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Marina Reshetnikova, “Crisis of the European security system: potential for cooperation or risk of confrontation?”

Reshetnikova Marina Alexandrovna
2nd year Master’s student,
School of International Relations,
Saint Petersburg State University

 “Crisis of the European security system:
potential for cooperation or risk of confrontation?”

Events that took place in the last two years have become a logical culmination of a long-term process of collision of interests between Russia and Western countries and their mismatching views on the future of European security which are based on their perception of each other formed during the Cold War. The crisis emerged in the Eastern Europe not by chance, but as a result of it being on historical intersection of spheres of influence.  As we are taking into account its scope and impact on the architecture of European security, the following question arises: if we are indeed entering the new era of confrontation, which has already been named the “New Cold War” [1] or there is still a chance for the “New Thaw“?

The end of the Cold War brought hope for the universal peace, for the world that is not divided into two opposing parts, yet the parties have not been able to establish relationships from scratch. Guarding stereotypes of the past, politicizing controversial historical questions and using the logic of bloc confrontation in solving ongoing problems have defined the nature of bilateral and multilateral relations between Russia and Western countries, in particular, between former USSR countries and the Eastern Bloc. During the last twenty years, we repeatedly witnessed how peace initiatives which were supposed to lay the groundwork for trusting relationships were the first ones to become hostages of unresolved problems and how military cooperation practically loses its effectiveness due to the high level of distrust between parties. Even countries that have already joined NATO and are included in the system of collective defense were not able to get rid of feeling threatened, which is being passed over to neighboring countries and provokes the general tension in Eastern Europe. In the last twenty years, despite broad (and even efficient, as both parties evaluated it) cooperation of Russia and NATO [2],[3], including collaboration in the framework of “Partnership for Peace”, the parties have not come to an agreement on the most acute issues. NATO has directly approached the borders of Russia which the latter considers unacceptable [4], Russian initiative of the European Security Treaty has been left unimplemented, the parties were not able to come to an agreement on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe matter, on the placement of antimissile defense in Europe and Russia’s part in it. Although it is stated in the Founding act that “Russia and NATO do not consider each other as adversaries” [5], in the Military Doctrine of Russia (in the latest as well as in earlier editions) NATO’s enhancing of its power capacity is listed number one among military threats for Russia [6]; similarly Russia’s actions are viewed by NATO as the primary threat to European security [7].

The Ukrainian crisis has become a quite natural result of raising tension. About two years passed since its active phase took place, and, looking back, we can draw first conclusions in what direction the relations between Russia and Western countries turned. The main indicator of the fact that the parties did not follow the path of confrontation is not only that they did not lose the ground for dialogue that stands to prevent misunderstanding and wrong interpretation of actions but they also foresaw the necessity of its preservation for further normalization of relations.

Firstly, the basic forms of relations between parties were not violated, regardless of accusations against Russia in breach of key principles which establish those relations. There was not any rupture nor decrease of the status of diplomatic relations, in particular, between Russia and the Ukraine, fundamental documents that regulate relations between Russia and other organizations, such as 1997 Founding Act Russia-NATO relations, were not changed. At the same time, a lot of channels were broken: Russia’s participation in the G8 Summits was suspended, Russia was deprived of the right to vote in PACE during winter session, high-level summits of the Council of the Baltic Sea States are also not being held due to deterioration of relations against a background of the crisis. This tendency affected the Russia-NATO dialogue as well, including practical cooperation. However, it is important to see that all these statements have a temporary nature and do not mean to put an end to interaction with Russia. We also need to notice that nowadays that external policy of many subjects that are involved in European security is characterized by the tactic of expectation and refraining from radical steps. For example, Finland and Sweden, despite heated debates in their societies, confirmed maintenance of neutrality, some European countries express their cautiousness towards Ukraine’s euro-integration, and the idea of creating the EU army is still in limbo. All above leads to the fact that the current situation is not seen as the absolute turning point for relations which requires immediate reaction, parties seek to avoid exacerbation, and the priority is given to the future perspectives of interaction on the previously announced principles.   

