Kerry (centre) with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (left) and German Foreign Minister Steinmeier during a panel discussion on the third day of the 51st Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich.
By Nikolaus von Twickel, DPA/Munich
To many, this year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC) was the toughest since the event was first held in 1963.
“We discussed primarily bad news,” conference organiser Wolfgang Ischinger said in his closing remarks yesterday.
And the bad news had mainly to do with Russia and Ukraine.
The bloody conflict between Russia-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine was discussed during many panels.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel captured the tense atmosphere when she remarked after her speech that “we are all exposed to the non-military aspects of hybrid war”.
A combination of intelligence, propaganda and other non-conventional operations, “hybrid war” and its covert use by Russia against Ukraine and the West was certainly the talk of the conference, which featured a special panel on information warfare.
The conference’s famed discussion atmosphere descended into a downright war of words, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed it on Saturday.
Lavrov accused the US and its allies of destroying Europe’s security architecture and of fomenting a coup in Ukraine.
The audience broke out into undiplomatic laughter when he claimed that Crimea’s joining Russia happened in accordance with the UN Charter, and then again when he said that the Soviet Union had been against the partitioning of Germany.
Lavrov only dryly remarked “they say that laughter prolongs life”.
The Russian top diplomat’s speech, which he rattled down as if he had a plane to catch (he stayed another night), was lambasted as a “torrent of lies” by conference participant Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist.
Henrik Ilves, the outspoken president of Estonia, who was also in the hall, tweeted: “I feel badly for smart people forced to say dumb things, to obfuscate and lie to a room full of other very smart people.”
German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier told the conference yesterday that Lavrov’s speech was not helpful.
Unfazed, Lavrov told journalists later that he had a good conference thanks to more than 15 bilateral meetings at the sidelines.
“I felt an understanding that whipping up emotions in public, making baseless accusations and calls for punishment are a road to nowhere,” he said.
However, there was one more covert conflict present in Munich – the US-European split over military aid to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko launched another desperate call for weapons deliveries at the conference, saying that Ukraine needs to ramp up its defences.
Poroshenko looked downbeat, almost close to tears, when he presented the confiscated passports of what he claimed were Russian soldiers who “lost their way” inside Ukraine.
“This conflict must be resolved, not frozen,” he said.
But Merkel and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made it clear that there won’t be arms deliveries from Europe, because most member states view this as a path to total escalation.
“The number of arms is big in the region and it has not led to a situation in which I see a solution,” Merkel said.
Neither United States Vice-President Joe Biden nor Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned weapons deliveries, and Kerry stressed that there is no division and that Europe and America are united in support of Ukraine.
But US Senator John McCain asked: “how long can Putin sustain a war that he says is not happening?”
He added: “That’s why we must provide defensive weapons to Ukraine.”
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