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Look at the war through Ukrainian eyes

Amanda Paul

Date: 14/04/2022
The level of death, destruction and suffering being inflicted on the Ukrainian people is abhorrent. With Russia ramping up its eastern offensive, what the EU chooses to do next will be remembered for years to come.

Europe’s freedom fought in Ukraine

Ukrainians are defending themselves – and the rest of the free world – in a war of annihilation. Having failed to achieve the quick victory it wanted in the first phase of the war, Moscow doubled down on a war of attrition, inflicting indiscernible terror and pain on civilians, including children. As the atrocities in Bucha, Kramatorsk, Borodianka, Mariupol and elsewhere show, committing systematic war crimes is Russia’s calling card. 

The war’s second phase could potentially be long and bloody. Russia has revised its strategy, focusing its efforts on eastern and southeastern Ukraine.

Moscow has now prioritised the total capture of Mariupol, reinforced efforts in the Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia regions, and increased troop numbers and heavy machinery across the entire Donbas region. The city of Sloviansk, a major flashpoint in the 2014 war, is likely to be a key battleground again. That the Donbas borders Russia facilitates Russian troops and supply lines.

Furthermore, Russia now knows what to expect and will be better prepared – a case in point is the appointment of ruthless veteran General Aleksandr Dvornikov. He commanded Russia’s brutal campaign in Syria, which included the use of barbaric barrel bombs.  

Putin wants a success by 9 May, Russia’s Victory Day. This cannot happen. The Ukrainian military is doing more than its part. The EU and other allies must also do theirs if Europe is to remain whole and free.

The EU response so far

The EU’s initial response to Russia’s invasion was faster and more robust than many expected. Consecutive rounds of coordinated economic and individual sanctions are imposed on Russia. Ukraine has received some €1.5 billion in military aid. The EU also opened its borders to millions of Ukrainian refugees, showing important solidarity. Several European and EU leaders, including European Commission President von der Leyen, have travelled to Kyiv.

On 8 April, a fifth package of sanctions was imposed, including a ban on coal imports from Russia. Although an important step, that it only takes effect in August is disappointing. Germany, the largest importer of Russian coal, is to blame. Concerns about how fossil fuels can be replaced in Europe while Ukrainians are being killed, tortured and raped are beyond shameful. Continuing purchases of Russian fossil fuel is financing Putin’s war machine, providing the Kremlin with a sense of impunity.

Short-term pain for long-term gain

This is a watershed moment, not only for Ukraine but for Europe more broadly. Delays, indecision and fears about domestic impacts, the costs of sanctions or the risks of provoking Putin must end. Russia has already demonstrated its readiness to commit heinous crimes against humanity without any provocation and which US President Biden has labelled as a genocide.

Clearly, pushing back against Russia comes at a price for Europeans. This war has worsened inflation and food and energy costs which were already rising pre-invasion. Living standards are dropping, and recession may come to many parts of Europe. European citizens are paying for the short-sighted decisions of some leaders.

History has taught us that bullies must be stood up to, and yet Putin has repeatedly been given second chances: after murdering Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, or using chemical weapons in Sailsbury in 2018. For its annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia received little more than a slap on the wrist. Even after the attempted murder of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020, Germany steamed ahead with the North Stream 2 gas pipeline – and despite being fully aware that Russia has weaponised gas for years.

Citizens across Europe have been shocked to the core by the barbarity of Russia’s invasion. Regardless of the hard times they now face, they have shown unprecedented levels of solidarity, opening their homes to Ukrainian families and donating millions. Yes, life will be tough for a while, but not forever. The costs of inaction would be much worse.

Putin is more than capable of bringing this war to other European states if he senses hesitation – including NATO members. Furthermore, his past use of chemical weapons should be a cautionary tale for what could come if he is not stopped. The price of not stepping up would be a loss of security and freedom.    

Together with its allies, the EU must ramp up its commitment to Kyiv. Several steps should be taken immediately under four axes.

1.     Rapid delivery of heavy weapons

Ukrainian troops have demonstrated their ability to defeat Russia on the battlefield. However, the West not giving Ukraine all the tools it needs to do this effectively is equal to green-lighting the Kremlin to crank up the pressure.

