The conference kicked off with President Zelensky’s plea to Allies to “hurry up”, thanks to a live video feed, setting the tone for government and military leaders from 96 countries in Munich and giving discussions of key issues of defence a sense of urgency.
Iran and Russia were disinvited to this year’s 59th edition of the MSC.
Almost a year since Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and a year after Ukrainian President Zelenskyy warned Western Allies that an invasion from Russia was imminent at the very same conference, this year’s high-level meeting is unsurprisingly focused on the ongoing war, NATO, and coordination amid allies.
German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, while advising caution to prevent an “unwanted escalation”, also challenged Western countries to deliver on promised weapons to Ukraine, urging “everyone who can supply these battle tanks should do so, now”.
2023 had begun with the media reporting that Berlin appeared reluctant to lead on the provision of the Leopard tanks, nor did they allow other countries to donate theirs. Germany reportedly wanted the United States to publicly support by transferring M1 Abrams alongside Germany’s Leopard 2s. By the end of January, the US agreed to send 30 and Germany 14. Both models are deemed game-changers for Ukraine due to their superiority over Soviet-era tanks.
Defence and security links between Ukraine, NATO members and other allies and partners started soon after Ukraine’s independence in 1991, intensifying when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, but primarily took the form of training and the bilateral provision of non-lethal military equipment.
Since Russia’s military operations against Ukraine began on 24 February 2022, bilateral military assistance has been stepped up, with many allies supplying lethal weapons for the first time to Ukraine.
According to a UK House of Commons Library briefing, “for some countries such as Germany, and historically neutral countries such as Sweden, this has represented a significant reversal of their previous defence policies which ruled out providing offensive weapons”.
French President Emmanuel Macron was third in line at the beginning of the conference on Friday morning. Doubling down on France’s commitment to support the Ukraine, he stressed “we must absolutely intensify our support for the resistance of the Ukrainian people and army for leading the counter offensive” to enable them to better defend themselves when eventually seated at the negotiating table.
Kamala Harris and members of the House of Representatives and military represented the US and held bilateral meetings, having garnered bipartisan support to increase the supply of military grade equipment to Ukraine.
54 countries are deemed part of the allied coalition, with Germany as a key partner, and host of the MSC 2023. As discussions wrap up in Munich, allies hope to weaken Russia, and in so doing, send a signal to China that aggression would ultimately fail.