West must not show weakness when confronting Russia

Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defense unit train on a Saturday in a forest on January 22, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images

The West should be aware of showing any “weakness” when it comes to dealing with geopolitical crises like the current hostility between Ukraine and Russia, according to Kyiv’s Wladimir Klitschko.

Asked if the US is doing enough to help Ukraine as it faces a possible military confrontation with Russia, Klitschko said “there’s never enough.”

“I believe that sometimes the West shows weakness in certain situations and that we need to be more united and protect each other and protect our interests, protect our democracy that we’ve been fighting for and developing in the Western world,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Kyiv on Wednesday.

“I believe this unity will give us enormous strength,” he added, noting that there should be better communication between Western allies, and that a possible invasion of Ukraine “would be an issue for everybody.”

With Ukraine on high alert over a possible military confrontation with Russia, which has amassed tens of thousands of troops along the border with its neighbor, some Ukrainian officials have been critical of Kyiv being left out of high-level diplomatic talks between the US, NATO and Russia aimed at averting a confrontation.

Klitschko’s brother Vitali, Kyiv’s mayor, has been publicly critical of the response of one of Ukraine’s European allies, Germany, describing Berlin’s offer of 5,000 helmets to Ukraine as “a joke” which had left him “speechless.”

“The behavior of the German government leaves me speechless. The defense ministry apparently has not realized that we are confronted with perfectly equipped Russian forces that can start another invasion of Ukraine at any time,” he told the German newspaper Bild last Wednesday. “What kind of support will Germany send next?” he asked. “Pillows?”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday following a press conference, Vitali Klitschko said Ukraine had to now “be prepared for any scenario” as there were no immediate signs of tensions being dialed down, despite diplomatic talks continuing in the background between Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin , and Western leaders.

Wladimir Klitschko, also a former champion boxer, said there was little appetite in Ukraine for more bloodshed – particularly given the deaths of over 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine in an ongoing conflict between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region – but said , “we have to defend our country.”

Competing interests

Ukraine is not a member of NATO nor the EU, but has a pro-Western government. Russia insists it has no plans to invade Ukraine but it has already annexed a part of its territory, Crimea, in 2014, and supports two pro-Russian, self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

NATO is not obliged to defend Ukraine but it has beefed up its deployments in eastern Europe in case of a possible attack. Some countries, including the US and UK, have sent military hardware to Ukraine to help it defend itself but others, like France and Germany, are looking at talks with Russia and Ukraine in an attempt to break an impasse over what is largely seen as a battle over geopolitical influence between Russia and the West, with Ukraine in the middle.

Russia has repeatedly said it wants to defend its own security interests in the face of what it views as an expansion of Western military might (that is, NATO) on its doorstep in Europe and, particularly, in eastern Europe where missile defense systems are positioned in Romania and Poland.

It has demanded that Ukraine is never allowed to join NATO, and that the military alliance rolls back its deployments in eastern Europe. The US has refused those demands but says there is room for further dialogue.

On Tuesday, Putin accused Western nations of ignoring key Russian security concerns and said that the US wanted to “contain Russia” and that it was using Ukraine to do that.

He also reiterated Moscow’s position that any possible membership of Ukraine in NATO would “undermine Russia’s security.”

“Let’s imagine that Ukraine is a NATO member, it is fully packed of weapons, it gets advanced attack means like those in Poland and Romania and it starts an operation in Crimea,” Putin said, describing Crimea, a part of Ukraine annexed by Russia in 2014, as a “sovereign Russian territory.”

“Let’s imagine that Ukraine is a NATO member state and it initiates a military operation. What should we do then, [should we] fight against the NATO bloc? Did anyone think at least something about that? Apparently not. “

In Kyiv on Tuesday, meanwhile, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that any military confrontation with its neighbor Russia would amount to “a full-scale” war.

Speaking after a meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Zelenskyy said that any conflict with Russia would affect the whole of Europe.

“There will be, unfortunately, a tragedy if the escalation against our state begins. That is why I openly say: This will not be a war between Ukraine and Russia – this will be a war in Europe, full-scale war, because no one will give up their territories and people anymore, “the president said, speaking to reporters at a press conference with Johnson.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of Wladimir Klitschko.

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