The announcement that Prime Minister Medvedev will be heading the Russian delegation to the Munich Security Conference appears to send a signal that Russia wants to de-escalate tensions and work with Europe and the United States toward resolving the crises in Syria and Ukraine.
Last week, Moscow announced that its delegation at this year’s Munich Security Conference would be headed by Prime Minister Medvedev instead of Foreign Minister Lavrov, as was stated earlier. Angela Stent, Director of the Georgetown University Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, told www.valdaiclub.com
what this decision could mean for easing tensions between Russia and the West and what can be expected from this year’s conference in general.
“The announcement that Prime Minister Medvedev will be heading the Russian delegation to the Munich Security Conference appears to send a signal that Russia wants to de-escalate tensions and work with Europe and the United States toward resolving the crises in Syria and Ukraine,” Professor Stent said in a comment sent by e-mail. “Foreign policy is not normally the responsibility of the Russian Prime Minister but presumably he will be discussing international issues there,” she added.
Referring to last year’s Munich conference, Stent said the atmosphere between the Russian delegation and other participants was rather tense. “Foreign Minister Lavrov led the Russian delegation and gave a tough speech in which he said that German unification in 1990 was less legitimate than Crimea rejoining Russia in 2014—a claim that did not resonate positively with the Western participants, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. This year, sending Mr. Medvedev could signal that Russia is serious about seeking solutions to today’s pressing international problems,” she said.
The public speeches at Munich are mainly important for the signals they send about leaders’ intentions, the scholar pointed out. “President Putin’s 2007 Munich speech, for instance, certainly signaled the beginning of a more adversarial relationship with the West. But the private meetings at Munich between the top leaders are usually much more important,” she said.
When asked about her expectations from this year’s Munich conference, Stent said that the Russian prime minster would most probably continue recent diplomatic advances. “One assumes that he will meet with European and American—and possibly Ukrainian—officials to continue discussions on how to implement the Minsk agreements. Both Secretary John Kerry and European leaders have indicated that sanctions against Russia could begin to be lifted if there is real progress on Minsk,” she elaborated.
Syria will certainly be another topic for discussions at Munich. “The situation in Syria remains very fragile with the United States and its allies trying to work together with Russia toward achieving a cease-fire and a possible political transition. But their interests in Syria are not well aligned because they disagree on the fate of President Assad,” Stent pointed out.
“Often one does not know the real result of the behind-the-scenes discussions at Munich until some time afterwards. But in order for relations between Russia and the West to return to their pre-2014 level the Minsk agreements would have to be fully implemented, including the Ukrainian government regaining control over its border with Russia,” she concluded.
This year’s Munich Security Conference will be held in the Bavarian capital on February 12-14 under the chairmanship of Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger. The war in Syria, the refugee catastrophe and the crisis of the European security order have been announced to be among the key topics on the conference agenda.