Hungover at the Munich Security Conference

Hungover at the Munich Security Conference

If Ukraine falls, the darkness won't stop at its borders.

The hangover after a lavish party can be brutal, with throbbing headaches and the stark recognition of reality. For much of Europe, the two-year-long war in Ukraine has resembled a distant conflict, a threat that remained abstract. This comfortable detachment, like an intoxicating substance, masked the true gravity of the situation.

The European Union and the United States supported Ukraine minimally, intending to prevent its collapse rather than secure a decisive victory. Though undeniably admirable, Ukrainian courage on the battlefield became a comforting narrative, fueling the belief that Russia would tire and Ukraine would persevere.

However, the first day of February’s Munich Security Conference shattered this illusion. News of the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Ukrainian retreats at Avdiivka, potential Russian aggression toward the Baltics, and Donald Trump’s ambiguous NATO statements created a palpable air of despair.

But despite the dreary conference atmosphere, the Western world still hasn’t woken up to the complete, grim picture.

In Munich, we often heard United States and European Union officials saying, in effect, “Ukraine will win in the long run.” But for Ukrainians, it sounds more like turning away from the brutal reality of the threat, thereby creating an excuse for not supporting Ukraine.

Here are the sobering realities the West needs to acknowledge:

Ukraine cannot continue its war effort without additional aid. The $95 billion tied up before the U.S. Congress is essential to keep Ukraine’s soldiers able to defend our frontline and the economy afloat. President Zelenskyy has said that he will lose the war without further aid. Europe cannot provide the ammunition and equipment Ukraine needs quickly enough; only Washington can solve our munitions shortage in time to sustain the war effort.

Military spending must increase sharply. More than two percent of GDP defense spending is required when Russia operates under a wartime economic model. Estonia gets this, but France and Germany still struggle to reach that benchmark. Western nations must significantly increase military spending, invest in cutting-edge technology, and provide concrete, immediate support to Ukraine. Europe’s security is in danger.

The West’s gradualism has failed. Gradual military aid allows Russia to adapt its tactics and seek assistance from countries like Iran and North Korea. The delay in supplying F-16s until the summer of 2024 gave Russia precious time to counter Ukrainian MiG and SU aircraft. Another critical issue is artillery. President Zelenskyy stated that according to Ukrainian intelligence, Russia would receive a million artillery shells from North Korea. In turn, the EU revised its commitment to delivering one million 155 mm artillery rounds to Ukraine by March 2024. As of the end of January, only 330,000 shells have arrived in Kyiv.

Embrace Ukrainian innovation. Ukraine boasts world-class military technology, tested and proven in combat. Ukraine doesn’t have a navy, but one could be forgiven for not knowing after Ukraine’s spectacular success on the Black Sea in 2023. Kyiv’s innovative naval drones have inflicted significant damage on the Russian Black Sea fleet, and its special forces have conducted daring operations within Russian territory. Integrating these technologies could significantly enhance NATO capabilities.

Confiscate frozen Russian state assets and allow Kyiv to use the money to fund weapons. These $300 billion would damage Putin’s war machine, depriving him of vital funds and undermining his public support. It will send a powerful message, too, by holding Putin’s governing kleptocrats accountable for war crimes and ensuring their ill-gotten gains don’t fund further atrocities.

The world must finally confront the harsh reality of Europe’s largest land war since World War Two. We must shake off our complacency, embrace sober judgment, and stand firmly with Ukraine. Only then can we hope to navigate the turbulent waters ahead.

Victor Liakh is the CEO of the East Europe Foundation. From 2005 to 2008, he was executive director of the Child Well-Being Fund Ukraine. Previously, he worked at the Ukrainian State Center for Social Services for Youth (1996–2001) and for UNICEF (2000–2001). Follow him on X @LiakhVictor.

Ilona Khmeleva is an expert in international law and international relations. She obtained her PhD at the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in 2020. As a Jacyk Non-Residential Fellow at the University of Toronto, she is developing a project devoted to the legal qualification of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Follow her on X @Ilona_Khmeleva.