Zelensky to address Munich conference with Ukraine in focus
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky will Friday open the Munich Security Conference, as world leaders gather to renew their vow to back Kyiv against Russian forces ahead of the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion.
US-China ties will also be in focus at the three-day gathering, with tensions sky-high after Washington shot down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon over US territory.
But the spotlight will be firmly on Ukraine, just days ahead of the February 24 anniversary of Moscow sending its forces into the country, unleashing war in Europe for the first time in decades.
Zelensky will address the official opening event via video link later, with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and France’s President Emmanuel Macron also to speak.
Others attending the gathering include US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
Russian delegates including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was a regular attendee at Munich in the past, have not been invited.
Representing Ukraine at the conference, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he planned talks with a series of top officials focused on weapons supplies.
“The priorities will be speeding up the supply of arms and ammunition already promised to Ukraine, and the adoption of political decisions in the future on the provision of combat aircraft for Ukraine,” he said in an Instagram post.
Ukraine’s Western backers, led by the United States, have given it a huge amount of weapons and pledged a barrage of others, including heavy battle tanks long sought by Kyiv to counter Russia’s offensive.
Zelensky is now ramping up pleas for Western fighter jets, though Ukraine’s allies have so far been cool on the subject.
– ‘Terrorist state’ –
Ukraine’s foreign minister also welcomed the decision not to invite leaders from Russia to the conference.
“As long as the terrorist state kills, as long as it uses bombs, missiles and tanks as an argument for international politics, neither Russia nor its citizens should be at the negotiating table,” he said.
The recent decision by Berlin to allow German-made Leopard tanks to be sent to Ukraine — after weeks of hesitation — has fuelled hope in Kyiv about potential future weapons deliveries.
Still, Germany — which itself has promised to deliver 14 Leopards from military stocks — is now struggling to persuade allies to commit to giving up their own for Ukraine.
After a meeting of Ukraine’s backers in Brussels this week, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said allies so far only managed to muster “half a battalion” of newer Leopard 2 tanks to send.
Pistorius said Friday he would be talking to counterparts from Poland, which has also vowed to supply tanks for Ukraine, at the Munich conference about supplying ammunition and spare parts for Leopards.
Kuleba is also expected to join a meeting of foreign ministers from the G7 club of rich countries on Saturday, on the sidelines of the conference.
With signs that Russia is managing to adapt to the sanctions imposed over its invasion, the United States and its allies plan a major array of new measures against Moscow to mark the invasion’s anniversary, a US official said.
At one of the event’s opening panels, conference chairman Christoph Heusgen said the “Russian aggression” amounts to a “battle of between the rule of law, and the law of the strongest”.
The Munich conference stands for “the rules-based order”, he added.
With a high-level US delegation including Harris and Blinken in town, and a senior Chinese team led by Wang, there has been speculation of talks on the sidelines to ease tensions amid the spy balloon row.
The huge white balloon from China was spotted over a series of secret nuclear weapons sites earlier this month, before being shot down just off the eastern US coast.
The incident prompted a diplomatic rift, with Blinken cancelling a rare China visit. Beijing, however, says the balloon was just a stray weather research craft.