Conference on Security Challenges for Europe »Energy and Climate Security: Impacts of War in Ukraine« kicks off in Zagreb

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6 December 2023 marked the beginning of RACVIAC flagship event, the two-day „Conference on Security Challenges for Europe,“ organized by RACVIAC – Centre for Security Cooperation, in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) in Croatia and the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies. The event kicked off at the Hotel Hilton Garden Inn in Zagreb.

This joint initiative is aimed at maintaining a regional platform for addressing transformation processes in South East European (SEE) countries in view of the EU and NATO membership responsibilities and institutional readiness, primarily considering the required security sector reform activities within the context of contemporary security challenges.

This year the Conference’s main objectives are closely connected to Energy and Climate security with its reference to the Russia–Ukraine war and impacts on Euro-Atlantic Security while special attention will be paid to the security implications of the recent developments for South East Europe and the influence of the Middle Eastern crisis.

The Conference was opened by RACVIAC Director, H.E. Ambassador Constantin-Mihail Grigorie, Mr. Holger H. Haibach, Head of the KAS Office in the Republic of Croatia, and Dr. Matthew Rhodes, Professor at the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies. The audience was warmly welcomed in the Introductory messages given by H.E. Dr. Christian Hellbach,  Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Croatia, and Mr. Christian Lynch, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States of America to the Republic of Croatia. Finally, the Conference Keynote Address was delivered by H.E. Ivan Anušić, Minister of Defense and Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia.

Opening the Conference, H.E. Ambassador Grigorie, in his Welcome Address, proudly underlined the importance of this event by saying that this was the eleventh conference in a series of similar events, which was the biggest RACVIAC event in terms of participation, and a flagship event of RACVIAC.

Furthermore, he expressed special gratitude to Mr. Holger H. Haibach and the KAS Office in Croatia for putting enormous efforts into its organization, as well as Dr. Rhodes and the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies for supporting it with such a high level of expertise. “I sincerely hope that this solid bond of cooperation and overall synergy will continue to expand“, he added.

Ambassador Grigorie introduced the agenda of the four panels to the audience and accentuated their importance for transnational security. The Conference, Director of RACVIAC underlined, was aimed at focusing on Energy and Climate security in connection to the Russia-Ukraine war while also taking the influence of the Middle Eastern crisis on Euro-Atlantic and South East European Security into consideration.

The inaugural Panel, “Energy and Climate as 21st Century Issues,” comprehensively analyzes the interconnection between climate change and energy security in Europe. It aims to provide evidence of this connection and discuss strategies for improving energy efficiency to reduce carbon emissions significantly, Ambassador Grigorie said.

Reflecting on the Second Panel focused on Regional Energy Security amid the war in Ukraine, RACVIAC Director highlighted that beyond the humanitarian impact and casualties, the invasion has caused economic collapse, asset destruction, and global energy market disruptions. The flow of oil and natural gas to Europe has been hampered by international sanctions, leading to uncertainty in renewable energy output and a strained supply-and-demand balance in the European power system. While it’s premature to predict outcomes, the crisis is expected to bring enduring changes to energy supply networks and sources in electricity generation. The Panel aims to thoroughly examine these circumstances and propose solutions, he underlined.

The Third Panel, “The War in Ukraine and Euro-Atlantic Security,” is dedicated to examining all aspects of threats arising from the Russian aggression in Ukraine within the framework of Euro-Atlantic Security. It assesses the current security situation in NATO’s eastern flank and endeavors to consider recent security developments, including the Middle Eastern situation. Additionally, the Panel aims to monitor the consequences and implications across various domains such as diplomacy, defense, economics, migration, and information security. Undoubtedly, the potential outcomes of this war will impact our strategic priorities and shape the long-term policies of European states.

Ambassador Constantin Mihail Grigorie also expressed concern that Russian aggression in Ukraine poses a significant challenge to Euroatlantic security, marking a profound threat in the region. The widespread condemnation of Russia’s actions underscores the shared perspective regarding the current situation in Eastern Europe.

RACVIAC Director, in addition, highlighted the importance of the Fourth Panel, “Regional Climate Security in the Shadow of the War in Ukraine.” This Panel will explore the often overlooked and underestimated regional climate security issues influenced by the recent security developments, he stressed.

