Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky urged world leaders Friday to speed up support at the opening of the Munich Security Conference, as Germany pushed allies to deliver crucial tanks ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
Allies have delivered an array of weaponry to Ukraine since the outbreak of the war and pledged more, but Kyiv fears crucial supplies will arrive too slowly to defend against major new offensives.
“We need to hurry up,” Zelensky told the start of the three-day gathering via video link. “We need speed -- speed of our agreements, speed of our delivery... speed of decisions to limit Russian potential”.
There is no “alternative”, as people’s lives were on the line, he said.
The key annual conference comes just days ahead of the February 24 anniversary of Moscow sending its forces into the country, unleashing war in Europe for the first time in decades.
It is being attended by the leaders of France and Germany, as well US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
Zelensky also insisted that there was “no alternative” to Ukraine triumphing in its fight against President Vladimir Putin’s troops, and “no alternative” to Kyiv joining the EU and NATO.
Speaking to the forum after Zelensky, Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisted that German support was “designed to last”.
But he also piled fresh pressure on allies to live up to a pledge to deliver battle tanks promised to Ukraine, after Berlin dropped its initial reluctance following desperate pleas from Kyiv.
“Those who can send such battle tanks should really do so now,” Scholz told the conference, where he said he would be “intensively campaigning” to get allies to move on the issue.
Berlin agreed last month that German-made Leopards, widely used in Europe, could be sent to Ukraine, a potential boost for Kyiv in its fightback against Moscow.
Germany has pledged to send tanks from its own military stocks, but has struggled to persuade allies to do the same -- saying recently it had only managed to muster “half a battalion” of the newest variety, mostly its own.
- From tanks to jets -
Zelensky has now shifted focus to pleading for Western fighter jets, though Ukraine’s allies have so far been cool on the subject.
Russian delegates including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was a regular attendee at Munich in the past, have not been invited.
Representing Ukraine at the conference, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he planned talks with a series of top officials focused on weapons supplies.
He is also expected to join a meeting of foreign ministers from the G7 club of rich countries on Saturday, on the sidelines of the conference.
With signs that Russia is managing to adapt to the sanctions imposed following its invasion, the United States and its allies plan a major array of new measures against Moscow to mark the war’s anniversary, a US official said.
At one of the event’s opening panels, conference chairman Christoph Heusgen said the “Russian aggression” amounts to a “battle of between the rule of law, and the law of the strongest”.
The Munich conference stands for “the rules-based order”, he added.
US-China ties will also be in focus at the gathering, with tensions sky-high after Washington shot down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon over US territory.
With a high-level US delegation including Harris and Blinken in town, and a senior Chinese team led by Wang, there has been speculation of talks on the sidelines to ease tensions amid the spy balloon row.
The huge white balloon from China was spotted over a series of secret nuclear weapons sites earlier this month, before being shot down just off the eastern US coast.
The incident prompted a diplomatic rift, with Blinken canceling a rare China visit. Beijing, however, says the balloon was just a stray weather research craft.
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