On March 25 Carnegie Europe hosted a media call on Obama’s visit to Europe with Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe. Judy Dempsey moderated.

Listen to the call.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Good morning. My name is Judy Dempsey. I’m moderating this phone-in, and Jan Techau, the director of Carnegie Europe, will take your questions. Just one brief thing, just to make it clear for me who I have to moderate, just mention who you are when you want to ask your question. And please feel free to pick up anything that Jan says. Okay, we’re all ready to go, whoever wants to start first. Don’t feel shy.

JAN TECHAU: I can maybe also say perhaps two or three sentences to start off with. The Obama visit of course has long been in the making and it has completely changed the summit’s original purpose. It is now much more about a show of transatlantic unity than it is about the original nuclear topic and the original trade topic. Naturally these things will still play a role, but of course Ukraine overshadows everything. And so the transatlantic unity aspect plays an important role.

There is of course also a conflict there in that the Americans have decided and Mr Obama himself has decided to push for much harder sanctions. The Americans have made up their minds it’s just necessary. And it’s the Europeans now who want to actually stick to their three set program of sanctions and have decided to play a bit slower. Angela Merkel has made it clear again that level three sanctions from the European side are only an option if Russia decides to really interfere in Eastern Ukraine. That’s the threshold for the level three sanctions, so we won’t see any major push to level three from the European side.

What we could expect to see, perhaps - if the Europeans want to give something is a further expansion within level two to expand the list of travel bans and so on and so forth, but that is still out in the open. So this show of transatlantic unity, I think that will dominate everything, but there’s a severe risk that it might actually be undermined by the different positions that transatlantic partners have on sanctions.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes. Thanks for that, Jan. And as you were speaking I think we got more callers in. Good morning, everybody. My name is Judy Dempsey. I’m moderating this, and Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, will field your questions. Okay, who wants to start off with a question?

TOMASZ BIELECKI: Thomas Bielecki of Gazeta Wyborcza. I’d like to ask, yesterday [unclear] statement in The Hague was [unclear] being well ready to prepare now new sanctions on Russia. Do you consider there’s any movement or just some [?] diplomatic statements that [unclear]?

JAN TECHAU: I’m not entirely sure I picked the exact question, but what I think you asked is whether there is any significant move towards more sanctions from the European side. My feeling is that the Europeans keep their options open within level two, within the current level of sanctions, which is travel ban and asset freeze on individuals, and that it’s quite possible that they might actually expand within that second level. But they’re, as of yet, not really willing thatthere’s no pan-European consensus on moving up to level three. So what I would expect is not a massive new layer, a qualitatively different layer of sanctions coming out of this meeting.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Thanks, Jan. Next question, please. Anybody want to pick up a follow-up or a next question? Jan, if I could just come in here while people are thinking about their questions. It does suggest actually the transatlantic relationship is not as united as perhaps it should be over Russia.

JAN TECHAU: No. It hasn’t been utterly united in the last couple of years anyway, but also Russia didn’t also feature very prominently. It became very clear early on that the reset that Mr Obama wanted didn’t really work and it became equally clear that the modernization partnership that the Europeans and especially the Germans wanted with Russia also didn’t come to pass. And then there was a cooling of the relationship of course even before the current Ukraine crisis when the leadership swap in Russia was done between Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin and we had the Pussy Riot incident and then [unclear] and so on. So Russia was always a concern, but there was never enough urgency to bring the transatlantic sides together. The urgency is there now. We see a lot more unity, but we don’t see eye to eye on every single instrument that we should bring to the table.

So I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Putin has united the transatlantic partners to a certain degree, but it seems that the crisis is not severe enough yet, if you want to put it in a cynical way, not severe enough yet to really bring the two sides very closely together. There’s coordination and there’s a general tendency to look at it in the same way, but the Americans are a lot more robust. They came to the game quite late when you look at the entire Ukraine situation, but now they are more robust, partly of course also because they can afford it more easily.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Thanks, Jan. Questions, please. Just quickly identify yourselves and try to keep your speakers on the telephone [overtalking].

