As the 59th Munich Security Conference comes to a close and leads into at the fast-approaching anniversary of the Russian invasion, a recap is in order. The most pressing questions at the start of the conference included: Will the West continue its support to Ukraine, and if so, for how long? What will peace look like? Where does the rest of the world stand on the issue of Russian aggression, and can we convince them to join the club of supporters?

While yesterday we tried to shed some light on the position of the BRIC players, namely China, Brazil and India, it is time to look deeper into the stance of Ukraine’s coalition of allies, mainly the Europeans and their vision for the future of the war.

Undeniable consensus… with nuances

Heavily influenced by the ongoing Russian aggression, this year’s conference brought a major wind of change. For the first time in its recent history, the MSC organizers did not invite any official Russian delegate (in the past, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was a frequent guest who often enjoyed the podium with no questions allowed from the audience). This decision on the part of the organizers is more than symbolic, as the MSC prides itself on providing a neutral platform for discussion.

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This year also brought more diversity of opinion to the MSC podiums due to the inclusion of numerous participants from the Global South – from Asia to Africa and South America.

Most importantly, there was an overriding consensus on Ukraine visible among its transatlantic partners. During one of the panel discussions, Antony Blinken, longtime diplomat and current U.S. Secretary of State said: “In my 30 years of doing this, I have never seen NATO countries more united.”

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And yet, while Blinken’s words – along with the official remarks of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and others – signal undeniable support for the Ukrainian cause, the language used by most Western European leaders and the U.S. diverged from the position of their Eastern European counterparts, as well as the representatives of the Baltic states and the Nordics.

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Russia must be “defeated, but not crushed,” Macron said. “We cannot let Russia win this war,” Scholz proclaimed. The leaders of France and Germany kept on repeating this phrase that became an axiom during this year’s MSC: We must prepare ourselves to be in this war “for the long haul,” implicitly precluding fast-track support for Ukraine. Because if we know the war will drag on, we need not be in any rush to deliver.

“Of course it is going to be a long war if we don’t provide Ukraine with enough weapons,” retired U.S. General Ben Hodges told Kyiv Post in an exclusive interview. “But it does not have to be: It is not a law of nature. And I don’t know why my own government still hesitates [to supply Ukraine with whatever is needed as soon as possible]. I think there is an excessive fear of nuclear escalation, even though there is no advantage to that on the battlefield.”

Ukraine’s staunchest allies

The frustration with the Western European lack of urgency in delivering weapons was addressed during the Ukrainian lunch, organized annually by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. Attended by many from Ukraine, including a few of its brave soldiers, this year’s panel consisted of the heads of states from Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and a former CIA director.

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When asked about the bottlenecks that are preventing speedy deliveries of Western tanks and ammunition, the Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas referred to her discussion with several European defense companies. She pointed to the fact that many of such weapons producers are eagerly waiting for the orders to be placed by various European governments, without which they cannot simply start production.

When asked whether Ukraine has what it takes to win, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “We have more than before. We have six out of seven types of ammunition requested. But my two keywords that I brought with me to the conference are: speed and sustainability.” This sense of urgency was echoed in emotional speech by Ukrainian soldier Dmytro Finashyn from Vinnytsia, who was wounded and lost his left arm. “You say you cannot partake in this war, but the world is already involved,” Finashyn said. “If you could try to do this faster and in more quantity [sending weapons], we will win together. Just approach our request from the human side and you will understand why we are talking about it so much.”

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But the group gathered at the Pinchuk lunch did not have to be convinced: They are among Ukraine’s most vocal supporters who are also in agreement on two fundamental aspects of the country’s future: its NATO and EU membership. These are seen as preconditions for lasting peace not only in Ukraine, but also on the European continent and in the world.

“What is important about sustained peace is that there will be no gray zones. That means that NATO has to have an open door policy towards Ukraine. NATO is a peace project,” Kallas said.

Petr Pavel, the former army general and a newly elected President of the Czech Republic, echoed this view by adding that “Ukraine deserves to be a member of NATO as after this war its military will be the most experienced in Europe.” Ulf Kristersson, the Prime Minster of Sweden, picked up on this statement by saying: “Ukraine absolutely needs to become a member of NATO! As for its EU membership, being realistic is being narrow-sighted. It is extremely realistic for the EU to provide Ukraine with a clear roadmap to membership.”

One of the key discussion points concerned Ukraine’s victory and what it will look like – a stark difference from discussions focused on “not letting Putin win.” The moderator asked a question on the inclusion of Crimea in the list of liberated territories, to which Foreign Minister Kuleba undiplomatically replied: “Don’t ask me bad questions as you are reenforcing the Russian narrative.”

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Kuleba insists that Ukraine’s short-term victory includes full liberation of all occupied Ukrainian territories, whereas in the long-term the international community would need to ensure accountability for Russia’s unprovoked aggression.

In this regard, the Estonian leader Kallas is pushing for a special tribunal to prosecute against the crimes of aggressions, which she refers to as “leadership crime” on behalf of the Russia’s top decision makers and war crimes. “When we ignored Crimea’s annexation in 2014 the dictator got the message that it was acceptable. The Russian people have no idea about the crimes they have committed in the Baltic states in the past and now are committing in Ukraine,” Kallas said. 

Moreover, the attendees of the Ukrainian lunch seem to agree that Ukraine has a very narrow window of opportunity to successfully complete its anti-corruption forms, which – together with progress on the battlefield – would prompt its allies to deliver a Marshall Plan for Ukraine, including the much needed influx of private capital for reconstruction efforts.

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The support felt by Ukrainians attending the conference was undeniable. The support was especially strong from Ukraine’s Eastern European, Baltic and Nordic friends, many of which share similarly tragic historical experiences vis-à-vis Soviet Russia.

While the Munich Security Conference is merely a forum for discussion and debate, without any decision-making mechanism, it is reasonable to assume that Ukraine’s supporters will be serious about their homework and deliver what is needed to enable victory on the battleground. “Even if we are deadly tired, we cannot allow ourselves to stop fighting for freedom,” Foreign Minister Kuleba concluded.

 

 

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