How to Support Ukraine in Resisting the Russian Invasion?

On 22 March 2022, the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels and the Polish Institute of International Affairs Brussels Office organised the debate “How to support Ukraine in resisting the Russian invasion?”.

Panelists and participants discussed Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian aggression, the Western community’s support, especially in terms of weapons deliveries and humanitarian assistance, and sanctions against Russia.

Lukasz Jurczyszyn, Director of Brussels Office, Polish Institute of International Affairs opened the debate, welcomed the panelists, and invited them to address the following questions: should the EU provide more support to Ukraine? What does Ukraine urgently need to counter the Russian invasion? Should more sanctions be imposed on Russia? What are the lessons the EU learned from the policies towards  Russia in terms of military and financial support, further sanctions?

Olena Carbou, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels provided a general assessment of the situation in Ukraine and addressed the main issues on how to support Ukraine in resisting the Russian invasion. She primarily reminded the reasons the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, which is a restoration of the USSR or alike formation, which includes the elimination of Ukrainians as a nation, and destruction of the free and democratic world to demonstrate that the system is incapable to defend itself, its values and citizens. And this means that it is not only Ukraine that is in danger but the free world as such. Ms. Carbou emphasised the actions needed to be taken to help Ukraine win. This should be done through increasing weaponisation (weapons, air defense systems, aircraft, etc), as only the military defeat of Russia in combination with the effect of sanctions can cause the regime’s fall. The full package of economic sanctions must be increased as well. Economic isolation will cut Russia from gaining sources of revenue to fuel its military machine, which takes people’s lives. In addition, sanctions must not be lifted until the defeat of Russia and its withdrawal from occupied territories to prevent the expansion of war or its repetition. The protection of civilians in Ukraine is another important action. The war crimes committed by Russia must be recorded and brought to court. Humanitarian organisations should restore their full work in Ukraine to help civilians affected by these war crimes. Ms. Carbou underlined that a peace agreement, following the Ukrainian victory, should include full restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty including the lands occupied in 2014, reparations, security guarantees to Ukraine from world security structures. She also stressed that Ukraine should not agree or be pushed to agree on anything less than this, otherwise it would give Russia time to mobilise resources and attack again. The provision of EU membership prospect for Ukraine has a crucial moral meaning, as it provides hopes for a prosperous and democratic future.

Carbou: “The war became an earthquake for the European continent, but the real understanding of danger is still to come.”

Daniel Szeligowsky, Head of Eastern Europe Programme, Polish Institute of International Affairs in his introductory remarks mentioned the collective responsibility of Russians and not only Vladimir Putin for the war atrocities committed in Ukraine by the Russian Federation. He also underlined that the reason of invasion was annihilation of Ukraine as a sovereign country, not Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as many consider, due to Putin’s aspirations to rebuild the Soviet Union. In terms of further actions to be taken to support Ukraine Mr. Szeligowsky pointed out that it is crucially important not to result with “Minsk III” while seeking for a ceasefire, as this will only give Russia time to regroup, mobilise resources and strengthen its positions. He articulated three ways of support to Ukraine. The first way is military assistance in form of any weapon needed by Ukraine: air defense systems, instruments to fight long-range missiles and long-range artillery strikes. The second way is economic assistance. As Ukraine is cut from the Black Sea and Azov Sea, which are important routes for export, the financial and economic situation in the country will worsen in a few months. The EU states should provide Ukraine with financial support directly in form of debt-relief assistance, rather than loans, which should be repaid and which are currently unbearable burden for Ukrainian economy in war circumstances. The third way of support is humanitarian aid, as in the foreseeable future there might be a shortage of food supplies. Ukraine has been always considered a “breadbasket of Europe”, but currently ⅓ of its soils are non-operational due Russian invasion. Thus, the EU states should be ready to assist Ukraine with basic needs in terms of humanitarian assistance.

Szeligowsky: “The Russians want us to believe that the agreement is close, because they want us to delay the weapons supply to Ukraine, but they are only buying time to regroup.”

 Steven Blockmans, Director of CEPS, commented on Ukraine’s membership application to the EU emphasising that a stronger response is needed. The European Council is giving a strategic and cautious approach to embrace Ukraine as a potential candidate country. Granting this status quickly is of paramount importance to signal EU’s fundamental support to Ukraine and its firm commitment to freedom. Due to the big investments within the framework of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement since 2014, Ukraine can already be qualified as a candidate country. The evidence suggests that in terms of approximating EU’s laws and norms Ukraine is ahead of some Western Balkan states. In light of the unprecedented circumstances and absence of legal impediment to the European Commission, the normal enlargement procedure can and should be adapted. Staged accession to the EU would foresee the introduction of clearly marked membership conditions with larger benefits of structural funding and inclusion of applicant countries’ administration in the functions of EU institutions. This, in turn, should help produce tangible rewards for reform, as well as time candidate countries in a more genuine pre-accession process. When it comes to European dependency on fossil fuels, the EU should focus on reinforcing its strategic gas reserves. Other than adopting further sanctions, the EU can also create a European stability mechanism that purchases gas and redistributes it to countries in need.

 Blockmans: “The current enlargement methodologies need to be reviewed to generate the necessary buy-in of some member states in support of reform in applicant countries and to assist the European Commission in monitoring its progress.”

Boris Iarochevitch, Senior Advisor, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, European External Action Service, confirmed that the EU stands fully with Ukraine and recognises its aspirations to join the union, with the European Commission actively assessing the possibility of a fast-track procedure for Ukraine. The EU’s support has been extensive with numerous loans, grants, and emergency packages, including from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and European Investment Bank. Military support has been strengthened and the contribution to the European Peace Facility has been doubled to €1 billion. The UN resolution on the war received broad support and the EU has adopted four packages of sanctions since 24 February whose scope and nature is totally unprecedented. It is foreseen that these sanctions will have a tough mid-term impact on the Russian economy, isolating it in terms of financial support and trade, withdrawing the most favored nation status from Russia, and depriving it from the double veto. The EU remains committed to tackling huge state propaganda and brainwashing on Russian state media and will carry on with its exchange programs in the field of education. Third countries, such as Turkey and Israel, as well as the UN, could facilitate conflict resolution. Various post-war scenarios should be developed, including supply and food security.

 Iarochevitch: “EU stands fully with Ukraine and recognises its aspirations to join the Union, with the European Commission actively assessing the possibility of a fast-track procedure for Ukraine.

Video recording