Amid a U.S. warning that Russia has decided to potentially invade his country and attack the capital, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy flew to Munich to deliver a tough message to his allies.
The former TV comedian cracked few jokes on Saturday as he accused the U.S. and Europe of allowing the continent’s security infrastructure to collapse. He noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin used the same platform — the Munich Security Conference of 2007 — to deliver a speech in which he openly challenged the post-Cold War order.
“How did the world respond?” Zelenskiy asked. “With appeasement.”
While Russia has repeatedly denied any plans to invade Ukraine, Zelenskiy sought to portray his country as holding the front line of security for European countries to the west.
Ukraine, Zelenskiy said, shouldn’t have to beg for arms to defend European security against one of the largest militaries in the world. “Those are not noble gestures for which Ukraine must bow low,” he said. “It is your contribution to European and the world’s security.”
Zelenskiy said he was grateful for the diplomatic, financial and military aid Ukraine’s Western allies have offered since Russia seized Crimea and stoked an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. says it has delivered $2.7 billion worth of military aid since 2014, including modern anti-tank weapons. In recent months, other NATO allies have sent shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and specialized anti-tank missiles for use in urban warfare.
Still, if allies really want to help, they should “set up a fund for stability and reconstruction for Ukraine, and a lend-lease program, supply new weapons, machinery, equipment for our army — an army that protects all of Europe,” Zelenskiy said.
Recalling that Ukraine gave up its nuclear deterrent in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the U.K. and U.S, in a 1994 memorandum, Zelenskiy said: “We have the right to ask for a move from the appeasement policy to action.”
He called for clear road maps for Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the European Union, and criticized allies for being unwilling to sanction Russia now or even name sanctions measures in advance to better deter Putin, while loudly predicting an imminent Russian invasion.
European leaders are concerned that the deterrent effect of sanctions would be lost if they were imposed before the action they’re designed to stop.
“We don’t need your sanctions after the war starts and we have no borders,” Zelenskiy said.
While Zelenskiy didn’t name names, his chief target appeared to be Germany, which has resisted arming Ukraine. The government in Berlin says that would mean bending its strict rules on arms sales, and that it has instead taken a lead in delivering financial aid to support Ukraine’s beleaguered economy.
The U.S. and the EU have promised tough sanctions on Russia should it invade without saying what those would be or what level of Russian action would trigger them.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said it was essential for his country and its allies agree now on what those triggers should be.
“It shouldn’t be at the moment when Russian soldiers in Russian uniforms, waving Russian flags cross the border for the cameras,” Kuleba said at a lunch on the conference’s sidelines. “This is not that kind of war.”
Zelenskiy’s speech came as something of a cold shower at the annual gathering of the trans-Atlantic security officials in Munich, where U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock touted what they called unprecedented levels of unity allies have shown on Ukraine, specifically on sanctions.
A Zelenskiy dig at Germany — he said a delivery of 5,000 helmets fell short of Ukraine’s request — didn’t go over well with a Berlin official, who expressed surprise at his country’s aid being belittled.
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