Most of the weapons that Ukraine has received are for dealing with insurgencies. Ukraine needs more offensive weapons that will allow its forces to counterattack, win a conventional war and hit Russian bases. This includes coastal defence missiles, medium- to high-altitude surface-to-air missiles, heavy artillery, drones, tanks, jets, helicopters, S-400 missile systems, anti-tank guided weapons, man-portable air-defence systems, loitering munitions, ammunition and fuel. It is particularly important to provide Ukraine with equipment to help reduce Russia’s air superiority and counter attacks from the Black Sea.

While some smaller NATO members face difficulties in their ability to sustain deliveries, the Alliance’s largest militaries, along with Australia, must go the extra mile.

2.     Humanitarian and civilian support

Scale up humanitarian medical support. The World Health Organization estimates that some 100 attacks on Ukrainian healthcare facilities have occurred since the war began. Functioning hospitals – particularly in eastern and southern Ukraine – are overwhelmed by not only growing numbers of patients but also shortages of medical supplies and equipment.

While all humanitarian assistance is crucial, the hospitals must remain open and be supplied sufficiently. Given the situation in the eastern and southern Ukraine, it is also crucial to step up efforts to move patients to other parts of the country or into EU member states.

Humanitarian assistance for independent actors like the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières remains crucial. They not only support local actors in crisis-hit areas but also log events and facts on the ground – for example, Russia’s shelling of humanitarian corridors.

Support civil society. Ukraine has a dynamic civil society. The war has left many civil society organisations in a perilous financial situation. Their work during and after the war is and will be crucial. They are not only an important source of independent information but can also play a crucial role in gathering, verifying, coordinating and documenting evidence of Russian war crimes. Civil society actors must receive the necessary funds to continue their work.

3.     Shore up the economy

Cancel Ukraine’s international debt. Pre-war, Ukraine had borrowed significant amounts of money from international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Despite making important steps to reform and strengthen the economy, the costs incurred from the eight-year war in the Donbas and COVID-19 were hefty. Ukraine’s projected debt payments to the IMF for 2022 are significant. With Russia’s invasion ravaging the country, Ukraine will be unable to repay these debts. The country is already facing at least $100 billion worth of damage – a figure that will only grow. Furthermore, Ukraine’s economy is expected to shrink by some 45.1% this year, and possibly more if the war intensifies. Ukraine is going to need long-term financial support for the years to come.

Increase imports of Ukrainian goods in sectors where Ukraine can still export. This could include honey, corn, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, soya beans.

4.     Stop financing Putin’s war machine

Ending coal purchases is insufficient to cripple Russia’s economy. Up to €800 million enters Moscow’s coffers every day from EU oil and gas sales. German Chancellor Scholz’s claim that “we are doing all we can” is not true. That Ukraine’s leadership told German President Steinmeier that they did not want him to come to Kyiv is very telling of how Ukrainians view Germany’s policy.

EU leaders must speed up the plans to end their dependence on Russian oil and gas. Halting oil imports could happen immediately. If managed well, disruptions would be temporary. In financial terms, gas is Russia’s biggest earner. The EU’s deadlines of cutting Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year and totally by 2030 are too slow. Increasing gas through other routes (e.g. the Southern Gas Corridor), identifying alternative supplies (i.e. liquefied natural gas from the US, Qatar, Egypt) and expanding clean energy should be priorities. Increasing the use of biomethane and hydrogen could also help. Some member states have already taken creative steps: Sweden and Estonia clubbed together to rent a liquefied natural gas floating terminal.  

Stop putting profits before principles. While over 600 international businesses have left Russia, some activities continue. French firms are Russia’s biggest foreign employer and have been particularly reluctant to stop trading with Russia.

In addition to these measures, other important tasks must also be completed: implementing the existing sanctions effectively to ensure that all loopholes are closed; removing all Russian banks from the global payments network SWIFT; and beefing up efforts against disinformation. The latter should include imposing sanctions on Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, for spreading Russian propaganda and defending Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

Shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine

Taken together, these steps will help Ukraine repel the largest attack on a European state since 1945. Europeans must understand and accept that they are not mere spectators in this war and are fully involved. Only by standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine – seeing the war through the eyes of Ukrainians surviving this hell – and doing whatever it takes to help Kyiv will this war be won, and Europe remain free and secure.

Amanda Paul is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Europe in the World programme at the European Policy Centre.

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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