CHRIS MORRIS: Yes. Hi. Hello, Judy. It’s Chris Morris here from the BBC.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Hi Chris.

CHRIS MORRIS: The question really, obviously you’ve already mentioned the fact that Ukraine has brought some element of unity. Do you think it will have any practical impact on the negotiations on the free-trade agreement? Does it make it more likely given the geopolitical impact of what’s going on in the Ukraine that divisions or disagreements over reaching a free-trade pact will be easier to overcome?

JUDY DEMPSEY: Jan, will TTIP be jeopardized?

JAN TECHAU: Yes, I heard the question. Thank you. I think yes, I think this has definitely given more energy to the TTIP negotiations. TTIP had seemingly run out of steam and it had become a lot more difficult to make the case for it against an increasingly well-organized opposition. But now it looks like a lot of people see the strategic value of it a lot clearer. That’s the general answer.

There’s also more specific answers to the question, and that is something that remains to be seen. But there has been an initiative to actually take the energy package out of the TTIP negotiations and actually negotiate them separately in order to speed it up in order to actually have a transatlantic trade agreement quicker than TTIP would come about. This of course has to do with making energy exports from the United States to Europe possible and thereby reducing the strategic dependence on Russian energy supplies. Whether this is coming to pass, I don’t know, but the initiative is there and it could very well be that they talk about this during the summit.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Thanks very much for that, Jan. Next question, please. Please identify yourselves just to make things easier.

ANNA WIDZYK: Hi. It’s Anna from the Polish Press Agency.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Oh yes, hi Anna.

ANNA WIDZYK: Hi. I have a question on energy actually. Could you elaborate a little bit more? Because Europe wants to convince the U.S. to facilitate the gas exports, do you think that the Ukraine tries it and it can help Europe in this to achieve the same?

JAN TECHAU: Yes. I think it can. Very clearly, on the European side the awareness that this energy dependence is a strategic liability is much larger now than it used to be. And also, on the American side, where for a long time people were actually quite reluctant to open up for exports, it’s become a lot clearer that this would be a huge help to the Europeans. On both sides you also see some reluctance, obviously. Some Europeans don’t want ‘dirty American energy’ coming from the shale revolution and some Americans say that we shouldn’t cross-subsidize European complacency. But overall, I think the strategic case for a stronger transatlantic energy has been made and therefore I think overall it helps.

The great positive outcome, if you will, of the Ukraine crisis is that it has really sharpened the sense both for the strategic energy situation in Europe in general and also for the value of the transatlantic relationships in terms of the security component in it. NATO is all of a sudden a hot commodity again, which it really wasn’t for a long time. So I think overall it helps a great deal to get some of the fundamentals of the strategic situation in Europe right again.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Thanks, Jan.

HEIDI PLOUGSGAARD JENSEN: This is Heidi. Hello?

JUDY DEMPSEY: Hi Heidi.

HEIDI PLOUGSGAARD JENSEN: Hi. Heidi Jensen, Jyllands-Posten. I would like to ask, do European countries agree on the strong work they need to do in Ukraine to help rebuild it as a stable country? There seems to be a lot of support, but you are really ready to give the kind of support they need to Ukraine?

JAN TECHAU: So far we’ve only given really short-term aid. We’ve seen basically a dismantling of the European neighborhood policy. The old approach to Ukraine is out of the window and a massive investment was done to keep the country afloat in the short term and, as we we’re speaking there, feverish negotiations about what to do next, how to support the political process on the ground. For example, the German foreign minister was there just a few days ago to talk to the oligarchs in Eastern Ukraine in a clear outreach to some of the most decisive political powers inside Ukraine. And all of that happens with the consent of all twenty eight.

The bitter question is for me whether apart from this immediate crisis management, this immediate stabilization effort, whether we can expect a real long-term commitment of all twenty eight to actually really invest heavily and put the money on the table and the political commitment on the table. There’s already a big debate among especially Southern Europeans, who fear that this will come at the expense of their part of the world, and which is the Mediterranean, the southern neighbourhood, and whether a political bargain can be struck within Europe that allows this eastern partnership to be prioritized without losing sight of the Mediterranean as well.

