Munich Security Conference: No Cold War Yet

Medvedev did not declare a new Cold War in Munich. He diagnosed a slide into it.

The recent Munich Security Conference brought together representatives of all the major international players in the military-political sphere. Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, gave interview to

Does the MSC-2016 mark the final transition to the Cold War between Russia and the West?

It is more correct to speak about a new confrontation with the United States and alienation from the European Union. It is not the Cold War: now there are completely different conditions than in the second half of the 20th century. Also too bad and dangerous, but in a different way. Prime Minister Medvedev's trip to Munich meant Vladimir Putin's attempt to bring to the West directly from the Kremlin the view over the situation and at the same time to indicate his willingness to cooperate. Medvedev did not declare a new Cold War in Munich. He diagnosed a slide into it and, accordingly, an increase of dangers - both from the direct clash between Russia and the US/NATO and their inability to cooperate in fight against extremism.

Why Western experts and diplomats were unsatisfied with Dmitry Medvedev's speech in Munich, which, according to the Western media, reminded Putin's speech in 2007 in its aggressiveness and arrogance?

Western media interpreted Medvedev's speech as the "Second Putin's Munich speech ", a new confirmation of the Russian hostility toward the West. In fact, Medvedev's participation in MSC-2016 was an invitation for cooperation, particularly between Russia and Western Europe in conditions of continuing rivalry between Russia and the United States.

There are two "Munichs" - public part, with a big hall, televised speeches and discussions, and a closed one - in small salons, where business meetings take place. In the big hall the Russian issue was clearly dominated during three days of the conference. Albeit with various degrees of intensity, Russia was blamed by the Americans and Western Europeans, Arabs, and especially by Eastern Europeans. Russia was considered as a threat, which once again was cementing the West. At the same time the main event of MSC-2016 was the agreement reached by 17 states under the leadership of the United States and Russia on the cessation of hostilities in Syria and humanitarian assistance to this country. After that Putin and Obama held a telephone conversation, dedicated to the implementation of this agreement.

One of the main objectives of Medvedev's visit to Munich was communication with the German business community. According to the participants of that meeting, a completely different atmosphere prevailed there than in the big hall of MSC-2016. The sides expressed mutual interest in the resumption of full-scale economic cooperation, discussed the prospects of lifting EU sanctions against Russia.

Was the Munich Conference litmus test for Russian and Western willingness for a compromise?

A compromise is not possible now over strategic, fundamental issues of the world order, rules and norms of states’ behavior, because a result of the confrontation is not yet clear. On specific issues - Syria, Ukraine - compromises are possible in principle, but they are not easy to achieve. But to keep the situation from further deterioration is even more difficult.

After Munich, Putin suggested Obama an anti-terror alliance without double standards. Why Americans cannot refuse the demand to remove Assad without having a decent alternative figure for a joint struggle against ISIS?

The US refusal of the demand to remove Assad would mean a recognition by Washington of complete defeat of its policy in Syria and at the same time a recognition of Moscow's victory. It is simply impossible for political reasons. In the United States, Assad is evil, comparable to ISIS, so such recognition is not possible from a moral point of view. It should be kept in mind that in the hierarchy of threats and challenges, which US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter mentioned in recent speech in Washington, Russia occupies the first place, and ISIS - the fifth, after China, Iran and North Korea.

Russia's strategy is to force the US to equal partnership based on common threat from ISIS. The State Department went on cooperation with Russia, but the Pentagon does not go beyond measures to prevent incidents during the parallel actions of the American and Russian armed forces in Syria. In my view, the cooperation between the Russian Federation and the United States on Syria may be developing, but their anti-terror alliance is impossible.

Why is the Munich Conference so attractive platform to emphasize the position of Russia on critical issues, and to continue efforts to set up a dialogue with Western partners?

The Munich Security Conference brings together representatives of all the major international players in the military-political sphere. This year there were 30 heads of states and governments and 70 ministers – mainly of foreign affairs and defense, plus hundreds of other experts. This is a unique platform for meetings, exchanges of views, formal meetings and informal consultations. Russia has the opportunity to work in Munich not only from the podium, but also on other levels, not only explaining or defending its position, but also finding the possibilities of cooperation.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.