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GUTEN MORGEN, Grüß Gott and Servus from Bavaria! Welcome to our special Munich Security conference edition of Playbook with that latest news, analysis and gossip from what some affectionately refer to as the “Davos with guns” festival.
We’re smack dab in the middle of the three-day gathering of the global security elite, where (almost) all talk is centered around the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine one year ago. Let’s dive in.
‘CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’: The United States has determined that Russia is committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Saturday, the latest salvo in the West’s effort to hold Moscow accountable for its wartime atrocities.
In a marquee address at the Munich Security Conference, Harris detailed that Russia is responsible for a “widespread and systematic attack” against Ukraine’s civilian population, citing evidence of execution-style killings, rape, torture and forceful deportations — sometimes perpetrated against children. As a result, Russia has not only committed war crimes, as the administration formally concluded in March, but also illegal acts against non-combatants.
**A message from Google: The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war have created a humanitarian disaster, damaged critical infrastructure, upended energy markets and supply chains, and left hundreds of thousands dead or wounded. See how we’re helping people affected by the war in Ukraine.**
Here’s the line: “The United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity,” Harris told the conference just now. Alex Ward has the story.
DAVID AND GOLIATH: A year after he came to Munich looking for help as Russian tanks lined up on the Ukrainian border, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned via video link to open on the conference on Friday. As the war enters its second year, Zelenskyy — who in 2022 declared “someone is lying” to a Munich audience still in denial about Putin’s true intentions — turned instead to a familiar parable from the Bible.
“The Russian Goliath has already begun to lose,” Zelenskyy said, sitting in his trademark olive green sweatshirt behind a desk in Kyiv.
Speed kills: Even as he thanked the U.S. and Europe for the weapons they’ve sent to help Ukraine defend itself, Zelenskyy made an urgent plea for more, stressing that “speed was crucial.”
Butt out Belarus: He also warned President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus not to get directly involved in the war, as the bellicose Belarusian suggested he might do earlier this week. Zelenskyy said he was confident that local opposition in Belarus to participating Putin’s quest to build a new Russian empire would hold Lukashenko back.
POT OR KETTLE? MSC chairman Christoph Heusgen asked Zelenskyy in a brief Q&A after his speech about his battle against “endemic corruption.” Given the MSC’s own struggles in that department and its recent “outreach” for Qatar, it’s a question perhaps better put to the gray-haired men behind the MSC.
Or they could just consult McKinsey: As promised in yesterday’s Playbook our exposé on the interplay between the MSC and McKinsey is online. Over the past decade, the U.S.-based consultancy has quietly influenced the agenda of the conference, steering everything from the focus of its marquee report to the event’s program, to the guest lists. It gives McKinsey the opportunity to push narratives that serve the firm’s client base, be they in defense, the energy sector or government, people close the conference say. The full story is out now.
NO MORE SCHOLZING: Countries able to send battle tanks to Ukraine should “actually do so now,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Friday, trying to rally support for a Europe-wide fleet of tank donations. Scholz, whose own dithering on the question of sending main battle tanks to Ukraine spawned the German verb scholzen (to Scholz), rebutted his critics in an address to the Munich crowd, calling out NATO partners that have overpromised and underdelivered on the tanks front.
Olaf’s bazooka: Scholz also declared that Germany would “permanently” adhere to the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of its economic output on defense — a target that Berlin is currently set to miss this year and probably also next year, despite a massive €100 billion special fund for military investment. Of course, Germany has made similar pledges before only to break them. But still!
Pissing on the chips: That’s what Brits would call what German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius did on Friday. While his boss was vowing German “leadership” and making new pledges, Pistorius made clear two percent wasn’t enough: “It must be clear to everyone: It will not be possible to fulfill the tasks that lie ahead of us with barely two percent,” Pistorius said. More by Hans von der Burchard
LE SNUB: Scholz was followed onstage by French President Emmanuel Macron. But instead of a hug, a handshake or just a wave and “bonjour,” there was nothing. Rien. The two men appeared to not to have encountered one another at all, in fact, underscoring the ongoing tensions on the Paris-Berlin axis. The two have been at loggerheads for months over everything from energy policy to defense.
