As over 100,000 Russian troops mass on Ukraine’s border, the Transatlantic Task Force on Ukraine (TTFU) held an online forum to discuss the Western response and measures that could strengthen Ukrainian security resilience, particularly regarding the military, energy, and cyber sectors.
In his opening remarks, Jonathan Katz, Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund (GMF), said that: “We cannot think of a more important moment for the Transatlantic community to support Ukrainians than right now. For the past eight years, Ukrainians have been under continuous assault militarily and through multiple means of aggression by the Kremlin.”
Mr. Katz added: “Russia’s long war against Ukrainians and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has been non-stop. It includes the illegal annexation of Crimea, invasion in the Donbas, thousands of Ukrainians killed, critical infrastructure under attack, relentless cyber-attacks, saboteurs set loose in Ukraine, bomb threats at Ukrainian schools and fifth column actors working closely with the Kremlin to undermine Ukraine and Ukrainians and their future… Today there are over one hundred thousand Russian troops and equipment that are placed threatening Ukraine.”
Jonathan Katz underscored that Ukraine’s partners in the West — the United States, the European Union, NATO, and member states — have been clear about standing with the Ukrainian people and Ukraine’s right to choose its future. It’s been stated unequivocally that an attack against Ukraine will be met with a swift and severe response.
Wrapping up his remarks the GMF expert said: “I want to highlight the critical role of the Biden Administration in rallying support for Ukraine, also NATO, Secretary General Stoltenberg, the EU — which just announced critical additional support and assistance for Ukraine over the last couple of days—which I think is not only important for military security but is strengthening the resilience of Ukraine internally. There is a clear understanding now that the Kremlin steady drumbeat of war and Mr. Putin’s designs are not only about security in Ukraine but about security in Europe and globally. The idea of a Europe, whole, free and at peace is in the balance.”
Orest Deychakiwsky, a former senior advisor at the Helsinki Commission, noted that “There is no doubt that a Russian invasion is being taken very seriously by the United States and our Transatlantic partners, both on the diplomatic and deterrence front – in preparing to impose what the White House calls massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia should they invade Ukraine. The level of interaction and coordination with our allies has been intense, perhaps unprecedented,” and with Ukraine as well. Although there are some differences among allies, he underscored that it is necessary to keep as united a front as possible because “there are few things that Putin wants more than a divided NATO or EU. And that would be a disaster for Ukraine, for European security and indeed for global security.”
Mr. Deychakiwsky said that the U.S. government, across many relevant agencies, has been working hard to strengthen Ukraine’s security resilience to counter Russian aggression, including stepped up efforts to provide military equipment and other defense support, as well as such areas as cybersecurity, intelligence, countering sabotage and subversive efforts and combatting disinformation.
Ukraine continues to have strong bipartisan support in the Senate and House of Representatives and tough new sanctions legislation against Russia is being drafted. Delegations of U.S. lawmakers have been visiting Ukraine. And support for Ukraine appears to extend to most news media, analysts, and the American public, he said.
Orest Deychakiwsky added that given “Putin’s belief that a democratic, successful Ukraine could serve as an example to the Russian people, posing a threat to his power — but also given Putin’s imperial ambitions and especially his, frankly, pathological obsession with Ukraine, whose very nationhood and separate identity he denies — Putin will continue to do whatever he can to destabilize and undermine Ukraine.”
In her presentation, Olena Prokopenko, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said: “Ukraine is facing an unprecedented military threat from Russia and, arguably, the highest risk of a large-scale invasion that we can remember. Along with Russia’s military buildup at Ukraine’s borders, we are observing its escalated hybrid warfare… particularly major cyber attacks on government websites and also state databases that carry citizens’ personal data.”
There has been a major wave of bomb threats targeting schools, metro stations, trade centers, and other public places.
For the Ukrainian side, Ms. Prokopenko said, it is important to continue its Euro-Atlantic integration efforts by accelerating the implementation of long-overdue reforms, including the judicial system and anti-corruption architecture. It is also important for Ukrainian elites to be united in the fight against Russian aggression and that the government end any persecution of political opponents and predecessors.
Olena Prokopenko also outlined a number of steps for Ukraine’s Western partners: “We believe that the international community should adopt legislation envisagingstrong personal sanctions against Russia’s leadership, its defense and banking sectors in Russia and the Nord Stream II pipeline in case of further aggression against Ukraine. Western partners should also significantly increase their defense and cyber security assistance to Ukraine…. Furthermore, it is critical that NATO expand its military presence in the Baltic states and in Poland and offer Ukraine clear prospects of NATO membership conditioned on tangible reform deliverables.”
During the next part of the online forum, which was organized by the Reanimation Package of Reforms and the German Marshall Fund, the discussion turned to a more detailed look at the security situation by Ukrainian experts.
Yehor Cherniev, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament and Head of Ukraine’s Permanent Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, noted that it has been nearly 14 years since NATO declared that Ukraine and Georgia would one day become members of the defensive alliance. But since Ukrainians and Georgians were not subsequently offered a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), Russia has been emboldened to take aggressive action. He still sees obtaining a MAP for Ukraine as being a priority, underlining that: “Our partners should understand… that we fight for all the democratic world, not only for Ukraine.”
