19 Apr 16. The ongoing confrontation between Russia and the west has been characterised by competing narratives concerning the origins and development of events. These differing interpretations make coming to any kind of consensus on the future of the European security order extremely difficult.
- Participants in the dialogue agreed that the narratives of both sides reflect deeply held beliefs based on well-developed intellectual and legal perspectives and are not simply the instrumental products of official propaganda. The arguments of neither side, the group finds, can easily be dismissed.
- The disagreement, moreover, is not only about individual cases but spans two fundamental conceptual axes. The first concerns disagreements over what sovereignty means at this stage of the 21st century and over who and what can legitimise interventions in the affairs of other states. Touchstone cases of disagreement here include not only Russian interventions in Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008, but Western interventions in Kosovo in 1999, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011.
- The second axis concerns disagreements over the circumstances under which the territorial integrity of a state must always be respected versus when and under what circumstances a legitimate self-determination movement must have its argument for secession from an established state recognised.
- These findings are important because they suggest the disagreement is so fundamental that the current down-turn in relations will not be dealt with by a simple change in leadership in any state and the dispute is likely to last a very long time.
- Moreover, the discussion group, which included leading thinkers from Oxford, Cambridge, the Russian Academy of Sciences and academia, agreed that the core policy challenge facing Europe was not the need to restore Europe to some static interpretation of the status quo but to come up with a political process capable of managing what is in effect a long term process of historical change underway in Europe.
- The group noted that change inside Europe has already been profound since the end of the Cold War with the break-up of Yugoslavia, the reunification of Germany and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The number of unresolved disputes and areas of tensions in Europe also remain high. It is likely therefore that further challenges to the European order will present themselves in the form of unexpected events.
- Interestingly, the group agreed that to handle those situations, a call merely to obey international law would not be adequate since in individual cases, there was often no consensus on what the law ought to mean in practice. Here, the disputes were not just between Russia and the West but often within the West too. Witness the disagreement among EU states as to whether Kosovo should be recognised as an independent state or not.
- Moreover, it was noted that when significant events do happen, such as in Ukraine, there is almost always no agreed Russia/US/EU account of what has been happening and why, while there are no mechanisms for trying to achieve an agreed account as the situation develops.
A second report will be prepared after the follow-up meeting in Moscow.