Munich Security Conference: Questions of fate without answers

Can Ukraine withstand the Russian attackers? What will become of the Middle East conflict? When it comes to the major current questions of fate, there is perplexity at the Munich Security Conference.

It is an urgent warning that Volodymyr Zelenskyj addressed to his allies at the most important meeting of politicians and experts on security policy. “We have to act together as a team. If Ukraine stands alone, then you will see what happens: Russia will destroy us, destroy the Baltics, destroy Poland – it is capable of doing that,” said the Ukrainian president at the weekend the Munich Security Conference. In his speech, he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “monster.”

Zelenskyj came to Munich to once again make it very clear to his European allies the dramatic situation in which his armed forces find themselves in the defensive battle against the Russian attackers. Shortly before his speech, the Russians captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka – a serious setback. Ammunition is slowly becoming scarce and there is a lack of long-range weapons such as the German Taurus cruise missiles, for which Ukraine has been waiting in vain since a request in May.

Zelensky demands “reaction from all of us”

“2024 expects a reaction from all of us,” says Zelensky. This refers to the European allies, but above all the USA, which is by far Ukraine’s largest arms supplier. There have been no new commitments for new military aid from there for months. A package worth 60 billion US dollars (around 56 billion euros) is stuck in Congress. The Senate has agreed, but the higher hurdle is the House of Representatives, the second chamber of parliament. There, Republican resistance to former President Donald Trump is even greater.

About a dozen Republican members of Congress came to Munich. You are one of the most sought-after conversation partners there. Chancellor Scholz speaks to some of them, as does Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and of course Zelenskyj.

US Vice President Harris: “There is only Plan A”

Republican Senator JD Vance, a hardliner from the Trump camp, estimates the chances of approval at 50:50. He does not want to accept the accusation that the resistance is an electoral maneuver. “Republicans are not blocking the Ukraine package because of Trump’s campaign. Republicans are skeptical of the Ukraine package because they believe it is not in the best interests of our country.” For example, they see the fight against illegal migration across their country’s southern border as a priority.

Nobody in Munich can really say how much the Europeans could compensate if there was no US aid. Nobody really has another Plan B ready either. “There is only Plan A, which is to ensure that Ukraine gets what it needs,” said US Vice President Kamala Harris after her meeting with Zelensky.

Trumpist Vance: “Of course we love our NATO allies”

If Trump were to win against incumbent Joe Biden in the US presidential election on November 5th, Europeans could face completely different fateful questions. The 77-year-old potential candidate made this clear just in time for the security conference by questioning military support for NATO allies who do not pay enough for their defense.

However, the topic is being moderated in Munich, even by the Trumpist Vance. “Of course we love our NATO allies,” he says. “We value the NATO alliance, and that applies across the entire political spectrum.” But Europe – especially Germany – must become more independent in security issues, that is Trump’s message.

Hardly any hope for the Middle East

And then in Munich there is also the topic of the Middle East, the war in the Gaza Strip, with which Israel is reacting to the unprecedented attack by Hamas on October 7th. In dozens of discussions behind the scenes, top politicians like Scholz and Baerbock are exploring how even greater suffering for the civilian population can be prevented and a long-term solution to the conflict could look like.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the key players, is missing from the guest list in Munich. He had to be warned from afar about the likely dramatic consequences of the currently planned Israeli ground operation in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip and reminded that his rejection of a two-state solution is unacceptable from a Western perspective.

President Izchak Herzog, who traveled to Munich as Israel’s highest representative, gave the participants of the security conference no hope of a quick start to talks about a long-term peace solution. Asked whether a Palestinian state was still possible, he said: “It won’t happen if we don’t find real solutions to the question of Israel’s security.” Currently, a Palestinian state seems like a reward for the war that Hamas started against Israel. The delegations involved say there were good discussions, but no real progress.

The death of Navalny and the question of coincidence

In the end, the most moving and powerful moment of the security conference was Yulia Navalnaya’s spontaneous appearance on Friday afternoon, just a few hours after the death of her husband Alexei Navalny was announced. In a short speech she calls on the entire international community to defeat the “terrible regime” in Russia.

The Russian government was not invited to the conference in Munich. There were some in Munich who saw Navalny’s death as Putin’s message to Ukraine and its Western allies in Munich. As the person who makes all the decisions in Russia, Putin bears responsibility, said Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko in an interview with the German Press Agency. And at the time he added: “I don’t think this is a coincidence.”

The possible consequences of Navalny’s death were also discussed in Munich. And that quickly brought us back to Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says: “The best way to honor the memory of Alexei Navalny is to support Ukraine.”