Mr. Cherniev explained that Ukraine has already been collaborating with NATO in international missions as well as in exercises and training activities, demonstrating that Ukraine is a reliable partner. And he said that Ukraine’s adherence to the NATO-Ukraine Annual National Program and inclusion in the NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner program have also provided an important boost for Ukraine’s defensive capabilities and military interoperability with NATO partners. And he expressed gratitude to those countries that have supplied Ukraine with arms.
In terms of what additional assistance is required in order to strengthen Ukraine’s security position and resilience now and deter further Russian aggression, he said: more weapons, sanctions, training, and diplomatic support. Regarding specific types of weapons that are needed he emphasized the importance of anti-aircraft, anti-missile and anti-ship systems as these are likely to be key threats in a new Russian military attack on Ukraine.
Yehor Cherniev also explained that during a recent trip to Washington he engaged with key U.S. senators on the issue of stronger sanctions against Russia in response to its aggression. He encouraged Western partners to maintain their strong diplomatic stance and not to accept any Russian ultimatums about Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Ukraine’s movement to NATO is a decision only for alliance members and Ukraine, he said.
The next speaker, Maria Zolkina of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, emphasized that in the current talks between Washington and Moscow, “there should not be any serious decisions within the framework of these negotiations until Russia demonstrates tangible de-escalation alongside the Ukrainian and Russian border … [including] other types of Russian [hybrid] attacks against Ukraine.”
Although NATO has been resolute in saying that no country outside the alliance can veto further NATO expansion, Ms. Zolkina warns that: “some of the NATO member states, in response to Russia’s concerns, may be ready to agree at some point to decrease the intensity of relations between NATO and Ukraine…. One of our fears is that there should not be any compromises about how actively Ukraine and NATO should cooperate.”
Maria Zolkina acknowledged the importance of arms and new technologies that are being delivered to Ukraine from the U.S. and other NATO members but highlighted the problem of Germany preventing other NATO members from supplying weapons to Ukraine. This issue needs to be addressed, she said.
As of now, she explained, the Ukrainian army doesn’t need soldiers from any other country: “We don’t need soldiers, we don’t need people from other countries’ armies. We just need technologies and weapons in order to raise the price for any kind of intervention from Russia. And this is how Ukraine contributes to the overall European collective security – by its own people resources, by their skill, by their readiness to fight, in case we need to do that… The collaboration with the West is that we provide you with our army, and you provide us with weapons.”
Ms. Zolkina also emphasized that the U.S. and EU should agree on a package of severe sanctions against Russia and launch them regardless of what form or model of aggression Russia initiates against Ukraine. The message must be that regardless of what form or scale of aggression Russia starts, the sanctions will be launched, she said.
Olena Pavlenko, President of DiXi Group, an energy policy think tank, stated that “Russia is already using energy as a weapon against Ukraine” with gas cut-offs and price hikes historically being used as a mechanism for pressuring independent Ukraine. And now we see gas also being used as a weapon against the European Union, she said, by controlling the volumes of supply of gas to EU countries. Ms. Pavlenko sees this as a long-term problem — with Ukraine and the EU having to build their energy resilience together.
She described several types of threats to Ukraine’s energy security from Russia, including:
- physical (damage to infrastructure), cyber (hacking attacks on Ukrainian power plants),
- biological-environmental (flooding of coal mines), informational (disinformation campaigns about the reliability of Ukrainian pipelines),
- economic (Nord Stream II, blocking of coal supplies from Kazakhstan).
An increase in these types of threats is likely.
What can help Ukraine’s energy resilience and independence? Olena Pavlenko cited several possibilities: Ukraine plans to join the common European electricity system. Also, moving forward with de-carbonization and green energy programs. But what is needed is to incorporate these declarations into official documents, including deadlines for implementation. Huge investments will be needed to bring this to fruition. She recommends learning from the U.S. experience in gas production and building energy resilience, as well as adopting more energy efficiency approaches through new technologies. Engaging the U.S. Department of Energy with stakeholders in Ukraine would also foster change.
Bruno Lete, a fellow of GMF in Belgium, explained that the level of concern about the Russiab crisis is extremely high in Brussels, but there is no general agreement on what the holistic strategy of the EU should be to address it. One strategy on which there is agreement is to raise the costs for Putin through economic sanctions with some members also providing Ukraine with weapons. But there still is not a consensus on how high to raise the costs, he said.
In NATO the debate is a bit different. “The net result of Putin’s actions is that NATO is even more united than before. I think we clearly see that now,” noted Mr. Lete. NATO engagement with and support for Ukraine continues. And he said he was surprised to see how quickly the alliance reacted to increasing the defense of its easternmost members.
Bruno Lete noted that there is a belief that as long as diplomacy is going on, war can be avoided and he emphasized that: “An important task for NATO and the EU is to keep on supporting Ukrainian democracy, because democracy is the biggest threat to the Kremlin.”
You can watch the entire discussion in the video here.