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Ukraine: What can the West do to help?

Rob Mudge
February 24, 2022

As united and firm the EU, NATO and the US have been in their reactions to Russia's attack on Ukraine, their options to provide significant assistance at this stage are limited.

Ukrainian army serviceman straddling a tank
As the fighting intensifies, what options does the West have to help Ukraine?Image: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP


A first round of sanctions that targets financial institutions and business and political elites has already been implemented. Germany has indefinitely put on hold the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

G-7 leaders on Thursday agreed on a new raft of tough sanctions. US President Joe Biden said allies would move forward on "devastating packages of sanctions and other economic sanctions to hold Russia to account." European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a new round of sanctions would block Russian banks' access from European financial markets.

Russia's big state-run banks, Sberbank and VTB which together hold around $750 billion (€672 billion) in assets, are now likely to be a target.

Pulling Russia's access from Swift

The US and the EU have been reluctant to pull the plug. The global financial messaging service is used by thousands of financial institutions worldwide. Russian assets in the EU would be frozen and Russian banks' access to the European financial market would be stopped.

However, countries whose banks have close links with Russia, like the US and Germany, would also feel an economic impact. It's unlikely, at this stage, that an emergency EU summit on Thursday will sign off on the measure, according to EU sources.

Blocking exports of hi-tech materials

Biden's administration has said it is fully prepared along with other western countries to implement export control measures.

One option would be to restrict the export of hi-tech commodities to Russia.

The US could stop companies selling goods such as semiconductor microchips. Russia's defense and aerospace sectors would bear the brunt of those measures, although it would also hurt Western companies that sell the technology.

Military involvement and aid

The West has ruled out putting boots on the ground in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, or providing any other type of direct military involvement. Instead, a number of countries have provided arms, both lethal and non-lethal defensive weapons, and are expected to increase those shipments.

Karte - Wo Russland die Ukraine angegriffen hat - EN

"[The West has] to help with lethal weapons so that Ukraine can put up a fight," Sudha David-Wilp, a senior transatlantic fellow and deputy director of the German Marshall Fund's Berlin office, told DW.

Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow with the Wider Europe Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations' Berlin office, says Europe has squandered the past eight years talking about Ukraine instead of arming it properly.

"The Ukrainians now pay the price. The Russian invasion force is four times the size of the NATO Response Force, everything European NATO allies can put together in 30 days. We cannot contain Russia only economically. There needs to be a military response in terms of deterrence and readiness. Otherwise, we will pay the price as well," he told DW via email.

There could be a more dramatic shift if Russian forces were to advance from Ukraine towards the Baltic Sea states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, who are all NATO members. If they were to come under attack, Article 5 of the NATO charter would apply which stipulates that if one NATO ally comes under an armed attack it's considered an attack on the entire organization.

On Thursday, both Latvia and Lithuania called for urgent consultations as outlined in Article 4 of the charter which refers to a threat to a member state rather than an outright attack: "The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened."

A chart comparing the military strength of Russia and Ukraine

Humanitarian aid and assistance

Since 2014, the United States has provided over $351 million in humanitarian assistance to help Ukrainians in need. This includes food, shelter, safe drinking water, and protection for the most vulnerable.

The West should also prepare to help with an expected influx of refugees, said David-Wilp. "We may also have to be a little bit more realistic because I've heard things like anywhere from a couple of hundred thousand [refugees], but it could go up to millions."

There are also more immediate and practical measures that should be taken now, said David-Wilp. "This is the time to help with donating blood, helping with the field hospitals. All these measures that I'm hopeful that governments in the G-7 and NATO are thinking about and will implement very soon."

How do people in Moscow feel about the invasion of Ukraine?