talk about containment and how to use NATO to deal with a growing Russian threat. The main goal is to break countries that have long cultural and historical ties with Russia free of its influence. Previous talk of NATO-Russia partnership has ended. Instead non-nuclear NATO states are being involved in exercises on how to use American tactical nuclear weapons that have been placed in a number of European states. The world should remember that the United States is the only country in history to have actually used nuclear weapons. “What consequences might have such eagerness to use nuclear weapons have had for Europe, had the US Army developed such weapons a little earlier.”

Shoigu also noted that Russian fears of the threat to global stability caused by American missile defense systems are also coming to pass. He said that It is becoming clear that the US has been bluffing about potential missile threats emanating from Iran, since no moves have been made to reconsider US missile defense plans now that a nuclear deal with Iran has been completed. Instead, the US is making moves to expand missile defense systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

Shoigu then turned to the threat to international security posed by terrorism. As with the rest of the speech, he went out of his way to highlight the role played by the United States and other countries in encouraging the development of terrorist organizations around the world. Pointing to the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, he noted that such organizations have commonly gotten out of the control of their patrons and become a problem for international security.

In the final part of his speech, Shoigu turned to the importance of working together to solve international security. He argued that the liquidation of chemical weapons in Syria and the recently achieved nuclear agreement with Iran show what can be done with diplomacy when the international community comes together. He noted that similar breakthroughs could be achieved in the development of non-strategic missile defense in Europe and the establishment of a new multilateral security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.

Shoigu was followed by Sergei Lavrov, who highlighted that peace can only be achieved through a collective international effort. NATO’s euphoria about winning the Cold War resulted in a belief that the West would be on top of the world forever. Meanwhile, international processes were actually heading in the direction of multi-lateralism. As a result, the world now stands at a crossroads where it must choose between cooperation and deadly conflicts. Lavrov highlighted the need to create a global security infrastructure to deal with the arc of instability stretching from northern Africa to Afghanistan.

In turning to the conflict in Ukraine, Lavrov argued that there is no military solution and that efforts to punish Russia for “its independent foreign policy, for standing up for truth and justice, for defending its compatriots” are absurd. He noted that many European leaders agree that the effort of some countries to break Russia is a huge and unforgivable risk to international security. Instead, the only solution is to carry out all parts of the second Minsk agreement, including not just the ceasefire, but also the end of Kiev’s economic blockade of the Donbas and the start of a real political process that leads to constitutional reform that takes into account all of Ukraine’s regions. In keeping with the theme of mentioning the anniversary of the end of World War II at every opportunity, Lavrov made sure to point out that the West must force the Kiev government to stop “glorifying Nazism and persecuting those who saved Europe from fascism.”

While Washington keeps talking about Russia coming to the gates of Europe, the reality is that NATO has brought its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders while US naval vessels are now regularly appearing in the Black Sea and US missile defense sites are being built in Romania and Poland. Russia sees US missile defense as part of a global project to reduce the effectiveness of Russia’s strategic deterrence forces. Like Shoigu, Lavrov highlighted that the continuation of missile defense plans in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear agreement shows that missile defense has always been aimed primarily against Russia.

Meanwhile, Lavrov noted that real threats to international security, including terrorism and the rise of extremist forces in the Middle East and North Africa, require international partnership to resolve. The exacerbation of Sunni/Shi’a divisions require a serious effort to create a compromise based on principles of international law. Instead, Western states have been using it as a pretext for interference in internal affairs in the region. Lavrov asks how the US can support the coalition operation in Yemen to restore by force a president who fled the country while in Ukraine it pursued the exact opposite policy. The double standards of US policy are in plain view in comparing the two situations.

Lavrov concludes by reinforcing the point made by Shoigu that unilateralism and forcing one country’s values on another leads to escalation of conflicts and an ever-growing region of chaos. Positive results can only come from combining forces, such as took place with the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria and the conclusion of a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran can now be included in the discussion on regional security in the Middle East and in the amelioration of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, as well as in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Similar partnerships can be developed in other regions and conflict zones, including in Afghanistan and in East Asia. International organizations such as the Arab League, OIC, UN, and SCO can all be used to promote international security.

Valery Gerasimov spoke next, but his speech deserves a separate post, while I will endeavor to have up in the next few days.

The rest of the first session included presentations by Amb. Michael Moeller, the Director General of the UN Office in Geneva and by Amb. Marcel Pesco, the Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General. These speakers highlighted the role of their respective international organizations in promoting peace and resolving conflicts. Moeller focused on the threat posed by transnational violent extremist organizations such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram. He called for the international community to come together, to prevent the international system from being undermined. He argued that having power does not give states the power to take unilateral action. Instead, the international community should focus on rebuilding trust among leading actors, working on preventing conflicts, and improving early warning systems.

Marcel Pesco argued for the need for the members of the international community to commit to developing a common security infrastructure. He noted that the crisis in Ukraine has called into question some of the fundamental premises of the international system of cooperative security. He argued that the international community needs to build on the Minsk agreement to try to settle the conflict.

As a result of the Ukraine conflict, confrontation now exceeds cooperation in Europe, preventing forward momentum on other issues such as arms control. Pesco noted that the OSCE remains a platform for dialog in Europe but needs to become the basis for regional security.

MCIS 2014 photos and tank maneuver videos

I’ll have a wrap-up post on the MCIS tomorrow. In the meantime, a few photos, courtesy of Ruslan Pukhov from the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and from the MOD Press Service. Also, if you are interested in Russian tank maneuvers, make sure to scroll to the bottom for some videos I took on the second day of the conference.

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Sergei Shoigu addressing the conference.

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Sergei Lavrov addressing the conference.

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Left to right: myself, Chief of the Russian Navy Viktor Chirkov, and CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov.

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Left to right: myself, Sergei Koshelev (the head of the Defense Ministry’s Chief Administration for International Military Cooperation), Chief of the Russian Navy Viktor Chirkov, chair of the State Duma Committee on Defense Vladimir Komoedov, CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov, and director of the State Duma expert council on defense Boris Usviatsov.

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Panel on Stability in Afghanistan.

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Head of Military Initellgence Igor Sergun.

And here are links to a few videos from the second day of the conference, during which we were taken to Alabino to observe a tank ballet and tank biathlon.