Monthly Dinner Meeting - Prof. Criekemans

donderdag 22 november 2018 20:00 - 23:00, Salons Van Edel

sprekers: Prof. Criekemans (University of Antwerp): "Europe in the midst of a world in full geopolitical transition"


It was a bussy program during our meeting:

  • Anita was officialy accepted as our new member
  • Our president explained our busy program for the next weeks
  • Our flag was exchanged with the wheel from the Innerwheel Antwerpen Singel.
  • Erik Van den Eynde visited our club for the second time.



The West made in the past a number of fundamental geopolitical errors in its relationship with Moscow. The ill-considered expansions of NATO from the end of the nineties, driven by Washington, certainly belong to this. In 1990, US President George Bush senior and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reached an agreement to reunite Germany. The country even became a member of NATO, but in return the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would not extend a millimeter further to the East.

Under the direction of the Democrat Bill Clinton, NATO broke that promise. A process got underway in which the organization expanded further in waves. Historical fears in Central Europe continued to fuel this process. Under the presidency of George Walker Bush Jr. in the 2000s a new, very provocative step was taken. Organizations linked to the American government as Freedom House were deployed on an agenda of regime change in countries that had previously belonged to the former Soviet sphere of influence, such as Georgia, Ukraine, and several Central Asian republics.

Europe and Russia are more complementary than we might think at first glance.

Developments like these made a joint safety analysis between East and West particularly difficult. NATO thus was not necessarily a part of the solution, but rather became a fundamental problem in the relations between East and West. That situation worsened as the years progressed. At the beginning of 2008, it seems to be a turning point when countries such as Georgia and Ukraine were briefly considered as NATO members, to manage Bush junior. Angela Merkel, in particular, denounced this under the reasoning that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would import such potential instability. The Kremlin has now taken notes.

It became gradually clear for Moscow; she felt herself ultimately targeted. The Kremlin threatened to be 'surrounded'. The resulting claustrophobia, if not rightly, fueled Russian sentiment that the intentions of the West were not well intended. This cocktail further acidified the relationships. But Moscow also pursued its own form of power politics, as a reaction. In August 2008, after provocation by the Western-minded president of Georgia, Saakashvili, Russia briefly waged war in Georgia. This led to the separation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a de facto attachment to Russia. Putin's plan "B" consisted in partially destabilizing such post-Soviet countries in order to prevent them from ever becoming a member of the Western sphere of influence. Plan "A" did not seem to work at all; an "Eurasian Economic Union", or a kind of economic zone around Moscow. This did not seem sufficiently attractive for the western part of Ukraine. At the end of 2013, the European Union did not realize that its negotiations with Kiev for an economic association agreement could also have fundamental geo-strategic consequences for security in Europe. The EU likes to negotiate these kinds of themes in technical, seemingly apolitical terms. But nothing was more political that this. Moscow regarded it primarily as an attempt to permanently draw the cradle of Russian civilization, which is Ukraine, into Western waters. Brussels claimed not to do geopolitics at all, but did just that. Perhaps the EU too has been guided too much by the American agenda. In any case, since 1990 the geopolitical strategy of the West has absorbed the neutral buffer zone that existed between the two centers of power for a long time. The geopolitical balance in pan-Europe is searching, with all possible consequences for further raising policy.

Russia is therefore forced to defend its "interests", creating a classic security dilemma between East and West. Given its relatively limited military resources in relation to the omnipresent force majeure of NATO countries, Moscow uses a form of asymmetrical warfare; the use of cyber, social media and intelligence services to offer 'counterweight'. That is what NATO reacts to, which leads to an endless spiral of bidding.

The recent cancellation by Trump of the 1987 INF treaty deals with the short to medium-sized missiles in Europe (500 to 5500 kilometers) that could carry a nuclear load. This can lead to additional shredding of Europe. Putin could station missiles in Kaliningrad in response to which the Baltic states and Poland will want American missiles. Europe threatens to become paralyzed, unable to develop its own foreign policy. It is slowly but surely becoming a front again. To get out of this stalemate, the relationship between East and West has to be redefined.

