BERLIN — Combatting war fatigue in the West has become a central challenge for Ukraine as it urges its allies to keep weapons and other aid flowing, according to Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrij Melnyk.
“There’s a feeling that now the tank issue has been settled people can put their feet up,” Melnyk told POLITICO ahead of a two-day summit with EU leaders in Kyiv. “A lot of people still don’t understand that the war is far from over.”
Melnyk rose to international prominence last year as a tireless advocate for arms deliveries from Germany, where he served as Ukraine’s ambassador until October. Though his confrontational approach ruffled many feathers in Berlin, it succeeded in putting the arms issue front and center of the debate, culminating in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision last week to reverse course and supply Kyiv with battle tanks.
Melnyk said that while he welcomed that decision — even cracking open a rare beer to celebrate — Ukraine needs more from Germany and other western countries, including fighter jets. More military support will be vital given that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “appears to have even more of an appetite than ever” to continue the war. Indeed, many western military analysts believe a spring offensive by Russia is inevitable.
“Putin is not an enemy one should underestimate,” Melnyk said.
That’s where the fighter jets come in.
“Without air support you can’t fight a modern war,” Melnyk said. We need more planes both to help liberate our territory and to mount a counteroffensive. We need everything that our partners can deliver. We’re not doing this for amusement.”
Part of Ukraine’s challenge is to convince wealthy Western European countries like Germany that they are just as exposed to Russia’s aggression as their neighbors in the East. Nothing in Putin’s past, from his invasion of Georgia in 2008 to the annexation of Crimea, suggests that success in Ukraine would prompt him to stop his march. Prolonged support for Ukraine will ultimately hinge on whether the European public understands the degree to which their own security is at stake.
While most Europeans support aiding Ukraine in its fight against Russia, the amount of military aid the region has so far supplied is a fraction of what the U.S., which has pledged nearly $30 billion, has committed. Germany, the largest donor in the EU, has agreed to send about €2.5 billion in military support.
That’s one reason why Ukrainian officials insist their Western partners could be doing much more. Melnyk, who now manages relations with North and South America for the foreign ministry, said that if there’s one thing his time in Germany taught him, it’s the value of persistence.
“It’s worth starting the debate even if you know that you’re not going to achieve your goals tomorrow and you end up being subjected to mockery and ridicule,” he said. “In Germany, I learned that it was helpful to take people out of their comfort zone. Much of the population had no idea what weapons system the army even had in its arsenal. We helped to educate them.”