Munich Security Report 2017

Central and Eastern Europe: Fears of Influence

“We are united in our efforts to increase our defense and deterrence, but we are also united in our efforts to strengthen the dialogue with Russia,” NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said in July 2016 at the Alliance’s Warsaw Summit.1 In the Polish capital, NATO members agreed on “the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” as Stoltenberg put it.2 The most visible part of the new posture are the multinational battalions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, led by the framework nations UK, Canada, Germany, and the US, respectively. Russia’s violations of the NATO-Russia Founding Act notwithstanding, the Allies agreed to remain well below the threshold of “substantial combat forces,” usually understood as troop levels exceeding one brigade per host country.3 At the same time, the Alliance also agreed to reengage with Russia within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council. 

“The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense – and, if not, the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.”9 

27 APRIL 2016 

Reinvigorating the dialogue on military incidents, transparency, and arms control has proved difficult, however. Efforts to heighten the transparency of exercises or to update and specify rules to avoid military incidents have yet to produce results. Some already fear an erosion of the remaining arms control agreements and the advent of an escalating arms race in Europe.4 While the Russian government continues to oppose NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense system, some Western diplomats accuse Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which had ended the missile crisis in the 1980s.5 At last year’s Munich Security Conference, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev already warned that “we are rapidly rolling into a period of a new cold war.”6 

Against this background, some Europeans are hopeful that the Trump administration may forge a new détente with Moscow. Yet, many fear that this would come at their expense. A group of leaders from Central and Eastern Europe publicly warned then-President-elect Donald Trump of striking a new grand bargain with Moscow: “Vladimir Putin is not America’s ally. Neither is he a trustworthy international partner. […] A deal with Putin will not bring peace. On the contrary, it makes war more likely.”7 

“The Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia. But we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which our Alliance and security in Europe and North America rest.”10 

9 JULY 2016

While some US allies are deeply worried about their security, the situation for those outside NATO is even worse. Despite decreasing international attention, the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine is “far from frozen,” as Alexander Hug, the Deputy Chief of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission, put it.8 And although the full implementation of the Minsk agreements seems far away, an increasing number of politicians have speculated about an overhaul of the EU sanctions, which are explicitly linked to those very agreements. As the signatories of the open letter put it: “It would be a grave mistake to end the current sanctions on Russia or accept the division and subjugation of Ukraine.” For Ukrainians and the rest of Europe, 2017 – with upcoming elections in major European countries and a new US administration – will be a critical year. 


  1. Jens Stoltenberg, “Doorstep Statement at the Start of the NATO Summit in Warsaw,” NATO, 8 July 2016,
  2. Jens Stoltenberg, “A Strong Transatlantic Bond in Uncertain Times. Speech by NATO Secretary Genera lJens Stoltenberg at an Event Hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF),” NATO, 18 November 2016,
  3. William Alberque, “‘Substantial Combat Forces’ in the Context of NATO-Russia Relations,” NATO Defence College Research Paper No. 131, 7 July 2016,
  4. See Robert E. Berls, Jr. and Leon Ratz, “Rising Nuclear Dangers: Steps to Reduce Risks in the Euro-Atlantic Region,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, December 2016,
  5. Matthias Naß, “The New Arms Race,” Zeit Online, 29 October 2016,
  6. Dmitry Medvedev, “Munich Security Conference. Dmitry Medvedev’s Speech at the Panel Discussion,” The Russian Government, 13 February 2016,
  7. Traian Băsescu et al., “Letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump From America’s Allies,” 9 January 2017,
  8. Chase Winter, “Interview: Ukraine Conflict on the Brink,” Deutsche Welle, 12 December 2016,
  9. Donald J. Trump, “Donald J. Trump Foreign Policy Speech,” 27 April 2016,
  10. NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué,” 9 July 2016,
  11. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), The Military Balance 2017, Routledge (London), 2017 (forthcoming),
  12. See endnote 11. 
  13. Map based on data from Łukasz Kulesa, Thomas Frear and Denitsa Raynova, “Managing Hazardous Incidents in the Euro-Atlantic Area,” European Leadership Network, 2 November 2016, Information about non-NATO EU-members provided to MSC by Thomas Frear. 
  14. CBOS Public Opinion Research Center, “Polish Public Opinion,” July 2016, Data for January 2004 does not add up to a 100% due to rounding differences. The exact percent numbers, reflected true to scale in the bar graph, are “Yes” 40.5, “No” 40.5, “Don’t know” 17.0. 
  15. Data provided to MSC by OSCE. For similar data for the first half of 2016, see OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, “Restrictions to SMM’s Freedom of Movement and Other Impediments to Fulfilment of Its Mandate,” 25 August 2016,
  16. Tabea Pottiez, “Eskalation des Konfliktes in der Ostukraine,” Ukraine-Analysen, No. 172, 28 September 2016, Based on the daily reports of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM). Note that the SMM does not observe the entire conflict area permanently and might be denied access to some areas. Double counting of violations by different patrols and counting of heard use of arms, possibly due to exercises, cannot be entirely ruled out. Every observation was counted as one violation, not factoring in the magnitude of a violation. The update for September to December 2016 was provided to MSC by Tabea Pottiez.
  17. Levada Center, “Russia’s Relation With the West,” 9 January 2017, The full text of the question reads “What sort of government policy would you be most likely to support from authorities vis-a-vis the West?” The full text of possible answers reads “Further expansion of economic, political, and cultural ties, rapprochement with the West,” “Rolling back ties and relations, distance from the West,” “It is difficult to say.” All modifications approved by the Levada Center. The numbers for March 2000, November 2014, and July 2015 do not add up to a 100% due to rounding differences. The exact percent numbers, reflected true to scale in the bar graph, are for March 2000 = 10.5, 13.6, 76.0; for November 2014 = 13.8, 29.7, 56.5; for July 2015 = 13.8, 36.6, 49.7 (order of numbers as in the bar graph from top to bottom).