[Opinion] : From Munich to New York: supporting Ukraine and promoting a just peace


By Josep Borrell

Brussels, 22 February 2023, – As 24 February nears, this week is dominated by one year of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. After the Munich Security Conference, the EU Foreign Affairs Council, President Biden’s trip to Kyiv, the NATO-Ukraine-EU tripartite meeting and Putin’s war speech, it will end with the UN General Assembly and a Security Council meeting in New York. Events are piling up and history is accelerating.

Last weekend, I participated in the Munich Security Conference, which brings together a large number of world leaders every year, and today I am going to New York to participate in the UN General Assembly where a resolution on the conditions for a just peace in Ukraine will be voted on. I will also address the Security Council on the global geopolitical situation. I will speak of course about the consequences of the war of aggression against Ukraine but also about other global issues.

The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is a kind of strategic Davos, minus the CEOs of the multinationals, plus the military experts. It was, and still is, the forum par excellence for transatlantic debate. But it is gradually expanding to include the rest of the world, which already represents three quarters of the population and 60% of the world’s wealth.

The end of this conflict requires a victory for Ukraine

The dominant issue was the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. For almost all participants and speakers, the end of this conflict requires a victory for Ukraine. This victory does not at all mean the destruction of Russia, but it does require Russia to withdraw from the Ukrainian territory it is illegally occupying. There is a broad consensus on this point in Europe. In Munich, I did not see a war camp on one side and a peace camp on the other: in order to achieve a just peace, Ukraine must first win the war.

Politically and morally, Russia has already lost this war. However, Ukraine has not won it yet. Because Putin desperately needs a symbolic victory to celebrate the anniversary, the Russian army is ready to sacrifice up to 1,000 soldiers in a week for a few hundred metres around Bakhmut. Unlike Russia, Ukraine cannot afford to send successive waves of soldiers to their deaths in the hope that some of them will eventually cross enemy lines.

We need to move up the gear to meet the growing needs of the Ukrainian army

The war has become mainly an artillery duel. The Russian army fires an average of 40,000 shells a day, much more than the Ukrainians. Ukraine does not want to enter into a military bidding war, but it needs to be able to retaliate. To do so, it needs ammunition and in particular 155 mm shells, the calibre used by the weapons supplied by Europe and the US. This is not a new subject and EU member states are already delivering ammunition to Ukraine. However, we need to move up the gear to meet the growing needs of the Ukrainian army. We discussed this issue at the Foreign Affairs Council last Monday and I am engaging with the EU27 Defence Ministers to ask them to speed up the delivery of ammunition to Ukraine from their current stocks.

The European arms industry must produce much more ammunition in the coming months. And for this to happen, it must have visibility on the production that is required of them. I indicated in Munich that we have a suitable mechanism for that purpose: the European Peace Facility, which since the beginning of the war has accumulated significant experience in coordinating and co-financing military aid to Ukraine. It allows matching Ukrainian requests with member states’ capabilities. We will discuss how to speed up ammunition production on 7 March at the EU Defence Ministers’ meeting in Stockholm.

We were not able to dissuade Russia from acting

To avoid any recurrence of such an aggression as the Russian attack, we must also learn to defend ourselves better. If there is a lesson to be learned from the invasion of Ukraine, it is that we were not able to dissuade Russia from acting, not least because we underestimated the danger it posed to our security. Some member states had pointed this out, but others did not think so or did not want to believe it. Now things are clear. Russia has its place in the world and no one is disputing this or its borders. On the contrary, Russia contests the existence of some of its neighbours in the name of an imperial, or even neo-colonial, vision that it is struggling to shed. In Munich, there was much talk of the “Russian mourning of the Empire”. As long as Russia has not renounced this imperial vision, it represents a threat to world peace.

The continuation of this war is also of concern to many states of the so-called Global South. This Global South is far from being united, however. And I know enough about international reality to understand the motives of some states that use this banner to advance their national agenda. But we must reassure these countries and in particular show them that our legitimate interest in Ukraine does not distract us from the other issues that concern the world, in particular for instance the balance between climate change, the environment and development.

I stressed this point also to my Chinese, Brazilian, Kuwaiti, Jordanian and Pakistani interlocutors. With my Chinese interlocutor, Councillor Wang Yi, as well as with my Brazilian interlocutor, I indicated that we were of course open to the peace initiatives that they wished to take with regard to Ukraine. Provided, however, that we did not forget the core: the principles of the United Nations Charter, the right of self-defence, the non-use of force and respect for the territorial integrity of all states, beginning with Ukraine.

Europeans aspire to a peaceful solution to this conflict

Indeed, Europeans aspire to a peaceful solution to this conflict based on the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter, as I will have the opportunity to repeat before the General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council. However, under the current conditions, calling for a ceasefire and unconditional negotiations can only result in perpetuating the illegal occupation of Ukrainian territories and giving Russia time to restart the war in a few months. Moreover, any initiative that ignores the Ukrainian peace plan cannot succeed. That is why it was good to see that the Chinese representative held a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart.

I was also very sensitive to the concerns of many of my colleagues in the Middle East. Iran has been a major source of concern for many Gulf countries, since the freezing of the JPCOA talks was accompanied by an intensification of relations between Iran and Russia. I am also concerned about the worsening situation in the Middle East where the development of settlements in the West Bank can only aggravate tensions and further delay a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Biden’s highly symbolic and political visit to Kyiv

The day after the Munich Security Conference, US President Biden paid a highly symbolic and political visit to Kyiv before delivering a speech in Poland on Tuesday on the war and the United States’ full support to Ukraine. Transatlantic solidarity is stronger than ever and if Vladimir Putin was counting on Western fatigue to eventually gain the upper hand in Ukraine, this visit sent a clear message that he was once again wrong.

And to reinforce this message, on Tuesday, I met in Brussels with the Ukrainian Minister Kuleba and the Secretary General of NATO in an unprecedented tripartite format to show our unity and coordinate between NATO and the EU to provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to defend itself. At the same time, the Russian president was repeating his usual lies and threats in Moscow before the deputies of a Duma that has long stopped to be a real and democratic parliament.

The UN is a good mirror of the state of the world

The war in Ukraine has also transformed the European Union, turning geopolitical Europe from a slogan into a reality. We have started to take our responsibilities seriously, but this work has only just begun. We will continue it in coming days at the UN General Assembly and in the Security Council. The UN is a good mirror of the state of the world: a vast majority of countries still consider that the UN can provide solutions through multilateral action. And many see the need for a stronger role for the EU in the multilateral system. All this makes the UN a good place to show that we are attentive to the legitimate needs and interest of our partners and not only to their votes at this critical moment.

Josep Borrell is High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission

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