From sanction policy to pragmatic cooperation on joint dossiers

The current Western sanctions policy with regard to Russia has a reversed effect, it leads to further hardening and goes against broader European interests. Those interests between Brussels and Moscow will never be completely congruent, but a new modus vivendi must be sought. Europe will still need Russia, and vice versa. Important in this context is the "broad definition" of safety. This is not only based on the military dimension stricto senso, but also includes an economic, ecological and social dimension. Perhaps both partners are more complementary than we might think at first glance. Which interests bind us and how can strategies for cooperation be developed?

Energy security

Europe and Russia are undeniably each other's objective allies in the field of energy. The European Union is rapidly making a transition towards natural gas combined with renewable energy. The oil era will continue, but will decline in relative terms. Europe will for a long time remain an important buyer of Russian gas, even now that Moscow is pursuing a diversification policy towards Asia.

If Europe is to make a transition away from oil in the coming decades, new alternatives to oil derivatives will have to be found, for example for plastics. The petrochemical industry will eventually have to be replaced by a biobased chemical industry, based on sustainability criteria. The Russian Federation could gradually become an important exporter of biomass to Europe. Conversely, the European Union and Russia could already work together today to develop expertise around this newly emerging strategic sector.

Economic security

It is in the interests of both East and West to maintain sustainable economic relations. There is, however, a major obstacle to economic cooperation between the two countries. For example, Russia buys in Europe within the downstream energy infrastructure, close to the consumer. On the other hand, Moscow accepts little or no mutual upstream investment from Europe, close to the sources themselves. And if there are participations, they are frustrated by, for example, using the environment as fallacy. A common legal framework and rules must be created through which companies can participate in each other's economy through foreign direct investment.

Ecological safety

All countries in the world will be confronted in the coming decades with the increasingly clear consequences of climate change. At present, these are not yet seen as a problem in the Russian Federation, on the contrary. It is believed that global warming will ensure that some difficult-to-access areas will be more accessible, or that oil and gas resources in the Arctic will be easier to exploit at a lower cost. Moscow is already preparing for this by reopening old bases in the Arctic. Whether the further climate change will really turn out to be so favorable for the Russian territory as a whole, remains to be seen. The country is already struggling with more floods, droughts, fires, and there is an impact on the available agricultural area and water resources. The Russian leadership will not be able to continue to ignore these tendencies.

Another related problem that receives too little attention is the rapid global degradation of biodiversity. With its immense territory, Russia is a buffer against this, but at the same time has enormous problems in some areas. Too often these are swept under the carpet by Moscow. The Russian Federation and Europe should also urgently enter into cooperation on this domain.

Confidence-building measures and cultural diplomacy

Within the field of social security, there are many historical links between Russia and Europe. Consider, for example, the rich cultural heritage in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Through active cultural diplomacy, it should be possible to ensure that the European and Russian populations get to know each other better, and that there are more exchanges and connections between the social fabric of both areas.

Radicalization of individuals, terrorism and the exchange of information

Within the harder dimensions of social security there are other urgent issues that arise. One of the most succinct ones for Belgium is the radicalization of individuals and the fight against terrorism. In this area, too, Moscow can work together. Despite the political tensions, Russian-European working parties in this area have also been meeting in recent years. The question, however, is whether there is no longer a structural exchange of information. To date, it had previously been organized on an ad hoc basis, but it was considered successful by both parties.

The need for cooperation with Russia

Recently the West and Russia largely destroyed the scourge of IS terror in the Middle East. There is a need to start up a European dialogue between West and East, to take confidence-building measures and to remove mutual mistrust. All this must fit into a "balance policy" that Europe must pursue with the various 'poles' in this world. In this new geopolitical field of influence, Europe itself will have to set its own agenda, to avoid that it will not become a direct object.

Source: Knack

attached images

  • Our president explaining the program of the eveningOur president explaining the program of the evening
  • The table of the presidentThe table of the president
  • The other tableThe other table
  • Anita receiving her Rotary pinAnita receiving her Rotary pin
  • Anita thanking all membersAnita thanking all members
  • Professor Crieckemans during his explanationProfessor Crieckemans during his explanation
  • Exchange of our Rotary flag with the wheel from InnerwheelExchange of our Rotary flag with the wheel from Innerwheel


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