Commentary on Political Economy

Monday, 28 February 2022

 Europe must give Ukraine everything it asks for

The Baltic states have long understood the kind of aggression Russia is visiting on its neighbour

Civil defence personnel guard a checkpoint in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Saturday

Civil defence personnel guard a checkpoint in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Saturday © Emilio Morenatti/AP


February 28, 2022 1:20 pm by Artis Pabriks

The writer is defence minister of Latvia

Russia’s war against Ukraine is the most significant conflict in Europe since the second world war — but its reverberations will be felt well beyond the European continent.

Any democratic leader who looks at the Ukrainians’ valiant defence of their country and does not feel ashamed at not providing more weapons to Ukraine has either their heart or their mind in the wrong place. Any leader who still believes that Ukraine should not have been given lethal support, or should not be assisted with all available military equipment, is out of step with the new international order.

In invading, Moscow has deliberately chosen to be an enemy of the democratic world. We must support Ukrainians in this fight, but we also have to start rebuilding our own defences. This will be the only way to defend our values, freedom and peace.

Changes to longstanding policies are usually the product of a strategic shock. While the best outcome that Russia can hope for in this war is a Pyrrhic victory, it is also abundantly clear that western policy up to now has failed utterly because diplomacy was not backed up militarily. In defending their homeland with such heroism, the Ukrainian people are buying the west time to make amends — we now have to act very swiftly. Our current extraordinary unity must be transformed into action in order to maintain the momentum.

Financial sanctions and the ejection of some Russian banks from the Swift cross-border banking network is just a first step. Every day that Russian forces remain on Ukrainian territory more punishment must be visited upon Vladimir Putin’s regime to stop the aggression.

So far the Ukrainians have displayed a strength and resolve that has surpassed everyone’s expectations — Russia’s most of all. Thanks to their bravery, resilience and success, there is a real chance that the Russian offensive will be blunted and reduced to a crawl and that the Ukrainian state will endure, with no prospect of a puppet government installed in Kyiv. The Ukrainian people are not giving up. But they need arms to defend themselves.

The Baltic states have long understood the kind of existential threat that Ukraine is now facing. For this reason, we have punched above our weight and, with some danger to our own security, moved to help Ukraine shore up its defences, including with Stinger and Javelin missiles. We continue to supply their armed forces with weapons, munition, fuel and other supplies. The military support also given to Ukraine by the US, UK and Poland over the past few months has been exactly what you would expect from countries that have a realistic understanding of Russia’s intentions. Now the whole democratic world is seeing Putin’s true face and has shifted firmly against tyranny.

But Ukraine needs more than weapons and hope. It needs membership of the EU and Nato. It would be a disgrace if we did not meet the request for EU accession made by President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday. Ukraine is fighting for a free Europe on our behalf. Since it is fighting our war, it deserves everything it asks for.

At the same time, the EU must finally take its own security and defence capabilities seriously. It is clear that Putin lives in an alternate reality in which he nurtures ambitions on the scale of Stalin’s. The nuclear threat he issued over the weekend is an obvious sign of this.

European countries need better air defences and more artillery, tanks and other weapons — not endless position papers and new strategies. Nato also has to review its posture on the eastern flank in order to adjust to the new reality, shifting from forward deterrence to defence. Air defence of the Baltic states remains a glaring gap in the alliance’s defence posture, inviting escalation. This gap must be closed as a matter of urgency.

A radically new geopolitical situation calls for robust leadership, a clear-eyed assessment of the threats the west faces and resoluteness in defence. With more countries committing military aid to Ukraine and applying ever tougher sanctions on Russia and Putin’s inner circle, we are finally putting adequate defence and deterrence measures in place.

There is much that we need to relearn, but one thing is certain: democracy has triumphed over tyranny in the past and it will do so again. But it is important that we have the will to fight for it and the ability to defend ourselves. Ukrainians are fighting for all of us. They deserve better and we will do better. Slava Ukraini!

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