Reviews | Ukraine needs Western help now, not after a Russian invasion
This weekend at Munich Security Conference, which I attended, American and European officials sang the song of “unity” again and again. The verses come from Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Antoine Blinkenas well as NATO leadersthe European Union, Germany, Britain and others, both on the main stage and in private meetings at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof. But this well-orchestrated chorus was abruptly interrupted on Saturday afternoon when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took the stage and stressed that this “unity” left his country largely alone in the face of 150,000 Russian troops.
Indeed, Zelensky posed to the assembled dignitaries a simple question: what is the point of a European security architecture that does not seem willing or able to do the one thing it was built to do, which is to prevent war?
“The global security architecture is fragile and needs updating,” he said. “The rules the world agreed to decades ago no longer work. They do not track new threats.
He accused the West of placating Russian President Vladimir Putin by withholding support for Ukraine over the many years it has been under constant attack from Russia. He reminded Europeans that a major war in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine. He pointed out that no American or European leader could actually name the “fast and severe“Sanctions that are supposed to scare Putin into backing down, or what exactly would trigger them.
Zelensky listed a long list of things the West should do to increase its support for Ukraine before, not after, a potential attack. Among other things, they have imposed sanctions on Russia, delivered more weapons (including more sophisticated ones), provided Ukraine with increased economic and financial support as its economy suffers, and made affirmative statements about the progress of the Ukraine towards NATO and EU membership. He accused the West of abandoning the security guarantees he gave Ukraine in 1994 in exchange for Kiev renounces its nuclear weapons.
“We appreciate any help, but everyone needs to understand that these are not charitable contributions that Ukraine should ask for or remember,” he said. “These are not noble gestures for which Ukraine should bow down. It is your contribution to the security of Europe and the world.
If Zelensky seemed like an isolated voice at the conference, it was only because several other Ukrainian officials in Munich did not have prominent roles. At a side event on Saturday, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the West to wait until after an invasion to do more.
“This is the time when neutrality or the inability to act, the willingness to wait and see how things develop, favors Russia, favors further escalation,” he said. “Now is not the time for a sit-and-wait strategy.”
Biden administration officials insist that withholding sanctions until after an attack is the best way to deter Putin. But several Ukrainians in Munich noted that Putin does not seem discouraged.
“We can’t wait for the whole of Ukraine to be occupied and separated into different parts,” Lisa Yasko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, told me. “The sanctions should be very strong right now. They need to feel the economic, political and military pressure. That’s the only thing Putin understands.
“There was enough emotional support. There have been enough people who have said, “We are more united than ever,” Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik, leader of the Golos (Voice) party, told me. “We need all of Ukraine’s friends to act now.”
Proponents of the current approach argue that the current level of unity among Western allies is a remarkable, if not perfect, achievement. Western unity in preparing a response to Putin after an attack is important, Rep. Tom Malinowski (DN.J.) told me, because it will ensure that any invasion of Ukraine will be a loss for Russia. long-term.
“Anyone in Zelensky’s position would say, ‘give us more,'” he said. “But I don’t believe that if we had imposed these sanctions two months ago, six months ago, ten months ago, it would have changed Putin’s calculation.”
Of course, no one knows what Western unity will look like after the bombing begins. Will Germany really cancel the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the midst of an energy crisis? Will Europe really accept cut russian banks? Russian aggressions, short of a full invasion, like Putin’s acknowledgement Monday of two Ukrainian provinces as independent, meet a unified response? And what will be the effect on Western unity of million Ukrainian refugees flock to Europe?
“Now we are in a situation where we don’t know what triggers the sanctions, we don’t know what they are going to be. And then, in the midst of the destruction, we’re going to try to maintain unity,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.) told me. “Unity is not the goal. The goal is peace on the European continent.
What good is a unit that doesn’t include the people facing the attack? What good is unity that doesn’t involve trying everything to stop this attack? What good is a unity so vague that the united parties can’t even reveal the details of the things they are supposed to be united on?
The United States and its European partners have achieved unity among themselves, but their united strategy is so limited that it does not solve the problem – and Ukraine may soon pay the price.
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