Ukraine president has tough message for its allies: Do more amid Russian action

Mr Volodymyr Zelensky sought to portray his country as holding the front line of security for European countries to the west. PHOTO: AFP

MUNICH (BLOOMBERG) - Amid a United States warning that Russia has decided to potentially invade his country and attack the capital, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky flew to Munich to deliver a tough message to his allies.

The former TV comedian cracked few jokes on Saturday (Feb 19) as he accused the US 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?" Mr Zelensky asked. "With appeasement."

While Russia has repeatedly denied any plans to invade Ukraine, Mr Zelensky sought to portray his country as holding the front line of security for European countries to the west.

Ukraine, Mr Zelensky said, should not 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."

Mr Zelensky 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 US says it has delivered US$2.7 billion (S$3.6 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 specialised 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 programme, supply new weapons, machinery, equipment for our army - an army that protects all of Europe", Mr Zelensky said.

Recalling that Ukraine gave up its nuclear deterrent in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, Britain and the US in a 1994 memorandum, Mr Zelensky 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 the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the European Union, and criticised allies for being unwilling to sanction Russia now or even name sanctions measures in advance to better deter Mr 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 are designed to stop.

"We don't need your sanctions after the war starts and we have no borders," Mr Zelensky said.

While he did not name names, Mr Zelensky's 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 US 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," Mr Kuleba said at a lunch on the conference's sidelines. "This is not that kind of war."

Ukrainian soldiers in Krymske where mortar attacks from Russian-backed separatists fell through the night, on Feb 19, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Mr Zelensky's speech came as something of a cold shower at the annual gathering of the trans-Atlantic security officials in Munich, where US 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 Zelensky dig at Germany - he said a delivery of 5,000 helmets fell short of Ukraine's request - did not go over well with a Berlin official, who expressed surprise at his country's aid being belittled.

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