Mr. Holger H. Haibach, Head of the KAS Office in the Republic of Croatia, in his Opening speech thanked their Excellencies the Ambassadors accredited in the Republic of Croatia, members of the diplomatic and military corps and participants for attending the Conference. He said that it is good to go back in history and mentioned the so-called „butterfly effect“ and its consequences, the situation in Germany and the Soviet Union, current conflicts in Ukraine, Israel and Azerbaijan. The instability of the world calls for action, discussion and acknowledging the problems, he stressed, adding that in today’s world which is rife with fake news it is important that organizations like RACVIAC exist as platforms for discussions to influence political will. He underlined the longstanding cooperation wit RACVIAC – Centre for Security Cooperation, expressing thankfulness for the opportunity that KAS contributes to that goal. These two Conference days will be interesting and hopefully answer some hard questions, he concluded.

Dr. Matthew Rhodes, Professor at the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies, in his Opening speech thanked everyone for attending the Conference and RACVIAC for organizing it, adding that he was glad to see Minister Anušić joining the event as well.

Professor Rhodes expressed gratefulness for the German-American partnership. He talked about the so-called „polycrisis“ in 2023 and how there are multiple challenges that should not be ignored. In many ways the war in Ukraine remains a threat for Europe, he stressed, and went on to add that one of the big challenges that we are also facing is climate change: „The resources are stretched between multiple conflict zones. For the next two days we will be looking at each crisis individually and collectively“, he concluded, saying that he was looking forward to two great days ahead.

In his Introductory message H.E. Dr. Christian Hellbach, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Croatia, expressed his gratitude for being invited and to be able to share his expertise and experience on the topic. He used the opportunity to emphasize the fact that Russian agression on Ukraine has definitely contributed to intensifying conflicts in the Western Balkans. „It’s about how much effort we put in resolving this conflict, a fact that will also reflect itself on the whole region“, he emphasized.

Mr. Christian Lynch, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States of America to the Republic of Croatia, firstly thanked, on behalf of United States of America, for being invited to the Conference. He also thanked the organizers with which the US Embassy has a longstanding cooperation. He reffered to the Conference topics such as climate change, energy security and the war in Ukraine regarding which he emphasized that USA is proud to continue supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom. „We also, in particular, thank our Croatian partners for the incredible support that they have given to Ukraine“, he added.

At the end of the Opening session H.E. Mr. Ivan Anušić, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, in his Keynote Adress pondered on the central theme of this year’s conference, emphasizing the critical issue of energy and climate security. He delved into the repercussions of the ruthless Russian aggression against Ukraine. Acknowledging the multifaceted challenges in Europe, ranging from traditional warfare to hybrid conflicts, he highlighted the use of energy, migration, and even food as weapons.

The constant threat of terrorism in various forms remains a pervasive concern, posing risks to both individual and collective security while contributing to the broader radicalization of the political landscape, he added. „An additional dimension of caution has been introduced regarding the potential adverse effects of technologically advanced solutions across various aspects of life and work. The transformative impact of disruptive technologies on the nature of warfare creates new arenas for both state and non-state actors to engage“, he also stressed.

Mr. Anušić drew attention to the evolving operational domains of cyber and space, emphasizing their potential for manipulating information and disrupting critical infrastructure. He emphasized the interconnectedness of the discussed threats, asserting that they cannot be effectively addressed in isolation. The same interconnected approach applies for understanding the implications of climate change on security and society at large, adding another layer of complexity to the overarching security context.

Furthermore, Mr. Anušić said that a resurgence of the challenges faced in the 1990s would be detrimental to everyone in the region, primarily benefitting external powers seeking to fragment and undermine Europe. The ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East should act as a poignant reminder of the high stakes involved and the significant losses incurred by those who resort to violence for personal gains, he added.

„With this perspective in mind, I extend my wishes for a productive and open exchange of ideas to all participants. I also affirm my personal commitment, along with that of the Ministry of Defence, to support events like this whenever feasible“, he concluded.

The Conference has brought together more than 150 participants: representatives primarily from SEE countries, senior level national security policy makers and subject matter experts from the ministries of health, ministries of the interior, ministries of foreign affairs, ministries of defence, ministries of energy, governmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as members of the academic community involved in addressing the contemporary security challenges and policy development processes.

The Conference is attended by noumerous representatives of the diplomatic community. Over 47 embassy delegates are participating in the Conference, including 27 who hold ambassadorial positions, which the organizers are extremely proud of.