World leaders came together to renew calls for de-escalation on the Russian-Ukrainian border at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
The star of the show was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who asked for all sides to agree a new security arrangement in Europe. “The rules that the world agreed on decades ago no longer work. They do not keep up with new threats,” Zelensky said.
He also berated Western leaders for being too timid in the face of a Russian mobilisation on the border with Ukraine. He urged them not to wait for an invasion before implementing sanctions against Russia. Sanctions will be no use once bombs are already raining down on Ukraine, he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the conference. He watched Russian military tests via video link from the Kremlin, including the testing of ballistic missiles. He was joined by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is in Moscow to negotiate the extension of military exercises involving Russian troops in Belarus.
President Zelenskiy condemned Western leaders of pursuing a policy of appeasement rather than proactive deterrence, and urged them to learn the “terrible lessons from history”, perhaps referring to the policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany which precipitated the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Zelenskiy asked for the permanent members of the UN Security Council to convene and negotiate new agreements for peace in Europe. This body includes both Russia and the USA. The Ukrainian President received a standing ovation before his speech.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected Zelenskiy’s calls to immediately sanction Russia, arguing that this would reduce the likelihood of peace rather than increasing it.
Scholz also suggested that withholding sanctions until an invasion happens maintains the element of surprise, as Russia would not know the precise nature of the sanctions that it would face in the event of invasion. Western countries have been severe in their rhetoric around potential sanctions, saying that they’re willing to implement the strictest sanctions yet, with no options off the table.
Although NATO’s members are considering drastic sanctions like cutting Russia off from global payments system SWIFT or restricting its use of the US dollar, it’s unlikely that they’d take quite such severe measures, because they would be damaging to the global economy.
Scholz refused to clarify precisely which sanctions Russia would face if it invaded Ukraine, saying that it should know “approximately” and not “exactly” what the repercussions of an invasion would be, maintaining the element of surprise and fear.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due to hold talks with Putin on Sunday, and American Secretary General Antony Blinken will hold negotiations with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov this week providing there is no invasion.