If there is one word that best describes this week’s Warsaw Security Forum, it is no other than “Ukraine.”

Attended by an array of high-profile guests, including Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, UK Secretary of Defence Ben Wallace, ex-Commander of United States Army Europe Ben Hodges who advocates greater military support to Ukraine, and others, the Warsaw Security Forum took place against the backdrop of Putin’s nuclear talk and unconfirmed information that Russia has been moving part of its nuclear arsenal closer to Ukraine’s border.

Accordingly, the focus of just about every panel at the forum was Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, as well as the successful counterattack of Ukraine’s army in eastern and southern Ukraine, with the First Lady present in person to give a speech, in which she described the war in Ukraine as, first and foremost, a war of values.


She also thanked Poland, and every Polish taxpayer, for their immense contribution. Her message, however, while powerful, was not delivered in full to the audience as many people said that the interpreting from the Ukrainian side did not work properly.

No less compelling was the statement made by the co-founder of the International Center for Ukrainian Victory and former legislator Hanna Hopko, who said in blunt terms that the state of Russia, not just Putin, must be declared a sponsor of terrorism.

“What I heard in Berlin was ‘we want to help Ukraine win but also [make sure] that Russia doesn’t lose.’ But I’ve never seen a half-pregnant woman,” she added, receiving applause from the audience.

 Russian failures in Ukraine

Russia’s poor performance on the battlefield was among the most widely discussed topics, with the moderators begging the question as to why the Russian army, claimed to be the second largest army in the world, turned out to be much worse than expected.

One of the most comprehensive answers came from Phillip Petersen, the President of the New Generation Warfare Centre, who emphasized that Russian warfare in Ukraine fell through as Moscow focuses on a strategic scale as opposed to a tactical one. In other words, it relies on high-speed operations, for which its equipment, such as the tank-72, are a perfect suit.


However, when it comes to tactical scale, Russia was outplayed by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, not least because they received training from NATO, which excels at this type of warfare.

David Petraeus, former Director of the CIA, who recently claimed that the U.S. would destroy the Russian Black Sea fleet if Vladimir Putin were to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, also added that the Ukrainian army has done vastly better on the battlefield compared to Russia and that there is nothing Moscow can do about it at this point.

NATO membership prospects

Expectedly, Ukraine’s NATO membership bid, which arrived in Belgium this week, was also brought up. However, there are very few positive signals so far from the Alliance or its member states.

It is still unclear whether the Ukrainian government consulted NATO before filing the membership bid on Sep. 30 in response to Russia’s decision to annex four regions of Ukraine that are temporarily occupied by it. However, one official said off-record that it is highly likely that some consultations took place in advance, adding, however, that “it changes nothing anyway.”


The answers that came from the stage regarding Ukraine’s membership of NATO under the expedited procedure were not too encouraging either. Clear-cut replies were either avoided or reduced to the general “support Ukraine” type of promises.

UK Secretary of Defence Ben Wallace was, arguably, among those who gave a more honest answer, basically ruling out Ukraine’s membership until the war ends, while also adding that the chances of Russia using nuclear weapons remain low.

Putin vs. Russia’s war

This year, Russia was represented by Vladimir Milov, former Deputy Energy Minister of the Russian Federation, and an associate of opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was invited to discuss imperialism in Russia.

Yet, the answers provided to questions that boiled down to who is really responsible for Russia’s war on Ukraine, showed that the Russian opposition is not ready to accept that the war in Ukraine is not just one man’s folly.

While Milov acknowledged that it is up to Russia at the moment to prove that it is not Russia’s war, adding that “Putin shot himself not just in the foot, but also some vital organs”, the arguments used by him to downplay Russian collective responsibility, like that 20 years ago or so Russians supported  accession to the EU, seemed feeble. After all, while Russia’s sentiment toward the West was admittedly better in the Yeltsin era that followed the collapse of the USSR, its conduct in Moldova and Chechnya was not too different compared to 2014 or 2022 in Ukraine.


The fact that this stance, as echoed by Milov, does find support in Germany was disappointing.

When asked whose war is it, and whether Russia should be punished for this aggression, German MP Norbert Röttgen of the Christian Democratic Union, came up with a rather puzzling answer, saying that this war started out as Putin’s and even though it may no longer be a one-man show, he also referred to the outcome of WW1 as a way to argue that punishment may not be such a great idea.

Compared to his colleague, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff of the Free Democratic Party, who said bluntly during a different panel that the Nord Stream 2 “was a stupid idea” and that Germany’s approach to Russia was naïve, his statement sounded like a way to justify a softer approach to Russia than advocated by many, including when it comes to organizing a tribunal akin to the Nuremberg trials, the idea of which was promoted at the Warsaw Security Forum.

Ukraine makes no secret that it is looking to establish a special tribunal for punishing Russia’s aggression. This endeavor, according to Kyiv Post’s information, while finding support in many countries, also has its silent skeptics, who allegedly agree with the idea on paper only.


While establishment of such a tribunal is yet to be fully advocated by Ukraine, the good news is that many do support the idea, including Milov, who off-stage agreed in principle that it should be created.

Given that Milov also said that the opposition, whose performance in this war has so far been lackluster, is actively fighting for the Russian audience, which is losing trust in the state media, there is hope, however tenuous, that Russian society may finally step in and accelerate the downfall of the regime wounded by Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield and the partial mobilization announced by Putin.


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