Secondly, it is necessary to underline specific steps, which were recently done by both parties: they indicate their willingness to act in cooperative, instead of confrontational, way. This is illustrated by the search of ways to resume Russia-NATO Council, high-level meetings where the spectrum of topics for discussion is not confined by security issues, European deputes’ visits to Crimea. We also need to focus on the overall logic of statements made by parties involved in European security where there is a strong hope for normalizing relations and restoring comprehensive dialogue [8].

Thirdly, it is important to underline that European security is inseparable from global security, new challenges and threats are making the situation highly unpredictable and it is getting hard to find responses on them. Therefore, having taken into account the fact that Russia is a member of the UN Security Council and has influence over international situation, we cannot deny the fact that it is impossible to solve global issues without interacting with it – this was well illustrated by the Middle East situation and rising terrorism threat.

Thus, on the one hand, the international system does not let Russia and Western countries distance themselves from each other and, on the other hand, both parties realize importance of a dialogue for maintaining global and regional security and show their interest in overcoming the crisis in their relationship. But they need to go a long way in this process: starting from stabilizing political dialogue and going till they reach a new level of their relations that would help avoid system mistakes.      

First of all, it is necessary to restrain from a one-sided vision, as the parties are talking about the same points but they are not on the same page in their interpretation. This does not help in solving the problems and even aggravates them. For the problems to be effectively solved, it is important to be very flexible and be able to see other part’s view on the events. It is certain that it is impossible to present ideal picture of cooperation without conflicts, because state interests will remain a constant that has to be accepted. But the crisis that is far from being solved proves that the solution is only possible when the compromise is established by looking for commonpoints of interest. Special emphasis in this search should be made on neutral grounds, such as the UN and the OSCE which have already played a key role in bringing the two blocks closer to each other and not letting conflicts of the Cold War escalate, and now the UN and the OSCE could become the symbol of the dialogue on the way to new relations reset. The significance of these security-guarding organizations is repeatedly mentioned in the Founding Act, and the cooperation in the framework of the OSCE during the Ukrainian crisis was once the only one where the parties came to an agreement [9]. It is certain that discussions on the matter of OSCE effectiveness become especially important due to existing situation, and, possibly, through the search of organizational reforms, the parties will be able to renew the entire system of European security.

Finally, a change of perception is necessary and it would be possible only when mutual interest in debunking stereotypes takes place. Building a new vision of relationships implies a long-term process during which a change of generations of politicians as well as generation of citizens of the states involved will happen who may be able to look at many acute question from a different angle and find new options to solve the crisis that are not yet available due to the parties’ one-sided view of the world. It has to be accompanied by a thorough analysis of their interaction during the last decades performed by a wide number of people and with special emphasis on identification of system mistakes. Accordingly, the most important actions in this context should be initiated from ‘above’ to launch the relations revision process, to stimulate cooperation between the government and the civil society and to use the results of multilateral analysis and opinions in foreign policy decision-making.

Along with the crisis, a time of profound reevaluation of the results of interaction has come, a time that is too important to be wasted and a time to begin a long-term process of reestablishment of relations. Only close cooperation founded onmutualtrust can bring the dream of the common European home to life.  

  1. Report of the Dmitry Medvedev’s speech at the Munich Security Conference // Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 13.02.2016. URL:
  2. Russia and NATO concluded results of mutual cooperation // Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (official web-site). URL:
  3. NATO and Russia – Time to engage // North Atlantic Treaty Organization (official site). URL:
  4. Speech and discussions at the Munich Security Conference 10.02.2007 // President of the Russian Federation (official web-site). URL:
  5. Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation 27/05/1997. URL:
  6. Military doctrine of the Russian Federation by 30.12.2014. // Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 25.12.2014. URL:
  7. Statement by NATO Defence Ministers - Press Release (2015) 094 Issued on 25 Jun. 2015 // North Atlantic Treaty Organization (official site). URL:
  8. Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference 13.02.2016 // North Atlantic Treaty Organization (official site). URL:
  9. Position of Moscow on the OSCE Ukrainian mission reassures Merkel // IA ‘Rosbalt’, 24.03.2014. URL:http:// 03/24/1247912.html


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