For all the thinly veiled resentment and behind-the-curtain sniping on Friday, the overall message from both Macron and Scholz was one of unity and solidarity with Ukraine. How fast Ukraine will get the tanks and other weapons it needs to fend off Russia’s spring offensive is another question, however.
ALLIANCES (AND LACK THEREOF)
CHINA TO EUROPE: COLD WAR IS NIGH, BUT WE CAN STOP IT. China’s chief representative in Munich had his message ready for European leaders and officials: You can avert Cold War.
“The cold war mentality is back,” Wang Yi, Beijing’s top diplomat, said. “China and Europe are two major forces, markets and civilizations in an increasingly multipolar world. The choices we make have a huge impact on where the world goes … Making the right choice is a responsibility we share,” he said.
Dodged #1: When asked whether Wang would rule out an invasion of Taiwan, the Chinese leader instead went in hard in stressing China’s position on the island’s status and slammed U.S. and allies for focusing on its integrity.
Dodged #2: Wang did not answer the MSC’s Wolfgang Ischinger’s question whether he plans to sit down with the U.S. delegation in Munich. (The two sides have talked about a Blinken-Yi meeting for some days but there’s no signs of a breakthrough just yet.)
One line that popped: “Any increase in China’s strength is an increase in the hope for world peace.”
Another line that popped: The U.S. decision to shoot down China’s surveillance balloon was “absurd and hysterical. This is 100 percent abuse of the use of force.”
What else popped? The balloon, earlier this month.
STOLTENBERG TURNS THE TABLES: Just minutes after China’s chief diplomat left the stage, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was quick to counter Beijing’s pleas, telling the audience it should project the lessons from Russia’s invasion in Ukraine on its dealings with China next.
“What is happening in Europe today … could happen in east Asia tomorrow,” the military alliance chief said, hinting at concerns about Beijing launching an invasion of Taiwan. Moscow, Stoltenberg underscored, “wants a different Europe” while Beijing “is watching closely to see the price Russia pays — or the reward it receives for its aggression.” Lili Bayer has the story.
FINLAND STICKS WITH SWEDEN: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin reiterated her country’s desire to join NATO together with Sweden, saying it was in “the interest of everyone.” Except, it would appear Turkey, which continues to block Sweden’s bid over Stockholm’s refusal to extradite Kurdish activists Ankara claims are terrorists.
WHAT’S THE EU TO DO? Feed the military-industrial complex. That was the message from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who called on the defense industry in her Munich speech Saturday to “speed up the production and scale up the production” of weapons for Ukraine.
WHAT’S THE ICC TO DO? Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim Khan is still insisting The Hague-based ICC is the appropriate judicial venue to hold Russia accountable for war crimes in Ukraine, telling POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer in an exclusive interview the court does have jurisdiction and can mount cases. “Of course, it’s clear. We have that jurisdiction, and we are being very active,” he said.
WE’RE NOT DONE. Here’s a couple of sessions coming up that are bound to pique your interest. (Full schedule and livestream here.)
— U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak explains “the U.K. in the world.” (As opposed to the usual explaining it “to” the world.)
— U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken headlines a panel on “Whole, Free, and at Peace: Visions for Ukraine.”
— German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius discussed “Fostering Resilience in Europe’s North-East” with Norwegian PM Jonas Gahr Støre and Latvian President Egils Levits.
— U.S. climate envoy John Kerry talks about “Greener Pastures: Advancing Joint Climate Action.”
— Ruslan Stefanchuk, Chairman of Ukrainian parliament and U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi on “ The Role of Parliaments in War”
— EU foreign policy czar Josep Borrell on “Visions for the European Security Architecture.”
