MUNICH — Speaking before the international community Saturday at the annual Munich Security Conference, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned the West that European sanctions and a lack of dialogue with Moscow are driving the continent into a new Cold War.
Following French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who made an impassioned call for a renewed global effort to eradicate radical extremism as part of a long-term generational war on bad ideas, Medvedev set off to deliver the Kremlin's message: You need us.
"We need to launch an intensive dialogue on the future architecture of Euro-Atlantic security, global stability and regional threats more than ever before," Medvedev said. "I consider it unacceptable that this dialogue has almost ceased in many spheres."
Medvedev was harkening back to his proposal as then-President of Russia in 2008 for a new security arrangement spanning from the United States to the Former Soviet Union, but in doing so he was attempting to leverage European anxieties to divide and conquer.
The Russian prime minister presented a laundry list of potential security threats, as they are seen in Moscow, ranging from economic development, terrorism and regional conflicts in Europe: such as Ukraine, the Balkans, and Moldova.
In pushing the conceptual link between economics, politics, and defense as part of a broader definition of security, Medvedev was setting the stage for his main purpose in Munich: explore the possibility of sanctions relief.
"I have always said that sanctions hit not only those against whom they are imposed, but also those who use them as an instrument of pressure. How many joint initiatives have been suspended because of sanctions?" he said.
It was a classic Russian foreign policy move: Exploit European anxieties over terrorism, the migrant crisis, and the future of the European Union to convince the transatlantic community that Moscow should be let off the hook for violating Ukrainian sovereignty in March 2014.
"Have we properly calculated not only the direct but also the indirect costs for European and Russian business? Are our differences really so deep, or are they not worth it?" he asked rhetorically. "All of you here in this audience — do you really need this?"
"This is a road to nowhere. Everyone will suffer, mark my words. It is vitally important that we join forces to strengthen a new global system," Medvedev said, warning that terrorism will spread to every nation if states do not band together.
"Russia first raised this alarm two decades ago. We tried to convince our partners that the core causes were not just ethnic or religious differences," but an ideological mission to "kill and destroy … It's either us or them, its time for everyone to realize this."
Ukraine and Syria
Medvedev shifted focus to Ukraine for the middle segment of his remarks — another important pillar of Russia's rhetorical strategy to break sanctions and return to business as usual with the West, free of charge. He began by blaming Ukraine for failing to implement the Minsk ceasefire agreements.
"Implementation primarily depends on Kiev … a comprehensive ceasefire is not being observed in southeastern Ukraine … [and] amendments to the Ukrainian constitution have not been approved, and the law on a special status for Donbas has not been implemented," he said.
Medvedev asserted that Russia has been reasonably flexible on the issue of Minsk implementation, and his desire to paint Kiev as the problem reflects Russia's attempts to secure a promise that it will be off the hook if Minsk falls apart.
Medvedev has a point: either side in the Ukraine conflict, be it Kiev or the Donbas separatists, could find their own reasons to shirk the wishes of their foreign supporters — the West or Moscow — and torpedo the Minsk agreements.
The Russian prime minister's appeals may have succeeded, were it not for growing suspicion of Moscow's intentions and actions in Syria. The Russian military there has allegedly been bombing civilian targets, allegedly infuriating the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel has been one of the most cool-headed and open-minded European leaders tasked with managing Russia since the Ukraine crisis broke out. Though she was not at the Munich conference, the mood was skeptical toward Medvedev's assertions.
This was reflected in the tone of Medvedev's Q&A session. Intended to be open for both the Russian and French prime ministers, almost all of the questions went to Medvedev and concerned various aspects of Russian foreign policy.
One Ukrainian parliamentary deputy in the audience asked Medvedev why Moscow continues to withhold from backing a UN independent investigation into the downing of the MH17 passenger plane over Ukraine in 2014, and another question asked him if Russia's increased presence in Syria carried with it a greater responsibility for its citizens.
Medvedev brushed off the implications of the questions, and French Prime Minister Valls even tried to draw some of the fire away from his colleague. Likewise, Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, attempted to draw the question session back to French-Russian counter terrorism cooperation.
But these attempts failed. The audience wanted Russia to answer the hard questions.