Despite the standing ovations and vows of support, Zelenskyy's Western allies are falling short

By Isaac M February 18, 2024

With the loss of another piece of land to Russian forces, Ukraine’s president urgently needs weapons, not hero-worship, from his Western allies.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy was once again the star turn at an annual meeting of world leaders in Munich, receiving standing ovations, handshakes and vows of unwavering support.

But despite the warm words, his Western partners are falling short when it comes to action.

With a combined economic strength that is some 25 times that of Russia, the allies should be no match for Moscow.

Yet they are failing to turn their financial advantage into overwhelming firepower for Ukraine’s outgunned troops on the frontline.

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Political turbulence – a factor of life in a free and open democracy – is also tying Western hands.

This is particularly the case in the United States, Ukraine’s most important backer.

Washington is becoming distracted by a looming presidential election that could well return Donald Trump to the White House – a change in command that would have significant implications for the war effort and would doubtless revive friction within the NATO alliance.

Increasing hostility between Republican and Democratic lawmakers in recent months has already delayed the passage of a vital funding package for Ukraine.

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Russian forces raise flags in Avdiivka

Vice president Kamala Harris, the most senior US leader to attend the Munich Security Conference, insisted the support would be granted.

But the hold-up has already hampered Ukrainian forces and underlined the fragility of US promises.

In stark contrast to Western wavering, Russia has put its economy on a war footing, with money being pumped into building more weapons, ammunition and industrial capacity, while further supplies are flooding in from Iran and North Korea.

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President Vladimir Putin also does not need to worry about appealing to any particular political base given his total grip on power.

It was a sense of impunity further underlined by the sudden and highly suspicious death this week of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his most vocal critic.

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Mr Zelenskyy addressed world leaders at the Munich conference two years ago, urging them to stop what was at that time the imminent threat of a full-scale Russian invasion.

The allies tried to deter Mr Putin with warnings of dire consequences should he attack, but their threats were ignored and on 24 February 2022 the security landscape in Europe changed fundamentally as war returned to the continent.

The UK, the US and other partners rushed to support Ukrainian troops with anti-tank missiles and more belatedly with tanks as well as longer-range munitions.

The support helped Ukraine to prevent Russia from capturing the capital. They then seized back some of the territory initially seized during the first weeks of the war.

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But a second counteroffensive last summer floundered as limited Ukrainian military capabilities failed to push through heavily defended Russian lines.

Now, with the conflict about to enter its third year, Russia is hoping that Western resolve will not stay the course as it continues to throw its troops into a “meat grinder” that has left hundreds of thousands of Russian men killed or wounded – but not defeated.

Returning once again to Munich ahead of the second anniversary of the war, Mr Zelenskyy spelt out what a Western failure to give his troops sufficient weaponry would mean.

He was speaking just hours after his new military chief announced a withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the eastern city of Avdiivka, where Russian flags are now flying.

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Zelenskyy’s warning over Russian threat

“Ukrainians have proven that we can force Russia to retreat,” the president told delegates.

“We can get our land back, and Putin can lose, and this has already happened more than once on the battlefield.

“Our actions are limited only by the sufficiency and length of range of our strength… Dear friends, unfortunately keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficit of weapons… allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war.”

If that is allowed to continue, the consequences would be terrible not just for Ukraine but also for its eastern European neighbours, which – unlike Kyiv – are members of NATO.

“If Ukraine will be alone, you have to understand that what will be,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

“Russia will destroy us, destroy [the] Baltic [states], destroy Poland, and they can do it.”

He added: “Please do not ask Ukraine when the war will end. Ask yourself: Why is Putin still able to continue it?”

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