DAVOS: Western countries are stepping up their weapons deliveries to Ukraine despite hesitations in Germany about supplying heavy tanks, underlining their growing confidence in Kyiv’s chances of victory.
With the conflict slowing down for winter, Ukraine’s supporters had warned for months that the biggest danger was so-called “Ukraine fatigue” in Western capitals.
If interest and sympathy wanes for the country’s plight nearly a year after Russia invaded, or surging food and fuel prices lead Western decision-makers to focus on their own domestic problems, backing for Ukraine could falter at a critical time.
Instead – for the time being – the opposite appears to be true after a string of new pledges this week of heavier weapons for Ukraine, coupled with strident support for Ukraine’s aim of reclaiming occupied land.
“We see the support and the help strengthening,” Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, told the World Economic Forum in Davos, where a huge Ukrainian delegation lobbied for assistance all week.
The West is indicating that “we will give you everything which you need, not only to exist, but to win. It’s important,” he said on Thursday.
Long wary about provoking nuclear-armed Russia, the West refused to arm Ukraine in a meaningful way before Russia’s invasion and has slow-walked deliveries of “offensive weapons” such as tanks and infantry fighting vehicles out of fear of provoking the Kremlin.
On Friday, the coalition of around 50 countries supporting Ukraine met at the Ramstein military base in Germany, with fresh weapons pledges expected.
On Thursday, the United States and Britain, Estonia, Sweden, Finland and Denmark announced individual packages, promising powerful new armored fighting vehicles, long-range high-precision artillery and vital stocks of ammunition.
Last weekend, Britain pledged its heavy Challenger tanks while Germany is under intense pressure to authorize the export of its widely used Leopards.
At the World Economic Forum, an annual jamboree of political leaders and high-powered corporate figures in the Swiss Alps, there was palpable relief that Europe was weathering the knock-on effects of the war, as well as full-throated support for Kyiv.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, despite his own widely reported doubts about supplying Leopards, promised German support for Ukraine for “as long as necessary”.
He also declared that “our energy supply for this winter is secure” – something that had looked highly uncertain just a few months ago, given the continent’s dependence on Russian gas that is no longer flowing.
Others too appeared intent on telegraphing to Vladimir Putin that he should not think he can wait for Western interest to wane.
“I think the only message that we need to send is that we will support Ukraine as long as needed. One year, two years, five years, 10 years, 15 years,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told an audience.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was obvious that “Ukraine is going to win”.
“Let’s end this quickly,” she said.
In another potentially significant development, The New York Times reported that President Joe Biden’s administration was “warming to the idea of Ukraine targeting Crimea”, the territory annexed by Russia in 2014 that Washington previously considered off-limits.
Even French leader Emmanuel Macron, who once urged the West not to “humiliate” Putin, now speaks openly of securing Ukrainian victory and is sending AMX-10 RC infantry fighting vehicles, the first of which will arrive next month.
Russia’s response has been to warn again about the risk of escalation.
The West was under a “dramatic delusion” that Ukraine can win, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, adding that the conflict was “developing in an upward spiral”.
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev meanwhile warned darkly that “a nuclear power losing in a conventional war can provoke the outbreak of a nuclear war” – an admission that a battlefield defeat was a possibility.
There remain persistent rumors that Putin will look to mobilize more men for the fight after calling up 300,000 reservists last September.
And in the long term, he might still wait out the West, where elections lead to regular changes in government and the appetite to sustain current levels of support for Kyiv is far from certain.
But for the moment, the debate about “Ukraine fatigue” appears closed.
“I’m often asked about ‘Ukraine fatigue’,” Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelensky told reporters in Davos.
“And to be completely honest with you, I already have fatigue for the questions about the fatigue.”