Crisis in Russia and Ukraine: live updates
Most years, the Munich Security Conference has focused on distant crises, such as those in Afghanistan or Iraq. But for this year’s gathering, which begins on Friday, the subject will be Europe itself, as one of its biggest nations faces a potentially catastrophic invasion.
“Our world is in danger,” wrote Wolfgang Ischinger, the rally’s chairman, in a note before the talks. “Traditional certainties are crumbling, threats and vulnerabilities are growing, and the rules-based order is increasingly under attack. The need for dialogue has never been greater.
Here are the key things to know as it launches.
What is the conference?
The gathering, usually a quiet affair in a quiet Bavarian town, brings together heads of state, diplomats and business leaders from the world’s major 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, a nation in eastern Europe.
Western leaders said on Thursday they had detected signs of a potential “false flag” operation by Russian forces to provide a pretext for a military attack. That way, the conference could be bigger than it has been in years.
How did it start?
When the Munich Security Conference was founded in 1963, it was envisioned as a way for leaders, mostly Westerners, to discuss threats and dangers in an informal setting.
Most of the concerns at the time stemmed from the Cold War, which had dominated world politics for nearly half a century.
Over time, the conference has become a platform for airing grievances and crafting political agreements, some of them outside the realm of East-West relations.
In recent years, the conference has often invited leaders of authoritarian countries, and even adversaries, to speak.
How did Putin shape the rally?
One of the most burning moments of the conference occurred in 2007, when Russian President Vladimir V. Putin strongly criticized the United States and blamed it for undermining global stability behind the guise of democracy.
Mr Putin said a world order controlled by a single country, the United States, “has nothing in common with democracy”, and that it was time “to rethink the whole architecture of global security “.
This year, although the Russian leader is not expected to appear at the rally, he will be more prominent 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 weapons of point.
What can we expect this year?
All eyes will be on Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who represent the US delegation and are expected to vigorously defend Western efforts to deter a Russian attack.
Senior leaders of US 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 military reinforcements to Ukraine to bolster Europe’s eastern flank.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who hinted this week that he may abandon his country’s efforts to join NATO, will also attend.