Can small East European countries influence the events of international politics determined by the major neighboring powers? This issue was discussed by the participants of the conference on security that opened in Minsk. The forum “Eastern Europe: in search of security for all” is being held in Minsk on May 23-25 under the auspices of the non-governmental expert initiative “Minsk Dialogue”. The current forum is attended by 350 experts and officials from more than 40 countries. Participants include OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy James Appathurai, former CSTO Secretary General Nikolai Bordyuzha, Secretary General of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Mayra Mora, and ex-chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Christine Muttonen.
The head of the Minsk Dialogue, Evgeny Preigerman, in an interview with DW noted that this expert initiative began work in 2015 as a neutral platform for discussions in the field of international relations and security. Now the forum has reached a qualitatively new level: “There are about 500 participants here – this means that it is five times larger than our traditional formats.”
Minsk again promotes Helsinki-2
At the opening of the forum on May 23, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei praised the representativeness of the participants as “evidence of a growing interest in the Minsk expert discussion platform.” The Minister, like the speakers who followed him, noted the process of destruction of the previous system of international relations established after the end of World War II. According to him, last year’s initiative of the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on the need to start a new large-scale international dialogue on security issues (Helsinki-2) is aimed at finding ways to overcome the global security crisis.
Addressing the expert community, Vladimir Makei said: “We need an answer on how to make the position of states between centers of power – in between – not a curse of fate, as has happened more than once in the past, but a factor of development, cooperation and prosperity.”
“So far, the previously formed rules of international relations do not work and new rules of behavior have not appeared – the force factor is working,” explains Eugene Preigerman. “Big players have strength, smaller players have smaller ones, and, accordingly, all this means that at least the sovereignty of these states, including Belarus, can be put at stake in the confrontation.”
Does Eastern Europe Have a Voice
Wolfgang Sender, program director for Belarus at the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), one of the forum’s main partners, said in his welcoming remarks that Minsk had decided to step up its activities in strengthening international order and regional security. “Belarus strengthens its own sustainability, stability, sovereignty and independence thanks to more active participation at the international level. This ultimately serves regional stability and is of great value for NATO, for the EU and for all neighbors of Belarus, ”the KAS representative emphasized.
Wolfgang Zender was the moderator of the discussion on the security vision of small East European states. He directly posed the question: Does Eastern Europe have enough voice to influence decision-making in this area?
Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Oleg Kravchenko stated that “the position of countries such as ours is less and less taken into account – as was customary during the Cold War, when two large countries determined the situation in the world.”
According to the Belarusian diplomat, “they are expected of us (small countries. – Ed.) That we join one or the other side of the conflict … the situation forces us to choose and accept the choice that we don’t want to make.” At the same time, the representative of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, to a direct question by Wolfgang Zendera, acknowledged that official Minsk considers the military aspect of security in the Eastern Europe region to be especially important.
The war in the Donbass should not leave the agenda
Gwendolyn Sasse, director of the German Center for East European and International Studies (ZOiS), called the mistake that the war in the Donbass is leaving the agenda against other irritants. “The war is, in fact, in the center of Europe. I am constantly amazed at how little attention is paid to these issues, ”she said.
The political scientist also noted that there are a number of other “frozen conflicts” in the region, and many forget about them. At the same time, according to Gwendolyn Sasse, “it is wrong to believe that these conflicts are really frozen – they are developing. “And it will be wrong to talk about the war in the Donbass as a conflict that can be frozen,” she said, not offering, however, ready-made recipes, like no other participant in the discussion.
The head of the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies Arseny Sivitsky in an interview with DW summed up the panel discussion. According to him, it was indicative that basically the conversation revolved around relations between the United States and China. “The very course of the discussion was demonstrated by the fact that outdated views on the fundamental and decisive influence of big or great powers on international relations still prevail in the discourse on international relations,” the political analyst said.
According to him, the countries themselves – whether they are large or small – depend not only on how much they fit into the new world that is being formed before our eyes, but also on what initiatives they will enter the international arena.
“The example of Belarus in this regard seems indicative to me – the middle country in the center of Europe, located between two geopolitical rival centers (Russia and the collective West), nevertheless formulates such initiatives that are aimed at solving not only their own internal problems, but also regional and even on a global scale, ”said Arseny Sivitsky, referring to Helsinki-2.