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Ukraine: Zelenskyy campaigns for more support in Munich

Stephanie Höppner
February 18, 2024

Amid recent military setbacks and uncertainty surrounding US aid, Ukraine's president appealed to international leaders for weapons and funding at the Munich Security Conference.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers his speech at the 60th Munich Security Conference (MSC) at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, southern Germany, on February 17, 2024.
Ukraine's fight against the Russian invasion has dominated the agenda at this year's conferenceImage: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

While standing ovations are commonplace for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the one he received at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday was still an important boost to his mission.

Ukraine's fight against the Russian invasion tops the agenda at the annual gathering of politicians and policy experts. The topic has gained all the more urgency with recent setbacks on the battlefield and fears that allies like the United States could withdraw aid.

Territorial losses

In his speech, Zelenskyy called for the international community to remain united and determined in the fight against Russia's war of aggression, or risk the destruction of his country, the Baltic States and Poland. He asked for weapons and air defense packages, in particular long-range weapons.

The pressure that Zelenskyy is under was made further evident by the news on Saturday that its army had been forced to withdraw from the southeastern city of Avdiivka following months of fierce fighting. The retreat marks the heaviest setback since Bachmut was abandoned in spring 2023.

Ukraine, Awdijiwka | ukrainische Soldaten
The Ukrainian army withdrew from the frontline city of Avdiivka on SaturdayImage: Elif Kizil/Anadolu/picture alliance

An uncertain ally

There are also mixed signals coming from the United States, Ukraine's most important ally. A few days ago, the US Senate approved billions in aid for the country. However, in the House of Representatives, where the Republicans have a narrow majority, the aid package could still fail. The party's right-wing fringe has strongly rejected further support for Ukraine, which has amounted to around $44 billion (Є40.8 billion) since the war began.

Zelenskyy did not directly address that possibility, opting instead to thank the US for its support to date, saying that Ukraine was counting on a positive decision for the "vital" package.

One of the big questions for Zelenskyy is how to influence US representatives, with whom he has expressed an interest in meeting. Before his speech, he had already met with US Vice President Kamala Harris.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg backed Zelenskyy's cause during Saturday's panel discussion with US Senator Pete Ricketts , a Republican, and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallason, urgently warning of the consequences that a lack of help from the US might cause.

US House of Representatives Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi expressed her solidarity. "We have to win," she told DW. "Because it's not just about democracy in Ukraine."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference 2024.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg appealed for more support for UkraineImage: Kuhlmann/MSC

Growing desperation

While Zelenskyy seemed "very grateful" for the aid Ukraine has already received, German conservative, the Christian Democrats' leader, Friedrich Merz said he still needs the additional support that he asked for. "We have to give support to Ukraine potentially for a longer period of time than we saw at the very beginning of this conflict," he told DW.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also agreed in principle with Zelenskyy's criticism over lagging aid. "However, I think the West has been able over the last two years to increasingly do more," he told DW, citing the howitzers, Leopard tanks and other military equipment that were delivered.

DW's chief international correspondent Richard Walker said that Zelenskyy's speech showed a major change in focus since Russia's full-scale invasion. While he asked for speedy assistance back then, he is now appealing for "staying power."

For Bertelsmann Stiftung senior advisor Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook, Zelenskyy's speech was "much more desperate" than last year, and it was clear that "Europe could no longer deliver as quickly as the president would need," she told DW.

Fresh agreements with Germany and France

Zelenskyy did achieve two successes however. On Friday, he concluded a bilateral security agreement with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which includes financial aid, arms deliveries and training for soldiers. Berlin pledged Є1.13 billion in additional aid as a kind of bridge until Ukraine's possible NATO membership is confirmed after the war ends.

There are no plans for direct military intervention. It is unclear whether Taurus cruise missiles will also be delivered.

Germany and Ukraine sign long-term security pact

Scholz declared at the conference on Saturday that "the ability to deter and defend must be credible and remain credible.”

"The following still applies: we do not want a conflict between Russia and NATO," he added. "That is why all supporters of Ukraine have agreed since the beginning of the war: we are not sending our own soldiers to Ukraine."

In return, Kyiv promised reforms and anti-corruption measures.

According to Scholz, Germany has so far provided or pledged a total of around Є28 billion to Ukraine, making it the country's second largest supporter.

Just hours after signing the deal with Berlin, Zelenskyy concluded a similar agreement with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. Among other things, the package includes a pledge of up to Є3 billion in additional aid for 2024.

This article was originally published in German.