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regular-article-logo Thursday, 13 June 2024

Yuliia’s message

Countries like the Czech Republic and Denmark can’t possibly do what it takes to enable Ukraine to hold off Russia. As the US hesitates, this requires Germany and France to step into the breach

Timothy Garton Ash Published 10.03.24, 08:16 AM
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron Sourced by the Telegraph

The second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine should prompt a simple question: is Europe at war? When I put this to a room full of participants at the Munich Security Conference, most of them raised their hands to say ‘yes’, Europe is at war. But then I asked a second question: do you think most people in your own country have woken up to this? Very few hands went up.

This was a Munich of painful contrasts. Here, at the conference, were badly wounded Ukrainian soldiers giving us stories from a front-line hell. Yuliia Paievska, a veteran military medic, told us she had seen “streams of blood, rivers of suffering” and how children had died in her arms. “We are the dogs of war,” she said, recalling how she herself was captured in Mariupol, imprisoned for three months, and tortured by the Russians. “Give us the weapons,” she concluded, “to kill this war.”

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Here, too, was the courage of a Russian Yulia. Yulia Navalnaya came on stage even before the news of the death of her husband, Alexei Navalny, had been fully confirmed to call for Vladimir Putin to be brought to justice — and to remind us that there is still another Russia fighting the tyrant. She went on to record a deeply-moving, defiant video which you can watch on YouTube.

But on stepping outside the conference venue in the Bayerischer Hof hotel, one found weekend crowds enjoying unseasonal sunshine in nice cafés and bars, shopping in luxurious shops or booking a winter break to some attractive holiday destination. Prosperous, even pampered, peacetime life. Europe at war? You must be joking.

At this year’s conference, Western leaders acknowledged the reality of a long war more clearly than they did last year, but most are still failing to communicate a sense of existential threat to their own societies. Nor are they taking the urgent actions needed to save Ukraine from more battlefield defeats like its recent withdrawal from Avdiivka.

There are notable exceptions. Kaja Kallas, the Estonian prime mi­ni­ster, recently placed on a criminal ‘Wanted’ list by the Kremlin, has long been one. Mette Frederiksen, the Danish prime minister, is urgent, direct, and matches deeds to words. “We decided to donate our entire artillery,” she told the gathering at which the Ukrainian Yuliia spoke. Denmark has also sent F-16s.

Then there’s Petr Pavel, the former NATO general, who is now Czech president. He told us that working with the Danes and others, the Czechs have identified on world markets 500,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition and another 300,000 rounds of 122mm calibre which could be purchased right now and sent to the hard-pressed Ukrainian forces in the next few weeks. That would enable the Ukrainians to hold the line, Pavel explained, until increased Western defence industry supplies come through later this year.

It would also give time for the US House of Representatives to overcome its shameful Trumpian blockage and vote for further military funding for Ukraine. (The most grotesque moment of the conference came when the Republican senator, Pete Ricketts, compared Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to the “invasion” of illegal immigrants from Mexico.)

Yet on their own, countries like the Czech Republic and Denmark can’t possibly do what it takes to enable Ukraine to hold off Russia. As the United States of America fatefully hesitates, this requires Europe’s big boys — Germany and France above all — to step into the breach, rapidly purchasing that ammunition the Czechs have found, acting fast, unbureaucratically and at scale, and explaining to their publics why we must do so.

President Emmanuel Macron didn’t even come to Munich. His grand rhetoric about ‘the rearmament of European sovereignty’ and a ‘war economy’ is not matched by the scale and the speed of actual French support for Ukraine.

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is a different story. Since I was highly critical of his ‘Scholzing’ in respect of arming Ukraine a year ago, I want to acknowledge a big change that has happened over the last year. Germany is now the second-biggest supporter of Ukraine after the US. This shift to full-hearted support was a kind of Wende (turn) within the Zeitenwende (epochal turning point) that Scholz originally promised just three days after the full-scale invasion in 2022. I will never forget talking to friends in Kyiv last summer who told me how reassured they feel at night when they hear the distinctive, deep, boom-boom of the German Gepard air defence gun. German guns saving lives.

Now it needs a second Wende within the Zeitenwende. The Scholz administration must recognise that if you’re supporting one side in a war against a murderous dictator, you must really want it to win and not merely ‘not to lose’, the formula to which Scholz and Macron have often reverted. That’s not the language of strength which is the only one Putin understands. As the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, observed, speaking in Munich directly after Scholz, “it’s not just a question of weapons, the question is: are you ready psychologically?” The peacetime logic of negotiation, compromise and ‘win-win’ simply does not apply.

Minutes before Zelensky came on stage, the German chancellor dodged a question on why he doesn’t send Germany’s Taurus missile to Ukraine. Yet leading military experts tell us that deploying long-range missiles like the Taurus — and their US, British and French counterparts — is the only way in which Ukraine can rapidly put the military pressure back on Russia by threatening the supply lines through Crimea.

So the leaders of the larger European countries should take a lesson from smaller ones like Denmark, the Czech Republic and Estonia. Given the critical situation on Ukraine’s front line, they must be bolder, faster, more decisive. And they need to find a more direct, more passionate, more inspiring language — the kind of language that would certainly have been used by Scholz’s personal hero, the former chancellor, Willy Brandt. Societies that are still enjoying a comfortable peacetime lifestyle, and where many apparently believe this war can soon be over with a compromise negotiated peace, must be shaken awake. As President Pavel put it, the one sacrifice we can all bring is “the reduction of our own comfort”. Physical comfort, but also psychological.

Europe is at war. It’s not fully at war in the way it was 80 years ago, when most European countries were directly engaged in combat, but it’s certainly not at peace in the way it was 20 years ago before Putin set out on his path of confrontation with the West. If we don’t face up to the urgency of enabling Ukraine to consolidate its defensive positions, regroup, and ultimately win the war that it’s fighting on behalf of all of us, then a few years down the road we will face an even more direct attack from an emboldened, revanchist Russia. So listen to the two women: Yuliia and Yulia, the Ukrainian and the Russian. Putin must be defeated. That’s the only way to ‘kill this war’.

Timothy Garton Ash’s Homelands: A Personal History of Europe is being published in more than twenty European languages

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