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Ukraine’s president criticizes Western “appeasement” of Putin’s aggression

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a searing criticism of Western inaction against Russian aggression on Saturday, arguing that Ukraine has acted as a “shield” for the past eight years and that Europe’s security architecture has utterly failed.

Why it matters: Zelensky’s closely watched address to the Munich Security Conference came just one day after President Biden warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, and that he plans to target Kyiv.

  • U.S. officials had urged Zelensky not to leave the country, but he said after his speech that it was important not to show “panic” or allow decisions to be made without Ukraine.
  • “Just putting ourselves in coffins and waiting for the Russian soldiers to come in is just not something we are going to do,” Zelensky said in a Q&A after the speech.
  • serious escalation in pro-Russian separatist territory in eastern Ukraine has led to fears that the Kremlin is fabricating a pretext to invade in the coming days.

The big picture: Zelensky began his speech by recalling Putin’s address to the Munich Security Conference in 2007, in which the Russian president attacked the U.S.-led global order and eastward expansion of NATO as “extremely dangerous.”

  • A year later, Putin invaded Georgia using many of the same tactics that U.S. officials say he is attempting now.
  • Then in 2014, Putin annexed Crimea and fomented a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has continued to this day.

What they’re saying: “How did we end up in the biggest security crisis since the end of the Cold War? To me, as the president of the country which lost part of its territory, thousands of people, the country surrounded by 150,000 troops on our borders, this answer is obvious,” Zelensky said.

  • “The security architecture of Europe and beyond is almost destroyed. It’s too late now to talk about fixing it. It’s high time for a new one,” he continued.
  • “15 years ago, it was the Russian Federation that made a statement here challenging the global security order. How did the world respond? Appeasement.”

Zelensky went on to criticize NATO for claiming it has an “open-door” policy while refusing to let Ukraine in, and called for the alliance to provide a time frame for his country’s eventual membership.

  • “Be honest about it. Open doors are good, but we need open answers. Not years and years of closed questions,” Zelensky said. Ukraine will never be a “buffer” between Russia and the West, he added.
  • Zelensky also criticized the West for claiming that Putin has made the decision to invade, but not imposing sanctions until the attack has begun: “What are you waiting for? We don’t need sanctions after bombardment happens, after we have no borders, no economy. Why would we need those sanctions then?”

The bottom line: “Ukraine is longing for peace. Europe is longing for peace. The world is saying it doesn’t want any war, while Russia is claiming she doesn’t want to intervene. Someone here is lying,” Zelensky said, before receiving a standing ovation.

Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images


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