In most years, the Munich Security Conference focused on distant crises, such as those in Afghanistan or Iraq. But for this year’s gathering, which begins on Friday, the topic will be Europe itself, as one of its largest nations faces a potentially catastrophic invasion.
Wolfgang Ischinger, president of the assembly, wrote in Note before conversations. “Traditional certainty is collapsing, threats and vulnerabilities multiply, and the rules-based order is increasingly under attack. The need for dialogue has never been greater.”
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What is a conference?
This gathering, usually a quiet affair in a quiet Bavarian city, brings together heads of state, diplomats and businessmen from the world’s leading democracies for three days of meetings and presentations.
This year’s event kicks off as Russia appears to be preparing for a military incursion into Ukraine, the country on the eastern edge of Europe.
Western leaders said on Thursday they had detected indications that Russian forces may have carried out a “false flag” operation to provide a pretext for a military offensive. In this way, the conference can be more important than it has been in years.
How did you start?
When the Munich Security Conference was founded in 1963, it was envisioned as a way for leaders, mostly from the West, to discuss threats and risks in an informal setting.
Most of the fears at the time stemmed from the Cold War, which had dominated world politics for nearly half a century.
Over time, the conference developed into a platform for expressing grievances and implementing political agreements, some of which were outside the scope of East-West relations.
In recent years, the conference has often invited leaders from authoritarian countries, and even opponents, to speak.
How did Putin form the assembly?
One of the most painful moments of the conference came in 2007, when Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly criticized the United States He blamed it for undermining global stability behind a veil of democracy.
Mr Putin said the global system controlled by one country, the United States, “has nothing to do with democracy” and that it was time to “rethink the entire architecture of global security”.
This year, although the Russian leader is not expected to appear at this gathering, he will be more looming than ever.
Since last year, when the Russian military began massing on the Ukrainian border, Western leaders have rushed to try to deter a Russian attack, threatening potentially crippling economic sanctions and supplying Ukraine with advanced weaponry.
What can we expect this year?
All eyes will be on Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken, who represent the US delegation, is expected to make strong defenses for Western efforts to deter a Russian attack.
Senior leaders of America’s NATO allies, including Britain, France and Germany, are also scheduled to speak at the conference. In recent weeks, NATO countries, including Poland and the Baltic states, have provided Ukraine with military reinforcements to support Europe’s eastern flank.
Also attending will be Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who this week suggested he might abandon his country’s efforts to join NATO.
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