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On the opening day of the 10th German Marshal Fund’s (GMF) Brussels Forum, German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen called for greater European defense cooperation, particularly in light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. “I’m convinced a European army makes Europe stronger not weaker, and it makes the transatlantic alliance stronger, not weaker.”

Von der Leyen spoke at the Brussels Forum, an annual conference on transatlantic relations organised by the GMF and attended by heads of state, officials from the EU institutions and member states, U.S. officials, congressional representatives, parliamentarians, and academics.

She said that Europe’s level of cooperation regarding Ukraine has surprised the Russian leadership. “If there is one thing that Putin did not expect, it is that the European Union is capable of acting in unity,” she said. “We have 28 very heterogeneous member states, but when it’s getting serious, we know what we stand up for.”

On the same panel, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. national security advisor in the Carter administration, advocated a multi-pronged approach toward Russia. “I favor both deterrence, including an alliance of force if necessary, and accommodation, for example the assurance to the Russians that it is not our intent to make Ukraine a member of NATO.”

At a session later in the day that also focused on Russia, Federica Mogherini, EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said that the European Union’s sanctions on Russia were not designed to destabilize that country. “A destabilized Russia is not in the interest of the European Union or I think of the world.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that NATO was anxious to resolve the crisis in Ukraine peacefully, but expressed frustration with some of the parties involved. “Trust and a respect for rules is a pre-condition for a win-win.” He said that Russia’s actions in Ukraine “undermines all arms control, undermines economic trade, and undermines security in Europe.”
“It’s not hard to respect borders,” Stoltenberg said. “You see the borders and you respect them.”

Victoria Nuland, U.S. assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, agreed. “You can’t have win-wins without trust,” she said. “In order to have trust, you have to have truth. When you have a country denying it has troops on another country’s territory, there’s no trust.”

In the final session of the day, Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for trade said, “as the world is developing, the relative voice of Europe and the U.S. is shrinking.” She explained that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a way to reinforce the global position of the transatlantic powers. “And also if we fail, we send a very bad signal to the world that we weren’t able to fulfill this.”

Michael Froman, U.S. trade representative, echoed Malmström’s comments. “These trade agreements are not directed against any country, but they are directed toward raising our standards and translating our values, standards, and rules around the world, whether it’s on protection of workers or protection of the environment.

Earlier, Didier Reynders, Belgium’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, offered remarks on the ongoing situation in Ukraine. “The crisis we are going through in Europe that is due to the conflict in Ukraine is a result of years of hard power,” he said. “It is not even a zero-sum game; it is a negative sum game. Everybody loses.”

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