There’s a lot going on. The short-term commitment I’d say is there. The long-term commitment, it’s still not clear whether we can get it, so that we have to wait for. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but that’s still in limbo.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes. Can I have a quick follow-up on this? I think this is a really important point because the Greeks and the Spaniards, apart from their own economic crisis, there’s a resentment that the Ukraine is dominating the headlines and indeed getting so much aid immediately upfront, of course some of it conditional. And the Spaniards of course are worried that it’ll take the spotlight off the Middle East. So bringing the south and the north together I think is going to be... this is going to be a big, big challenge. I agree, Jan.

Could we have the next question?

IAN WISHART: This is Ian Wishart from Bloomberg. Do you think the NSA spying allegation’s still having an impact on the relationship between the two sides?

JAN TECHAU: My feeling is that the impact of the NSA affair has diminished greatly because of Ukraine. It’s very, very interesting to see how in times of real crisis, existential crisis, the transatlantic relationship boils down to its essence and how all of the other stuff we’re also concerned about, including actually trade, which is also important, are basically pushed to the side or marginalized. It really sharpens the sense of what the core of the transatlantic relationship is, and that is, in its essence, a security relationship. Europeans cannot live without the American protective umbrella, extended deterrents, and the Americans cannot let their geostrategic counter________in European basically to fall into disarray.

So it boils down to the essence and everything else gets pushed to the side. That doesn’t mean that NSA will not resurface and cannot have a political impact again on some things and it doesn’t mean that TTIP is getting sidelined. As I said, it’s actually benefiting from this. But it is interesting how these kinds of issues have become marginalized and get a lot less traction. I think their real market value, if you will, is only becoming apparent now. And when something really massive happens, like in the Ukraine case, these kinds of things very quickly lose some of their political value.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Next question or any follow-up.

ANNA WIDZYK: Anna from Polish Press Agency again. I have also another question, more general, on NATO. Do you think that this crisis can also consolidate NATO because NATO is actually speaking a new idea for itself? So what can it mean for NATO?

JAN TECHAU: I think even before the crisis there was a strong debate inside NATO, of course, what’s NATO all going to be about after Afghanistan and the mission ends. And one of the strong arguments has always been we need to focus again on Article Five and the core of the alliance. Of course, those voices are now feeling the backwind and that they’re actually getting support and that their case is a lot easier to make. I think there’s some truth to this, even though it’s also very clear that NATO has not yet really demonstrated, has not really given a strong sign yet.

The interesting security-related aspects of Ukraine are bilateral ones. America agrees to hold air exercises with Poland and to increase Baltic air policing, these kind of things, but those are not happening as distinct NATO initiatives. NATO has really only done one concrete thing, and that is AWACS planes, obviously, and then a little bit of increased military training for Ukrainian troops. That’s not a particularly strong NATO showing.

But I think to answer your question, I think yes, the market value of NATO has gone up again, and mostly because the Americans realize that as a tool it is still necessary to stabilize Europe. And I think that will continue for quite some time. The degree to which we’ve all got burned over here because of the Russia crisis, that will not be easily forgotten and I think NATO will generally probably benefit from this.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Just one follow-up to this, Jan, Anna, as we speak the agenda for the NATO summit is actually changing and the big debate has yet to be taken place in NATO of what to do about keeping the door open, opening wider to Georgia. Will Georgia be offered the map? What on earth are they going to do with Ukraine? So it raises the whole issue yet again of enlargement, which was put off the table and wasn’t going to be on the agenda [unclear]. So there’s a lot of discussions going on in NATO at the moment.

PARTICIPANT: I have a question about China. Do you think the EU and US are doing a good job on getting China onboard here? Because they abstained in the UN vote, but they joined the BRICS declaration yesterday on the G20.

