Espreso. Global

Zelenskyy in Munich: main points. Column by Vitaliy Portnikov

18 February, 2024 Sunday

The Ukrainian President's speech at the Munich Security Conference aimed to demonstrate the intentions of Ukraine's political and military leadership in the third year of the great Russian-Ukrainian war

By the way, Zelenskyy made his address on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the onset of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The initial stages witnessed the annexation of Crimea and the eruption of an undeclared war in the eastern part of our country. Back then, there may have been hopes in Ukraine for a political resolution, but reality proved otherwise. Ukraine now faces the imperative to ready itself for a significant challenge, and the outcome of its war with Russia hinges on its preparation and how Ukrainian society responds to the threat.

Now, the President of Ukraine was speaking against the backdrop of the Ukrainian military's withdrawal from Avdiivka, which was undoubtedly both sad news for millions of Ukrainians and a demonstration that the lives of Ukrainian soldiers are a priority for the political and military leadership in this difficult situation in which our country finds itself.

Zelenskyy said that Ukraine is being kept in an artificial shortage of weapons, particularly artillery and long-range weapons, and that this is what allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to adapt to the intensity of hostilities. Of course, this thesis will now convince those Western politicians who are not yet ready to intensify military assistance to Ukraine that delaying could lead to further problems for the Ukrainian Armed Forces in their confrontation with the Russian aggressor. It will affect, in particular, those Republican congressmen who will decide on the issue of allocating money to Ukraine after the February recess.

This situation may be influenced not only by Avdiivka, but also by the murder of Russian opposition leader Navalny, which Zelenskyy referred to as a political assassination during a joint press conference with Olaf Scholz. It is worth recalling that in his speech at the Munich conference, Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed confidence that the Russian leader would sooner or later end up in the dock, although, to be honest, there are no objective reasons to believe that Putin can lose power in Russia under the harsh criminal power regime he has established over the past decades.

However, there is no doubt that Russia's defeat in the war with Ukraine creates the conditions for a change in the political situation in Russia in the next decade or so. If Putin himself does not end up in the dock, at least his legacy may be condemned by his heirs in the future, as is often the case in Russia. 

Now, according to Zelenskyy, Russia's only advantage is the devaluation of human lives. The President of Ukraine even said that the ratio of casualties between Ukrainians and Russians is one to seven. However, it is clear that the Russian military command is not interested in this number of casualties.

As we can see, now, on the eve of the so-called presidential elections, every Russian agency is trying to make a gift to Vladimir Putin so that the ministers who head certain governing bodies in Russia retain their positions and control over financial flows, which is the main point of holding a high position in Russia, even after these elections. 

So, the Russian Ministry of Defence wants to present Avdiivka to Putin and demonstrate that the Russian army is following the order of its commander-in-chief to occupy the entire territory of Donetsk region, while the Federal Penitentiary Service simply wants to bring Putin the head of Alexei Navalny to make him happy and leave the heads of this department in their positions. The logic is clear. Neither the Russian leadership, nor President Putin, nor the vast majority of Russians infected with the chauvinistic virus are interested in how many Russians will die as a result of certain Russian-Ukrainian clashes.

Ukraine's president also begged the allies to increase air defence supplies. This is also very important from the point of view of ensuring the normal development of life in the country in the coming years of the war. Zelenskyy says that an increase in the number of air defence systems will allow Ukraine to return millions of refugees home.

To be honest, I am not at all convinced of this thesis, because the return of refugees requires many other conditions: the creation of jobs, which are currently lacking in some sectors of the economy and not in demand in others; the situation with housing, because many Ukrainians who left their homes after the Russian occupation of their territories have nowhere to return to; and many other circumstances. It is the continuation of the war with attacks on Ukrainian cities, even with air defence systems in place, that is unlikely to convince many people who are used to living without sounds of sirens, air raids and fears for the lives of their children.

But in any case, whether Ukraine succeeds in bringing millions of its citizens home in the coming years or not, in order to keep those who remain in Ukraine from going abroad, they need security in their own cities: from missile attacks and drones and from possible new offensives by Russian troops.

That is why air defence systems and long-range weapons must ensure that those Ukrainians who live in Ukraine today do not become refugees in Europe. This is something that needs to be discussed seriously with our Western allies amid fears of a new wave of humanitarian crisis for the entire European Union. 

In his speech, the President of Ukraine also spoke about the importance of drone production.Everyone already understands that Russia's war with Ukraine has also become a war of new technologies, and drones are of great importance here. Indeed, if Ukraine develops such drone production, and our allies help us, more important strategic targets in the Russian Federation could be hit, and thus the amount of resources Putin has planned to continue his long-running war of attrition with Ukraine will be reduced. Thus, the Russian leader will come to the conclusion that at some unknown point, this war should be turned into a low-intensity war, if not terminated, which will really solve many problems that are not being solved today in terms of the development of Ukrainian statehood. These include investments in the Ukrainian economy, the return of refugees, the development of new economic sectors, development of the Armed Forces - all of which cannot be done on a sufficient scale in a high-intensity war, but a low-intensity war, even if it continues for long, restless decades, will give Ukrainians a certain sense of security and life in a country that will become a fortress of the civilised world in its struggle against the world of dictatorship.

Perhaps this will be Ukraine's historical role in the 20s and 30s of the difficult 21st century.Of course, unless a major war between Russia and NATO breaks out, which is also on the minds of many politicians in the civilised world who are preparing for such a tangible conflict.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy also invited Donald Trump, the former US president, who is now essentially the main opponent of aid to Ukraine in the US Congress, to go to the front with him to see the real situation on the Russian-Ukrainian frontline.It is unlikely that the former US president, who is preoccupied with his court cases and his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, will accept Zelenskyy's invitation. However, it is certainly necessary to appeal to Trump and his supporters, because his position and that of the Republicans in the US Congress will determine how realistic the civilised world's assistance to Ukraine will be and what role the United States will play in this assistance in the coming difficult years of our struggle for survival. We understand how serious the role of the United States is when it comes to Ukraine's struggle against Russia, its ambitions and its unquenchable nuclear power, which Putin and other Russian leaders are always reminding us of when they see that their schizophrenic geopolitical plans are not working out.

Of course, it must be said that during the Ukrainian president's speech, those representatives of the opposition forces who wished to join the participants should have been present in the hall of the Munich conference.The scandalous incident with the failure of the leader of the European Solidarity party, Petro Poroshenko, or MP Roman Kostenko, to attend the conference does not seem to be the best tool for convincing the West that Ukraine is now fighting not only for its territorial integrity and sovereignty, but also for values shared with the West. Moreover, this is happening against the backdrop of the Russian leadership's demonstration of contempt and hatred for its own opposition.

Here, Ukraine should be a reliable alternative, and its president should look nothing like the leaders of authoritarian states who do not want to be in the same room as their opponents and predecessors in high places. Moreover, democracy is, as we know, a system where a predecessor can become a successor at any time.


About the author. Vitaliy Portnikov, journalist, winner of the Shevchenko National Prize of Ukraine

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the blog authors. 

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