Poroshenko: How the west can help Ukraine next

Financial Times, 31/03/2022
Our fighters need to know that on top of our decimated cities, we will build a stronger, even more prosperous country

After a month of bloodshed, relentless bombardment and civilian deaths, Vladimir Putin’s blitzkrieg plan has failed miserably. There has been no triumphant Russian army parading through Kyiv. The west has not been watching helplessly and weak. Ukraine has not capitulated.

Caught in his self-made trap, suffering heavy casualties both in blood and treasure (thanks to western sanctions), Putin has switched to plan B: level our cities and kill, starve or break our populations into submission.

There is no doubt that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unprovoked and premeditated, will set the tone for geopolitics over the next half-century or more. This goes way beyond Ukraine and even Europe. The entire world, from Washington to Beijing, is watching.

As Ukraine’s president during the first 2014-15 Russian invasion, I know that if Putin gets away with what he is doing in my country, he will not stop here. And other authoritarians, across the globe, will be emboldened to do the same elsewhere.

The west has surprised everyone with its unity so far. But there are more steps that must be taken to force Putin to accept peace.

In February 1941, Churchill’s Britain was alone fighting Hitler’s Nazi Germany. He famously told the US “give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job”. In 2022, Ukraine finds herself the sole country fighting Putin’s madness. We therefore ask our western partners the very same thing. Adopt a lend-lease act similar to the US Lend-Lease Act of 1941. This should authorise national governments to supply Ukraine with necessary materials, including food, ammunition, tanks, fighter jets and anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems.

With Ukraine’s military fighting heroically both on land and at sea, the outcome of Russia’s war and thus the future of peace, stability and security in Europe, is largely dependent on our country’s effective control over its skies.

It is understandable that Nato is reluctant to offer a “no-fly zone”. But the organisation can still do a lot to provide Ukraine with the necessary means to keep its sky under control. This starts with transferring MiG-29 aircraft available in Nato countries to Ukraine. The supply of air-defence (surface-to-air) systems, such as C300 anti-aircraft defence, would further help Ukraine to deny Russia air superiority on its own.

When it comes to economic assistance, every day western sanctions curb Russia’s ability to bring us to our knees. But there is room to make these sanctions even more potent. This means a total trade embargo, including a ban on the EU buying Russian energy resources (oil, gas). Every penny the west denies to Putin is a penny that will not go into Moscow’s war machine. If Russia is not paid for oil and gas, it will reduce the number of Iskander missiles that are currently hurtling daily towards our land.

Putin wants us to despair under his bombs, amid the ruins of our country. Our fighters need to know that on top of our decimated cities, we will build a stronger, even more prosperous Ukraine than the one he tried to take away from us. Our western partners must signal they are already planning for the day after tomorrow — that they will be there to help us rebuild our country without delay. We suggest a trilateral Biden-Michel- Johnson plan on Ukraine, upheld by the US, the EU and UK but also open to other countries, first of all the G7 members.

The first three pillars of such a plan could be credits provided to Ukraine by international financial institutions and bilaterally, the freezing of Russia’s Central Bank reserves, and a kind of “energy-for-rebuild” programme of assistance (sales of Russian gas and oil would end up in a special fund to rebuild Ukraine’s infrastructure).

Finally, we know that the road to join the EU will be long and difficult. But the fact that our application is literally sealed with Ukrainian blood should be the strongest possible sign that we indeed belong as a part of a United Europe. We know the negotiations will take time. We know there are no shortcuts on the path to becoming an actual member. But with political will, nothing should impede us being accepted as a candidate country by the end of 2022.

Putin’s war against Ukraine brings us into a post post-cold war reality. We know what we are fighting for. We know we can prevail. We know that you’re behind us. But we need your continuing help. With it, we can restore the post-cold war international order. Without it, we’re looking at a return to 1914 — but with 21st- century weapons. It is a future nobody wants.