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On October 9th, 2018, the Institute for Politics and Society hosted a debate entitled “Russian assertiveness at the borders. Threat for democratic systems in Central European Countries?”. The event focused on Putin’s aggressive actions which contribute to Russian domination of international politics, and the role that Central European countries must play to protect democracy on a global level. Our honored guests were Tinatin Khidasheli, former Minister of Defense of Georgia, Greta Monika Tučkutė, Advisor to the Minister of National Defense of Lithuania, Andrey Pivovarov, Chairman of the Open Russia movement, Jaroslav Bžoch, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs within Czech Parliament, Jan Šír, a professor within Charles University’s Department of Russian and East-European Studies, and Jonáš Syrovátka, Project Coordinator specializing in strategic communications at Prague Security Studies Institute. The panel was moderated by Ondřej Soukup, a journalist for Economic Newspaper (Hospodářské noviny).

Ms. Khidasheli maintained that Putin’s distinct assertive leadership has allowed Russia to shape international politics, while Western democracies enable Russian dominance through reactive behavior. Ms. Khidasheli argued that democratic nations must unite through proactive and confident leadership to take charge of world politics again, and promote democracy.

Greta Monika Tučkutė explained the actions taken to counter Russian assertiveness. Ms. Tučkutė stated that Lithuania is primarily concerned with protecting its eastern border, and has increased its defense budget to invest in capabilities such as new defense systems and better equipment. Ms. Tučkutė also maintained that neighboring countries must stand together as allies, while western nations must take “proactive and innovative” action.

Andrey Pivovarov provided an important insight on the Russian population. Mr. Pivovarov explained that it is critical to note that many Russians do not stand by Putin and his actions, and want to improve relationships with bordering countries. Such insight is key to fostering the international unity necessary to fight against Russian assertiveness.

Jaroslav Bžoch followed with a new perspective. Mr. Bžoch believes that Putin’s complete disregard of other countries is the root of the problem. He then explained that we must focus on political tools such as sanctions to combat Putin’s dangerous leadership. Mr. Bžoch said that though it is hard to definitively state how other nations should act, open dialogue is necessary to fight Russian forcefulness.

Next spoke Jan Šír who pointed to the logic behind Putin’s aggressive, irresponsible, and illegal actions. Dr. Šír explained that Russia lags behind other more modernized nations, thus in attempt to compensate, Putin seeks to destroy international rules, norms, and principles. Dr. Šír highlighted the dangers to world order by allowing such aggressive actions.

Jonáš Syrovátka focused on why the issue of Russian assertiveness is relevant, and how citizens can take action against it. Mr. Syrovátka maintained that we must build up new institutions, establish priorities and goals with foreign policy, and actively involve citizens in this important debate in order to restore geopolitical order.

The subsequent discussion between the panel and the audience addressed a wide range of topics including the role of cyber security to related issues, how European nations can shift from reactive to proactive actions, Russia’s influence in the energy industry, and the necessity for nations to stand in solidarity on a global level in order to combat the complicated issue of Russian assertiveness.