Sixty years after the first security conference, European leaders again had to focus on threats from Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union.

As the full-scale invasion of Ukraine enters its third year, Kyiv Post reviews the Feb. 16 conference, the 60th anniversary Munich Security Conference (MSC), which brought together about 150 leaders of states and governments – from the US and China to Myanmar and Tanzania – as well as the heads of international organizations.

The organizers of the conference released this year's MSC report under the title “Lose-Lose?”, highlighting in the biggest crisis in the system of global order and collective security since the end of the Second World War. 

The opening of the MSC coincided with two tragic events – the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Avdiivka, Donetsk region after more than four months of heroic defense, and the sudden death of the most famous Russian opposition leader Oleksiy Navalny in prison.


Ukraine is still in the spotlight

Most of the conversations that took place at the Munich Security Conference were related to Ukraine, including the current situation on the front line two years after Russia began its full-scale invasion, the delay in approving the American aid, as well as Kyiv's expectations from the upcoming NATO summit in Washington.

Attention to Ukraine remained at the same level as the previous year, Oleksiy Goncharenko, one of four representatives of the Ukrainian Parliament at the MSC told Kyiv Post.

“The main topic was Ukraine, including the war against our nation, NATO perspectives, and the role of the US... Israel and the situation around the Gaza Strip were obviously a secondary topic,” he said.

However, the topic of Ukraine was hardly mentioned on the first day of the conference, says Irina Pavlova, a special correspondent of Kyiv Post from Munich.

“And I was very surprised and disappointed with MSC report titled ‘Lose-Lose?’ because in Europe the war has already been going on for two years... And I got the impression that the organizers and participants of the conference ‘turned on’ a kind of ignorance about Ukraine,” the correspondent said.


Day 2 – Focus was on Ukraine

The situation totally changed on the second day of the conference, which began with a speech from Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the main stage.

“Just after him, President Zelensky took the stage. He got a standing ovation even before he began to speak. He delivered a powerful speech…  In general, he emphasized the need to restore the world order and defeat Putin,” Pavlova said.

In his speech, the leader of Ukraine said that “2024 must become a time for a full restoration of a rules-based world order.”

And in order to “make security a reality again,” the international community must have a common vision “where Putin’s so-called “career” should end.”

“He has only two options ahead – to be in the dock in The Hague, or to be killed by one of his accomplices who are now killing for him,” Zelensky said.


The president again told Western leaders that “keeping Ukraine in artificial deficits of weapons… allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war.”

“This self-weakening of democracy over time undermines our joint results.” he said, adding that “we all must do not something, but everything possible to defeat the aggressor.”

“Please, everyone remember that dictators do not go on vacation. Hatred knows no pause. Enemy artillery does not fall silent due to procedural issues. Warriors standing against the aggressor need sufficient strength” Zelensky said, seeming to reference the delay of the US’s House of Representatives – who went on a two-week vacation before considering a $60 billion Ukraine aid bill.

“Please, do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself – why is Putin still able to continue it?” Zelensky said.

Later in the day, the Ukrainian leader spoke even more firmly about American aid, which “Ukraine and all our soldiers need and expect so much.”

“We very much count on this positive decision of the Congress. For us, this package is vital. We are not considering alternatives today. Because we count on the United States as our strategic partner, and that it will remain a strategic partner. And if we talk about an alternative, this means that it is not our strategic partner,” Zelensky said at a joint press conference with US Vice President Kamala Harris following their bilateral talks in Munich.


“Of course, the main day for Ukraine was Saturday [Feb. 17]. And the speech of the President of Ukraine, which he held just after the speech of the Chancellor of Germany – the country that hosts the conference, set the tone. The president of Ukraine actually worked at the conference all day, holding bilateral meetings,” Yevheniya Kravchuk, a Zelensky-party lawmaker, who got a personal invitation to this year's conference, said in an exclusive comment to Kyiv Post.

Kyiv should accurately communicate the news about Navalny's assassination as they influenced the security forum agenda, she said.

“It was not enough just to say, ‘well, we warned you that Putin will not stop.’ The best response of democratic countries will be to support Ukraine because only our victory can restore justice. And, in my opinion, this thesis was very accurately and clearly used by the President of Ukraine in his communication,” Kravchuk said.

Alongside Zelensky, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, brought forward Ukrainian issues. He took part in the panel discussion “Fighting Fatigue: Whatever It Takes for Ukraine’s Victory.”

“The era of peace in Europe is over,”  he told listeners, going on to say that should Ukraine be defeated, Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue his aggression against other European states.


“And every time Ukrainian soldiers withdraw from a Ukrainian town because of the lack of ammunition, think of it not only in terms of defending democracy and world-based order but also in terms of Russia getting Russian soldiers a few kilometers closer to your towns, your homes, your families and children. And if you look at it with this perspective, you will find the money," Kuleba said, even as Kyiv's withdrew its forces from Avdiivka to save lives.

“Kuleba looked concerned, delivering very important messages at the panel discussion. His attitude was very different compared to last year," the Kyiv Post's correspondent shared her impressions of the Ukrainian top diplomat's speech.

