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NATO and EU leaders pledge to keep up, step up support for Ukraine

The second day of the three-day 59th annual Munich Security Conference has been dominated by the war in Ukraine. It is only fair, considering that the previous conference, which ended on February 20, mere four days before the Russian full-scale invasion of its neighbor, has failed to prevent the conflict.

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“Without NATO, there is no security in Europe. So this is not the time to look beyond the alliance. This is the time to strengthen and enlarge our alliance,” said Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO.

Stoltenberg also said he was working hard so that Finland and Sweden could join NATO during its Vilnius summit in July. The two Nordic countries applied to join the alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year and almost all allies have ratified their membership bids.

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The only two exceptions are Hungary and Turkey, the latter choosing to play a particularly obstructionist part in accepting Sweden over its harboring of Kurdish activists, which Turkey considers terrorists, and more recently over Quran-burning incidents perpetrated in Sweden by people with no relation to the government.

“Wars are unpredictable and we do not know when or how this one will end. But I do know this: even if the war ends tomorrow, our security environment has changed for the long term, Stoltenberg continued. “There is no going back. The Kremlin wants a different Europe, one where Russia controls neighbors.”

If the West was caught off-guard by Russian aggression early last year, it should ensure that this does not happen again, said Secretary General Stoltenberg.

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“We also know that Beijing is watching closely to see the price Russia pays or the reward it receives for its aggression. What is happening in Europe today could happen in Asia tomorrow,” he said, referring to China’s pattern of aggressive posturing against Taiwan and the probing of Western reaction to Beijing’s spy balloons in recent weeks.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris had likewise spoken of the strength of the NATO alliance, as well as the potential Chinese threat to peace. And not just in East Asia.

“Colleagues, today, a year later, we know Kyiv is still standing,” she said. “Russia is weakened. The Transatlantic alliance is stronger than ever.”

She also left no doubt as to the nature of the atrocities perpetrated by the Russians in Ukraine.

“We have examined the evidence. We know the legal standards. And there is no doubt these are crimes against humanity,” said Harris.

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“We are also troubled that Beijing has deepened its relationship with Moscow since the war began. Looking ahead, any steps by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing, and further undermine a rules-based order,” said the U.S. Vice President, pointing out that the regimes of North Korea and Iran, which have been heavily sanctioned by the West already, have been in recent months providing military support to Russia.

As Russia’s stocks of ammunition have been dwindling, Tehran provided it with kamikaze drones and Pyongyang with its Soviet-era artillery shells.

She said that a United States-EU task force has been set up to closely coordinate the Transatlantic allies and facilitate consultation in an effort to work out “some of the specific concerns”

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“The whole world must hold Russia to account,” said UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.

“We must see justice through the ICC [International Criminal Court] for their sickening war crimes committed, whether in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol or beyond,” said the British leader. “And Russia must also be held to account for the terrible destruction it has inflicted.”

He said that in June, the UK. will host the Ukraine Recovery Conference in London, where ways of ensuring that Russia pays towards that reconstruction are explored.

He also said that “the international community’s response has not been strong enough,” when Russia “committed violation after violation against countries outside the collective security of NATO,” listing Georgia and more recently Moldova as just two examples.

Sunak also said allies must give Ukraine “advanced, NATO-standard capabilities”, and more of it too.

“Ukraine needs more artillery, armored vehicles, and air defenses, so now is the time to double down on our military support,” he said, urging world leaders to send the most advanced weapons to Ukraine now so that it can “gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield” in order to secure its long-term future.

PM Sunak does not call on other countries to provide something that the UK has not so far provided itself. London has either already sent or pledged to send tanks, air defense systems, and artillery to boost Kyiv’s defensive capabilities.

“We’re starting to train Ukrainian pilots on both NATO standards aircraft but also in tactics. I think that’s important,” he said.

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And while there are no plans to send UK or other Western fighters to Ukraine just yet, should the decision be made, Ukrainian pilots will be acquainted with them. However, since mastering the use of Western fighters might take several months, the UK is exploring alternative ways of boosting Ukraine’s air defenses.

“When Putin started this war, he gambled that our resolve would falter. Even now he is betting we will lose our nerve,” said Sunak. “But we proved him wrong then, and we will prove him wrong now.”

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He also called for a new NATO charter to provide assurances of long-term support for Ukraine, saying that the allies “must demonstrate that we’ll remain by their [Ukrainians’] side, willing and able to help them defend their country again and again”.

Shells for Ukraine

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen urged the EU’s member states to come together to get more ammunition to Kyiv as soon as possible.

“It is now the time, really, to speed up the production, and to scale up the production of standardized products that Ukraine needs desperately,” von der Leyen said. “We could think of, for example, advanced purchase agreements that give the defense industry the possibility to invest in production lines now to be faster and to increase the amount they can deliver.”

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the idea of joint procurement of badly needed 155-millimeter artillery shells at a meeting in Brussels on Monday. Such an approach would be more efficient than EU members placing individual orders, and larger orders would also help the industry invest in extra capacity.

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The measure of joint EU procurements has been suggested by Estonia. A senior EU official said the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, and its diplomatic service considered the Estonian proposal to be “potentially a very good idea”.

Diplomats and officials did not put a figure on how much the EU might spend on joint procurement. One Estonian paper suggested 1 million 155 mm rounds could be bought this year for some EUR 4 billion. According to the paper, Ukrainian forces are firing between 2,000 and 7,000 artillery shells per day, while Russia is using between 20,000 and 60,000.

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