JAN TECHAU: I think it’s very difficult to get China onboard per se. I think China plays its own game. It took a long time for China to actually put its initial position on the Ukraine crisis. They came out, as you said, on the western side because of course they’re very interested in upholding this idea of territorial integrity, which is something that they want to actually use in their own context and which is something that with all of their own minority issues in China is something that they’re very, very sensitive about. So their original position made a lot of sense, but at the same time, now joining the BRICS also makes sense because China notoriously wants to avoid falling into one camp. They want to keep flexibility. They don’t want to be seen to be firmly on somebody’s side. In the international and in the UN context they’re usually followers, not leaders, and I think we see that very, very clearly playing out here at the moment.

The other thing that’s very interesting is how China has very, very strong economic interest in the Ukraine. It gets lots of its armaments and military equipment from Ukrainian companies. And China signaled early on in the Ukraine crisis that it was willing to actually step in and keep some of these companies afloat should the Russians actually leave Ukraine wholesale and put these industries at risk. So you can see that there’s actually both an international law component that the Chinese are interested in and an economic interest, but on both counts they can wait how this develops, and so far they played this waiting game actually quite skilfully.

JUDY DEMPSEY: That’s very interesting. Yes. Anybody... another question.

HARRIET TORRY: Hi. Can you hear me?

JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes, very well. You’ve got seven minutes left.

HARRIET TORRY: Hi. This is Harriet Torry with the Wall Street Journal. I came to the call quite late, so this might be a topic you’ve already covered. I wanted to ask you, Judy and Jan, quite a basic question. What do you think Russia’s logic is in all of this? They’re looking down the barrel at the punitive sanctions. [Unclear] was talking about waiting a year, a year and a half. It’s a long time, and there’s really a lot at risk. It just seems crazy.

JAN TECHAU: No, I don’t think it’s crazy at all. I think there’s a very clear power calculation here that drives Russia. There’s also often an emotional element in Russian politics, but I think this is actually a quite calculated affair. Russia was deeply shocked and the team in the Kremlin was deeply shocked when they lost control of the Ukraine, a country that they very much consider their own, and not only their backyard but their own. And so far they have been calling the shots politically in the country by and large.

But when they had lost control that’s was humiliating in two terms. First of all, it showed the actual lack of power, and secondly, it meant that what happened in Kiev can also perhaps at some point happen in Moscow. So Moscow really needed to re-establish a modicum of control. It needed to demonstrate its strength. It couldn’t let this show of weakness stand because it feared that others would draw conclusions from this. So they actually took the Crimea plans out of the draw that obviously had been scripted a long time before and implemented them.

And now I think the goal of Russia is still the same, to regain control over Ukraine, and Crimea was only part of this. The other part is the rest of Ukraine, which is not... it doesn’t necessarily mean an invasion or a military aggression once more, but I think now Russia’s goal is very clear, to actually undermine the political process in Kiev so that the current government, the interim government and then the one after the elections in May, cannot succeed to stabilize the country. It will not create an inclusive political process that leads to a new modern constitution and also does not lead to an economic stabilization.

And by basically keeping the country in limbo as much as they can they’re playing the time card because then the domestic political calculation of voters and demonstrators can change and perhaps the pendulum swings back into the Moscow camp. So keeping the country in limbo, letting the political process fail is now the goal. And I think Mr Putin has yet to decide whether that means that he needs to exercise military aggression type things in Eastern Ukraine or whether he can actually play this without doing that just by basically playing the domestic card in Kiev.

So I think this is all about control, this is all about actually also political survival for the ruling elite in Moscow that couldn’t let this kind of symbol of weakness stand. And for that... you pointed to the economic sanctions and the heavy cost they have to incur. For them, this sign of strength, the show of strength and this demonstration that they can regain control was far more important than the economic development in the short run, so they’re absolutely willing to incur some of these costs. And whether that cost-benefit calculation will change in the long run is absolute speculation. So far they’ve been willing to incur these costs, and this is an indicator as to how important and how existential the issue is for them.