Speaking about Kuleba, Kravchuk mentioned a key bilateral meeting between him and Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, which took place on MSC sidelines. 

At the Munish Security Conference-2024 Ukraine was represented by Zelensky and about five members of his team, three ministers, as well as four lawmakers. “I think no other country, except the United States and Germany itself, had so many speakers,” Kravchuk added.


Key pro-Ukrainian countries in Munich

Among the most active supporters of Ukraine at the Munich Conference-2024, Kyiv Post speakers named Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kindom, Canada, as well as its closest partners – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

"I live in Germany, and I see that its attitude to Ukraine has totally changed. Scholz spoke much more firmly, with much clearer messages regarding Ukraine. Unfortunately, he didn't mention Ukraine's victory... But Boris Pistorius, Germany's Defense Minister, clearly said "until Ukraine's victory," Pavlova said.

Goncharenko also noted progress in Berlin's understanding of the importance of supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression.

"The Germans understood the problem and are already taking some steps... I spoke with politicians of different parties, government officials, generals, businessmen - they are united on this issue, understand the challenges," he said.

According to Kyiv Post's special correspondent, the key speech for Ukraine was held by Mette Frederiksen, the Prime Minister of Denmark.

"She stated straightforward but diplomatically from the stage that Europe should not say that it is doing everything to support Ukraine because it is not true. And on behalf of Denmark, she announced the provision of all Danish artillery to Ukraine, calling on other countries to do the same with their reserves," Irina Pavlova said.

Kravchuk added that there were clear messages of Ukraine's main partners – the US, Canada, Great Britain, and other European nations, especially Denmark with its announcement of artillery provisions.

“There is already an understanding that when a European country spends on defense, and part of this money provided to Ukraine, it is an investment in its own security," she said.

According to Kravchuk, on MSC sidelines Kyiv has signed a number of memorandums with other states, which include the joint production of weapons, for example with the German Rheinmetall. And security agreements with Germany and France signed just before the conference, contain the joint creation of ammunition production facilities.

"There were meetings where we agreed on defense packages with several states. They include both artillery and 155-caliber shells. There are large packages, but I can't tell you [details] until they arrive. And also about howitzers, and production, and co-production," President Zelensky summarized following the results of his attendance at the MSC.

"Shadow of Trump"

According to Kyiv Post spokespeople, Trumpist congressmen remain the biggest skeptics regarding Ukraine.

Pavlova said that the "shadow of Trump" was very felt in the speeches of European leaders. "They talked about creating a functional NATO without the United States, increasing budget spending on the security and defense sector to at least 2 percent of GDP... There is an understanding of the threat from the United States, and European leaders tried to verbally address it during the conference."

Goncharenko named a list of countries for which at the MSC the topic of Ukraine was much less interesting.

"There was the Minister of Foreign Affairs of China, representatives of India, and countries of the Global South... They did not speak much about it [Ukraine], because they have their own topics and their own issues," he said.

Kravchuk added that the representatives of the Global South nations were actually the only ones who have still been advising Kyiv “to seek a peaceful solution."

"As for the messages that seem strange... What I heard, it was the president of Tanzania who said exactly such things. So now we should focus on the countries of the Global South. But our work should include all countries because there are elections, personnel changes…," she said.

What can Ukraine expect in the near future?

All Kyiv Post's speakers agreed that emotions of concern and confusion prevailed during this year's Munich security conference.

"The impressions are quite pessimistic. The United States is very immersed in its own internal political struggle. The perspectives of the support package to Ukraine are vague. Plus, the statements of US presidential candidate Trump are confusing Europeans. That is why there is such concern... In general, no new ideas and important messages were presented at the conference, which is a pity, because this is the largest such forum in the world", - parliamentarian Goncharenko said.

According to him, for now, there is a real chance that US lawmakers will agree on military aid to Ukraine: "It's maybe fifty-fifty... Unfortunately, the chance the direct financing of the Ukrainian budget will be approved is very low."

Yevheniya Kravchuk said that at the MSC both Zelensky and Ukrainian representatives held talks with the House of Representatives members - all of them, including the Republicans, assured that the issue of approving a large aid package to Ukraine will be resolved.

"There are various procedural points ... If Speaker Johnson does not schedule the bill to submit, there are other ways ... But there is no final decision, which version will be voted on. The House of Representatives will return to plenary sessions on Feb. 26 and will consider it... However, they will have a more urgent task - to submit additional funding to keep government work and avoid another shutdown, since the terms of the previous bills expire on March 1 and 8," she added.

Goncharenko also said that "for now, no one is going to invite Ukraine to NATO," as well as no one does not want to discuss this topic even during sidelines talks.

"They don't even want to talk about Ukraine's invitation to NATO or NATO membership now. But this issue must be raised constantly... I, for example, asked Olaf Scholz, who had his first speech on the main stage, about Ukraine's membership in NATO - unfortunately, he refused to answer. I put the same question to [US Secretary of State] Anthony Blinken, and he also refused to answer... But it is definitely necessary to fight for it," he said.

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