As Russia mounts new offensive, Western allies’ help for Ukraine could be too little, too late
More weapons. More money. More sanctions. More commitments to provide security guarantees.
Major Western allies on Tuesday promised Ukraine more of virtually every type of assistance, but they could offer no more assurances that any of it would stop Russia’s brutal new military assault in eastern Ukraine, or prevent the Kremlin’s armies from conquering all of Donbas or committing further wartime atrocities.
The pledges of additional support came after a videoconference of allied leaders convened by U.S. President Joe Biden. But, in fact, the pledges were largely a recitation of help previously promised to Ukraine, with only vague suggestions of new assistance — raising a high risk that Ukrainian forces would find themselves running low on ammunition and weapons at a potentially decisive moment in the war.
Russia on Monday night unleashed a ferocious bombardment, striking targets all across Ukraine as it began what senior Kremlin officials described as a new phase of the war focused on the eastern region of Donbas. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials have pleaded with the West for more weapons and ammunition, while insisting their forces will not surrender any turf.
Biden’s videoconference on Tuesday was joined by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
One senior EU official said it was important for the leaders to reconnect but also acknowledged there was “no real deliverable” from the call. Rather, the official said, leaders gave updates on assistance being provided by individual nations, and discussed theoretical plans for helping guarantee Ukraine’s future security and for rebuilding the country.
In the meantime, however, fierce battles already underway in eastern Ukraine could determine the country’s fate. “What happens in the east could have a catastrophic effect on the whole situation in Ukraine,” the senior official said.
Asked, as he disembarked Air Force One upon landing Tuesday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, if he would be sending more artillery to Ukraine, Biden answered simply: “Yes.”
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, later offered minimal additional clarity, saying: “Yes, President Biden and the leaders on the call this morning spoke about providing more ammunition and security assistance to Ukraine.”
The White House had previously announced $800 million in additional military assistance, which senior Pentagon officials said had begun arriving by air shipments on Monday, with another seven cargo flights to follow in coming days. It was unclear if Biden’s “yes” reflected any help beyond what was already approved.
Meanwhile, Scholz, the German chancellor, made his own vague remarks on Tuesday, suggesting Berlin was prepared to help resupply Eastern European NATO allies that provide Soviet-made weapons to Ukraine.
Germany late last week said it would provide more than €1 billion in military assistance, partly offering money for Ukraine to make its own purchases in order to circumvent a debate over sending heavy weaponry such as tanks.
But after the videoconference, it was still unclear how much help Germany was willing to provide, or precisely what types of heavy weaponry it would allow to be purchased with its assistance. Instead, Scholz focused on making use of Russian-made materiel Eastern European nations currently possess.
Western allies, Scholz said, “have come to the same conclusion that it makes most sense if those weapon systems that are still in use in Eastern NATO partner countries are put into use from there, and that we then make sure that the own security of those countries remains assured in the future.”
Speaking to reporters in Berlin, Scholz said Western countries would provide the necessary money for Ukraine “to buy military equipment from industrial production in our countries,” referring to a decision taken last week.
While Scholz said this could also involve heavier weapons that “can be used in an artillery battle,” he again ruled out delivering German tanks like the Leopard or Marder, which Kyiv had repeatedly asked for, to Ukraine.
A diplomatic adviser to Macron, the French president, said the leaders had used the videoconference to discuss “guarantees of security” for Ukraine, that would be “sufficiently robust to avoid another war.” The adviser added: “We will need an international framework to respond to those needs.”
But such discussions seemed bizarrely premature given the active Russian assault underway in Donbas and the continued ferocious bombing of besieged cities, including in Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces and civilians are hunkered down in a metalworks factor. The French official said Macron had not spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin since revelations of atrocities against civilians in Bucha and other towns near Kyiv that had been occupied by Russian forces.
A readout of the videoconference from the Italian prime minister’s office made no mention of the proposed security guarantees.
Instead, the summary from Chigi Palace stressed consensus among the allied leaders’ on “the need to reach a ceasefire as soon as possible” and “the importance of close coordination with regard to support for Ukraine in all its dimensions, with particular regard to the contribution to the country’s budget.”
The Italian summary also cited a “need to step up pressure on the Kremlin, including through the adoption of further sanctions, and to increase Moscow’s international isolation” as well as “the common commitment to diversify energy sources … reducing dependence on Russian supplies.”
In London, a Downing Street spokesperson said Prime Minister Johnson had “updated the leaders on his visit to Kyiv earlier this month” and “underscored the critical need for further military support to Ukraine in the face of a major Russian offensive in the Donbas and ongoing attacks elsewhere.”
Kishida, the Japanese prime minister, told his counterparts on the call that Tokyo now plans to provide $300 million in loans to Ukraine, up from $100 million, according to the Japanese foreign ministry.
The British spokesperson added, “The leaders agreed to work together to find a long-term security solution so that Ukraine could never be attacked in this way again. They discussed the need to increase the pressure on Russia with more sanctions against Putin’s war machine, as well as further diplomatic isolation.”
On the call, the Western leaders did not revisit their decision to refrain from interceding directly in the conflict in Ukraine, meaning that whatever help is sent in coming days, the Ukrainian forces will continue fighting Russia on their own.
“The leaders affirmed their solidarity with the Ukrainian people and condemned the humanitarian suffering caused by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion,” Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, said. “They also discussed their respective diplomatic engagements and their coordinated efforts to continue to impose severe economic costs to hold Russia accountable.”
Meanwhile, in the nearly destroyed southeastern city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were using bunker-busting bombs to attack the Azovstal metalworks plant, where civilians had sought shelter and some Ukrainian forces were mounting a last stand.
An adviser to Zelenskyy, Mykhailo Podolyak, called on Western powers to create humanitarian evacuation corridors from the Azovstal plant. Otherwise, he tweeted, “the blood will be on their hands too.”
Maïa de La Baume, Cristina Gallardo, Hans von der Burchard and Hannah Roberts contributed reporting.