HEIDI PLOUGSGAARD JENSEN: So can I make a follow-up question on that?

JUDY DEMPSEY: Yes.

HEIDI PLOUGSGAARD JENSEN: Heidi Jensen again. Is the west ready for that play with Russia?

JAN TECHAU: I don’t know. That’s a good question. That’s the open question that we all don’t know about. It depends on a number of things. What kind of ambition do we actually have for Ukraine? Are we interested in enabling a political process there or actually to what extent do we actually care about Ukraine? That’s the one big question that nobody has answered. So far we have had very little discussion about the state of Ukraine itself. We’re all talking about the political order and not letting Mr Putin get away with his games, but the actual state of Ukraine has not been much in the limelight.

And the other thing is it boils down to a religious question almost, a question of faith. Do you believe that a show of force is going to deescalate the situation because it will convince Mr. Putin to stop or will it actually escalate the situation by provoking Mr Putin and actually getting more aggressive? You can make both cases and I think there are good arguments for both sides. And in the end it depends on what you believe in is right. And I think the west is actually quite firmly split in the middle. You can find not only in terms of country-by-country divisions, but also within countries you have both camps. And no clear picture has emerged whether the west is actually willing to engage intensively over the long term on Ukraine.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Thanks, Jan, for that answer. We’ve got time for... we’ve got two minutes left if we have to stick to this timeframe. Another question please or any follow-ups.

ANDREW RETTMAN: This is Andrew again from EU Observer. I’m sorry, I lost connection earlier.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Oh, hi Andrew. Hi. Nice to hear you again.

ANDREW RETTMAN: Obviously in the context of this nuclear security summit in The Hague, it might sound drastic, but do you think that there’s an implicit threat of a nuclear confrontation with Russia? Do you think [sound slip] playing that card in a way?

JAN TECHAU: Again, the connection was a bit weak, so I’m not quite sure what... was the question whether we’re going to head into a nuclear confrontation with Russia?

ANDREW RETTMAN: Well, whether they’re playing that card. We’re talking about a [unclear]. The Cold War was based on the concept of a nuclear confrontation. Do you think Russia is implicitly or through back channels playing that card? There was an interview on CNN yesterday with [unclear] considered.

JAN TECHAU: I don’t know. I don’t think that we have seen an open use of the nuclear argument in this debate, so it’s basically a bit of a coincidence that Mr. Obama was coming over for this summit. After the Prague breach, nuclear disarmament and nuclear issues have been very high on his agenda and he needed to beef his commitment, so he came over for the summit. That had been in the making for a long, long time, long before the Ukraine crisis broke. But of course, the fact that Russia and the United States are nuclear powered is something that looms large in the background. It’s part of the psychology of the crisis.

As I said earlier on in the call, the Europeans have now rediscovered that being under the nuclear umbrella of NATO, and that means under the nuclear umbrella of the Americans, essentially, is actually quite a comfortable position to be in. It is actually the difference between them and Ukraine. They are under the nuclear umbrella and Ukraine is not, which is why western is not politically blackmail-able and Ukraine is. And so nuclear deterrents play a role still in this entire game, but it has not played out openly as a factor in the negotiations it seems.

What’s more interesting is I think, in terms of the nuclear file, what kind of impact this will have on the Iran file and whether Russia will continue to play the role that it has played over the last few years as a very constructive partner [overtalking] negotiations with Iran. They have already threatened to use that. I don’t know to what extent they are willing to actually really use it, but that is one of those questions that I can’t answer at this moment.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Thank you very much, Jan. I think that’s all the time we have now. Thank you very much for joining us. I think… and if there’s appetite, and I hope there is, we would love to make these regular and they would be very easy to arrange. And Monica and Christine will drop you a note when we’re doing the next one. How does that suit you, Jan? It would be very good.

JAN TECHAU: I’m willing to do this whenever time allows.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Super. Okay, thank you very much, everybody.

JAN TECHAU: Thanks very much.