FROM INSIDE THE HOF
PASSLESS AGGRESSIVE: In German, “Bayerischer Hof” (the 19th century hotel that hosts the MSC) means “Bavarian court,” a nod to its founding under the patronage of King Ludwig I.
It’s an apt venue for an event that is also run like a royal court. All participants are “personal guests” of the chairman. That includes members of the fourth estate. Those who write nice things about the event are rewarded with free access to the conference. Some are even invited to the sumptuous Schloss Elmau, “a luxury spa retreat and cultural hideaway” in the Alps, where the MSC holds its “most exclusive” gatherings for policymakers and titans of industry.
And then there are those of us who fall out of favor with the powers that be for committing the sin of journalism. So it was that your humble ink-stained wretch arrived in Munich to discover that his privileges had been revoked! Instead of a coveted blue pass allowing him free reign, he was handed a dreaded yellow pass for the great unwashed masses of hacks and directed to a large container half a kilometer away from the venue.
To add insult to injury, his pass is stamped in red letters with a warning: “Escort Required.” (And no, it’s not a reference to evening entertainment.)
Fear not, dear reader. We have our spies in the hotel feeding us the latest tidbits of what’s happening inside the Kaiser Ischinger’s royal court. Speaking of which…
WHERE’S THE BEEF? Yesterday, multiple attendees complained that while there were no shortage of beverages inside, there was a shortage of food, which may or may not have something to do with the large American delegation in attendance.
DISINFORMATION: We erroneously reported in yesterday’s Playbook that Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba would be addressing the opening day of the conference. It was, of course, Zelenskyy. Mea maxi culpa. The responsible party has been duly punished.
SPOTTED: Disgraced former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, now an emissary for Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, loitering in the halls of the Bayerischer Hof.
Over 150 guests stopped by our POLITICO and Goals House nightcap on Friday for a drink or two and good chat at the fancy Schreiberei in central Munich. Among those welcomed by POLITICO’s Florian Eder were Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo; deputy Lithuanian Foreign Minister Jonas Survila; Jörg Kukies of the German federal chancellery; Bundestag members Roderich Kiesewetter, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Sara Nani,Thomas Erndl, Andreas Scheuer, MEPs Eva Maydell and Markus Ferber; Gayle Smith, CEO of the ONE Campaign, Anja Langenbucher of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and author and politician Sawsan Chebli; former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, director of the School of Transnational Governance in Florence, Ngaire Woods, dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford; U.S. Assistant Secretary of Treasury Paul Rosen; former chief of the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre Ciaran Martin, partner at Krebs Stamos Chris Krebs; Ralph Heck of the Bertelsmann Foundation; Manuel Hartung of the Zeit-Stiftung; Lithiania’s Viktorija Urbonavičiūtė, Michael Hinterdobler of the Bavarian state government; Gavi CEO Seth Berkley; Huberta von Voss of ISD Germany; Justin Vaïsse of the Paris Peace Forum; the SWP’s Stefan Mair; Bart Kot of the Warsaw Security Forum; Microsoft’s Christopher Sharrock; Ericsson’s Rene Summer; ITI’s Executive VP Rob Strayer; fellow journalists Gordon Repinski, Stefan Leifert, Benedikt Becker, Andrew Gray, John Hudson; POLITICO’s Matthew Karnitschnig, Jamie Dettmer, Laurens Cerulus, Hans von der Burchard, Andrew Ward and Paul McLeary.
OUR MUNICH PLAYBOOK wouldn’t happen without Laurens Cerulus, Cory Bennett, Heidi Vogt, Dave Brown and Jones Hayden.
**A message from Google: Since the war began, governments, companies, civil society groups and countless others have been working around the clock to support the Ukrainian people and their institutions. At Google, we support these efforts. Our priority has been to stand by the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian government, and those who are still facing deadly attacks and the realities of life in an active war zone — and against forces seeking to undermine the peace and security of Europe and the stability of the international system. For more on how Google is helping people affected by the war in Ukraine, read here.**
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