Ukrainians assess their friends, enemies and frenemies...
Which of today's world leaders provides the full support Ukraine truly needs? Who plays into Putin's hands? Who's caught in the middle, and lacks the courage to choose sides?
With an overdue visit to Kyiv Thursday by three of Europe’s top leaders, Emmanuel Macron of France, Olaf Scholz of Germany and Mario Draghi of Italy, those questions were whispered far from the photo ops. The question of the solidity of its alliances are life-and-death for Kyiv, facing a much stronger military in an existential war against Russia.
Ukraine has so far received about 10% of the military aid it needs from Western partners to counter Russian aggression, Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar said Tuesday during a television fundraising drive.
"To date, Ukraine is using all its capacities and forces to resist Russia. And Russia's capabilities in terms of weaponry, in terms of the number of military personnel, are far superior,” she said. “And no matter what efforts Ukraine makes, no matter how professional our army is, we cannot win this war without the help of partners.”
Building and maintaining political support internationally has been central to most recent Ukrainian presidents. But in wartime, it has transformed into a tangible (and urgent) need for military hardware — and it has become a high-stakes sport of sorts for President Volodymyr Zelensky and those around him to measure the solidarity of world leaders.
For Ukrainian people and politicians alike, this is how the roster of world leaders is looking today.
Joe Biden, the indispensable ally
The U.S. President is a fully trusted partner, even if Kyiv hasn’t always gotten what it wants from Washington. In the lead up to the invasion in February, the U.S. overestimated Russian forces, and did not seem to trust the Ukrainian army's capacity for active resistance or the utility of sending arms to Kyiv. Some in the Pentagon predicted that the capital would fall within 96 hours.
Joe Biden has won wide praise in Ukraine by calling Putin a war criminal and butcher.
That began to change with the impressive showing of Ukraine’s military, pushing Russia back in the early weeks of the war. But Ukrainian Pravdawrites that the real turning point in the arms issue was the meeting at the U.S. Ramstein base in Germany on April 26. It was there that an agreement in principle was reached to augment the supply of weapons to Ukraine, in both quantity and quality. Heavy armament, such as 155-millimeter M777 howitzer, were first delivered after the adoption of the Lend-Lease. The support continued this week with another $1 billion pledged to Kyiv on Wednesday night.
But beyond the hardware, Joe Biden has won wide praise in Ukraine by calling Putin a war criminal and butcher even while finding ways to keep his distance from his nuclear opponent.
Overall, Ukrainians understand that the U.S. today is the main driver of sanctions against Russia, and by far the leader in overall terms of the number of weapons transferred to Ukraine. Still, and always, even under new circumstances, the U.S. remains what Madeleine Albright called in 1998: the indispensable nation.
Still, Ukrainians understand the world has changed...and one indispensable ally isn't enough to defeat Russia.
Emmanuel Macron, trust issues
Perhaps no other politician in Ukraine is mocked more than the French president. According to his own statements, he has spent over 100 hours on the phone with Putin in the last six months — and is proud to say that he continues to call him regularly.
This seemed to culminate in Macron’s urging allies "not to humiliate Russia."
Still, France continues to supply Ukraine with arms, howitzers, and anti-tank missiles, and train its soldiers. The decision to supply heavy weaponry is still under consideration, as is France's decision to support Ukraine's EU candidate status.
It’s not overstating it to say that Ukrainians don’t trust Macron. The Kyiv weekly Zerkalo Nedeliwrites that the Russian security services have dirt on every French president - whether linked to corruption or their private lives. Russian fake news operations tried to smear Macron during his first campaign in 2017.
Russian political activist Andrei Piontkovsky points out that a week after Macron’s first term began in 2017, Putin was at the Elysée Palace for a press conference, and Macron launched a frontal attack against Putin and the Russian media that had spread rumors about him.
No Western leader had ever spoken to Putin like that. But a month later there was an economic summit in St. Petersburg, where everyone was surprised to see a completely different Macron, “so timid, wagging his tail in the presence of Putin," Piontkovsky said.
Though Macron had strong words Thursday against the Russian invasion, the suspicion remains that he may have something to hide, and can't necessarily be counted on when the going gets rough.
Olaf Scholz, too close to Putin
It was during a recent interview with German broadcaster ZDF that Volodymyr Zelensky decided not to hold back (publicly) any longer.
"We need Chancellor Scholz to assure us that Germany will support Ukraine,” Zelensky insisted. “He and his government must make a decision: you cannot try to balance between Ukraine and relations with Russia, you must choose."
The tensions between Ukraine and Germany are caused not only by Scholz's soft-on-Putin policy but also by persistent delays in the delivery of weapons, tanks, and artillery. The German publication Der Spiegel wrote that the real reason for holding back the arms is fear that Ukraine will become too self-confident and decide to invade Russia.
Doubts about Germany policy on Russia date back to previous administrations, and Angela Merkel was recently forced to justify how she handled Putin during her 16 years in power. But the real suspicions around Scholz are his proximity to another former Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, a close Putin friend before and after his time in office.
Boris Johnson and Andrzej Duda, all in
Since the Russian invasion, the most assured and active political allies of Ukraine have been Britain and, not surprisingly, Poland. While the Ukrainian army has been receiving military aid from its closest neighbors like Poland since 2014, Britain's uncompromising stance was a pleasant surprise.
It is also worth noting, and not forgetting, that it was Poland that took in the bulk of refugees.
Relations with both countries became much stronger during the months of the war, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Polish President Andrzej Duda were among the first to visit Kyiv and assured Zelensky not only of support with arms and finances but also offered to form a military coalition to ensure mutual security even after the war — especially important in the face of the failure of the Budapest Memorandum (Britain, the U.S., and Russia signed a memorandum on protecting Ukraine in exchange for giving up nuclear weapons) and the weakening of NATO.
It is also worth noting, and not forgetting, that it was Poland that took in the bulk of refugees from Ukraine and ensured their transfer to other European countries.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Xi Jinping, looking for an angle
Erdogan and Putin go way back, and have common interests.en.kremlin.ru
The Kazakh editorial board of Radio Liberty writes that it was Turkey and China that turned out to be the two countries most eager to score points during Russia's war in Ukraine.
"Both Turkey and China's activity in Central Asia [since the start of the war] has increased markedly," says Erica Marat, a researcher at the National Defense University in Washington. “Both countries see an opportunity to expand their presence in the region."
Turkey has recently expanded its presence in Central Asia by signing trade and defense agreements, and increasing arms sales to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
China, meanwhile, is pursuing its own security interests in the region and securing access to energy and other raw materials. Yet Beijing’s love is conditional, and Putin has been unable to demonstrate a convincing victory, worrying China's Communist Party, which doesn’t like losers.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during a recent meeting of Chinese and Central Asian foreign ministers in Nur-Sultan, "expressed deep concern about the serious spillover effects of the Ukrainian crisis" and urged Central Asian governments to stay away from geopolitical conflicts by reiterating their economic interests in the region, Radio Liberty wrote.
Separately, it is important to note Erdogan's desire not only to capitalize on the Ukrainian grain trade and strengthen his position by influencing the Northern countries' decisions to join NATO, but also to act as a political moderator between Russia and Ukraine, hoping thus to consolidate his influence on politics and in the region.