Still United in Support of Ukraine?

Still United in Support of Ukraine?
By The White House - <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href=""></a>, Public Domain, Link

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed a series of events that, at first glance, seem to demonstrate that transatlantic unity in support of war-ravaged Ukraine remains very strong.

At a meeting in late November in Bucharest, NATO foreign ministers insisted: “We remain steadfast in our commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.  We will never recognise Russia’s illegal annexations, which blatantly violate the UN Charter.  We will continue and further step up political and practical support to Ukraine as it continues to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and our shared values against Russian aggression, and will maintain our support for as long as necessary.”  The summit in Bucharest was held more than nine months into the war in Ukraine, as the prospect of peace appears to be distant

Since the start of the war, the level of transatlantic unity in support of Kyiv has been remarkable.  In particular, the revitalized, re-legitimized Atlantic Alliance has been helping to coordinate Ukraine’s requests for assistance and has supported member-states in delivering humanitarian and non-lethal aid. This is in a situation where NATO’s Article 5 collective defence guarantee has given member-states the confidence to send weapons to Ukraine without endangering their security. To date, allied states have provided billions of dollars worth of military equipment to Ukraine and billions in non-military assistance. Yet, under constant Russian attack, Ukraine has been tearing through stockpiles, triggering a scramble to supply the country while also replenishing NATO members’ arsenals.

The message of unity and support for Ukraine sent by NATO’s foreign ministers is similar to recent expressions of support articulated in other international forums. For instance, G7 leaders have explicitly reassured President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people of their “undeterred and steadfast  commitment.”  

These manifestations of support for Kyiv are crucial at a time when Russian aggression continues to inflict massive damage on Ukraine. Russian air strikes against Ukrainian cities continue to target civilians and critical infrastructure in an attempt to break the population’s resolve.  Simultaneously,  President Putin consistently tries to divide the allies and weaken their (and their publics) commitment to Ukraine. So far, his strategy has not been particularly effective. 

Yet, the situation is more challenging than a first glance would suggest. The problem is that, behind statements of unity and unconditional support for the Ukrainian people, there continue to be significant differences—and in some areas, tensions—within the transatlantic community.  These raise difficult questions about the extent to which the allies will be able to remain united and effective in responding to Russian aggression.  Some of the most challenging questions and issues concern diverging visions of how to engage with Russia and how the war might end. 

In recent weeks, the idea of a negotiated end to this war has cropped up repeatedly—in ways that are seen as deeply problematic by Ukraine and several NATO members. While many have been eager to emphasize publicly that the time is not right for negotiations, France’s President Macron has fueled new doubts over France’s (and potentially the EU’s) commitment to Ukraine. Upon his return from a state visit to Washington, Macron spoke again about Moscow’s fear of NATO and the need for security guarantees for Russia within a future European security order. 

Macron’s vision has set off alarm bells in Kyiv and several NATO countries. Understandably, this position was unacceptable to many allied states—particularly those from the former communist bloc—even before the invasion. Today, it is even more problematic.  This is particularly true in a situation where Putin has shown no genuine interest in peace.  His conditions for entering peace negotiations (including his insistence that illegally annexed territories should be recognized) cannot be accepted and have been rejected by Kyiv.  

In this context, the transatlantic community needs to remain united around the principle of “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine”. They will also need to continue to provide extensive support to Kyiv, both in non-military and military terms—including more long-range weapons. This will be vital if Ukraine is to be able to exercise its legitimate right to self-defence. 

In this context, the transatlantic community needs to remain united around the principle of “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine”.

But maintaining transatlantic unity around this goal is not going to be easy.  In particular, the energy crisis and potential new waves of Ukrainian refugees (especially if the attacks on infrastructure continue) may, in the coming months, lead segments of the public on both sides of the Atlantic to push for limits on the support to Ukraine. 

It is already the case that, despite the remarkable unity displayed until now, some populist EU politicians—most notably Hungary’s illiberal leader—are already working to limit the sanctions imposed on Moscow. Even in the US, influential sections within the Republican Party are raising questions about American support for the war. And, as Kyiv develops new capabilities to strike military targets inside Russia, debates in the West over the ‘red lines’ of military support for Kyiv are likely to get more complex.  The call for ‘security guarantees’ for Russia could also intensify.

French politicians—and like-minded political actors and experts—are right to argue that the international community needs to maintain communication lines with Moscow.  This could help limit the danger of a confrontation between Russia and NATO.  But the argument about security guarantees for Russia, as presented by President Macron, is not helpful.  

Contrary to Putin’s claims, when Moscow launched its war of aggression against Ukraine, it was not threatened by NATO.  Ironically, as recent events have demonstrated, the greatest threat to the security of Russian citizens came from… their government.  Putin has inflicted large-scale suffering and loss of life not only on Ukraine but also on his citizens.  Against this kind of threat—and to help save the rules-based international order–the best that the international community and the West, in particular, can and should do is to ensure that the aggressor does not win the war.

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