Europe is preparing Ukraine for a conflict with Russia: but Kiev will fight alone

Western partners do not give Zelensky offensive weapons

After a tense – and, in fact, inconclusive – last week of negotiations between Russia and the collective West, European countries are again increasing their activity in the Ukrainian direction . And if such states as Sweden use the conflict in Donbass to justify strengthening their defense, then, for example, Great Britain and Germany are talking about the supply of military assistance directly to Kiev. However, not without significant nuances.


German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock began the third week of January with a trip to Ukraine, where she held a series of meetings, including face-to-face talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During the contacts, the importance of interaction between the two states was again emphasized, as well as Germany's commitment to the principle of the territorial integrity of the Eastern European republic. However, such statements did not come as a surprise: a week earlier, Ukrainian representatives proudly reminded during the OSCE negotiations that the West is invariably on the side of Kiev.

However, during Burbock's visit, Ukrainians were also in for an unpleasant surprise. The German minister reiterated that her country does not intend to provide lethal weapons to Kiev for use in the Donbass conflict, and this problem itself must still be resolved exclusively on the diplomatic field, in particular, within the so-called Normandy format, where, in addition to Germany, includes Russia, Ukraine and France.

A fragile hope for the support of the case from the Ukrainian authorities was caused even by the statement of the head of the Bundestag committee on foreign policy, Michael Roth, representing the ruling Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). According to him, Berlin will still be able to provide military assistance to Kiev in the future, but only in terms of the supply of protective equipment: body armor and helmets.

The position of Germany, despite the regularly declared solidarity with Ukraine, is quite understandable. As a member of the Normandy Four, Germany cannot afford to directly intervene in hostilities, which would be the supply of offensive or simply lethal weapons: this would simply marginalize its role in the negotiation process against the backdrop of France and Russia, which are also not parties to the conflict. In addition, Berlin fundamentally avoids direct intervention in territorial disputes, managing only official, albeit sometimes harsh, statements.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, in turn, expressed hope for the continuation of negotiations with the FRG on possible arms supplies, but this statement was made, rather, for the sake of the notorious “saving face” and for the domestic audience. Both the minister himself and his German partners are well aware that Berlin's decision is final. Even the United States, whose hands seem to be untied (they are not burdened with diplomatic obligations of the “Normandy format”, and there are enough “hawks” in the American Congress), and even then they were in no hurry to supply lethal weapons to Kiev: under these conditions, Germany definitely cannot run ahead of the locomotive meaning.

Nevertheless, Burbock's uncompromising statement, ironically, coincided with the activation of Great Britain in the Ukrainian direction. The authorities of the United Kingdom announced the start of deliveries of defensive weapons to Kiev, in particular, anti-tank ones.

The position of London in this context is much less categorical than the German one. On the one hand, formally, we are really talking about means of protection. The head of the British Ministry of Defense, Ben Wallace, emphasized that they do not pose a threat to Russia, not being strategic. He also denied the possibility of direct intervention in the hostilities in the Donbass. “It would be a mistake to assume that representatives of the British armed forces will go to Ukraine and unite with local [government] troops there,” the minister said. “That is why we are making every effort so that the Ukrainians can help themselves.” In addition, once again emphasizing the unwillingness to go into conflict with Moscow, Wallace recalled that a few weeks ago he invited his Russian colleague Sergei Shoigu to London to discuss security issues.

However, even despite such conditionally friendly rhetoric, the very fact of deliveries from the UK is a tricky move and, if I may say so, slippery. Anti-tank weapons, while formally defensive, are still incomparable with protective equipment like bulletproof vests, since in fact they are lethal in nature (it is difficult to avoid victims when an anti-tank projectile hits an armored vehicle). This is well understood in Kiev, Moscow, and London: the question is to what extent Russia is ready to turn a blind eye to a not too elegant British maneuver.

As for the Ukrainian side, it is no less important than the issue of armaments, for her remains “Nord Stream – 2”. Minister Kuleba, during a meeting with Burbock, raised this problem, again calling on Europe to prevent the operation of the gas pipeline. The head of the German Foreign Ministry, however, escaped with vague statements, which, in fact, nevertheless made it clear: the leading EU countries do not intend to sacrifice their energy stability to please the whims of Kiev.

Burbock's visit, like the “half-hearted” the position of London, proved once again: the resolution of the crisis in Ukraine is, first of all, in the US-Russian plane and, judging by the unsuccessful negotiations at the level of official representatives, in this case, a direct dialogue is needed between the US and Russian presidents, who can directly influence the parties Donbas conflict.


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