Ukraine Faces Harsh Realities and Rising Calls for Support at Tallinn Conference

At the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn, experts and leaders expressed a somber outlook on Ukraine's current plight, emphasizing the urgent need for increased military aid to counter escalating Russian aggression

by Sededin Dedovic
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Ukraine Faces Harsh Realities and Rising Calls for Support at Tallinn Conference
© Chris McGrath / Getty Images

Summary, but not collapse, was the message to Ukraine from this year's Lennart Meri Conference in Estonia's capital, Tallinn. The annual security policy event, named after the respected first president of the country, was significantly gloomier this year compared to last, notes Edward Lucas, a long-time correspondent for The Economist from Berlin, Moscow, Vienna, and the Baltic states and an internationally recognized expert on espionage, subversion, and the use and misuse of history, in an analysis for CEPA.

Ukraine is suffering not only setbacks on the battlefield but also devastating attacks on its heating and electrical grids. These are now harming the economy and will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair before winter.

Therefore, there is even more reason to increase military aid: more weapons, greater lethality, faster delivery. Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was prominent at the conference. She noted that her country has already dedicated 0.25% of its GDP to Ukrainian military aid for the next three years.

"If all countries did the same, it would lead to Ukraine's victory," she said. "Ukraine is fighting, losing lives – the only thing they are asking from us is a redistribution of resources." Speaking via video link, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, praised Estonia as a "paragon" for its stance and assistance.

But participant criticisms of other countries were scathing. Only deep strikes into Russian territory will prevent continued attacks with "glide bombs," launched from high altitudes 50 miles from the front line. For this, F-16 warplanes are needed (they are coming, but too few and too late); long-range missiles like the German Taurus system, which the government in Berlin will not provide; and the use of American long-range weapons such as HIMARS and ATACMS.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz greets Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky at the Chancellery on February 16, 2024 in Berlin, G© Michele Tantussi / Getty Images

But the Biden administration allows them to be used only on targets in Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.

Fears of escalation have clearly deterred the United States and other countries from sending the weapons Ukraine needs to win, and even from declaring Russia's defeat as a war goal. Ukrainians are now paying the price for this.

But hesitation and timidity also inflict long-term damage to the reputation of Western alliances in general. Indian analyst Samir Saran said that if the US and its allies, with a GDP of $40 trillion, cannot handle Russia (GDP: $2 trillion), "you have no chance with China." An unspoken fear of catastrophic Ukrainian defeat, with consequences for the rest of Europe in terms of migration (likely in the millions) and Russia's next steps, hung over the conference.

Timothy Snyder, a historian at Yale University, highly regarded in many Eastern European countries for his sharp critique of Kremlin's historical myth-making, drew parallels with Hitler's aggression in Europe in the late 1930s.

Ukraine was like Czechoslovakia in 1938, he argued. But while the British and French twisted the Prague government's arm to succumb to Hitler, Ukraine chose to fight, "extending 1938 for you," he said. Snyder also noted that the fall of Czechoslovakia enabled Hitler's next aggression on Poland.

The German war machine benefited from the vast arms industry of the former Czechoslovakia, plus soldiers from the newly created Slovak puppet state. Russia would similarly use Ukrainian resources in its next war, he claims.

Worse, the sight of successful Russian nuclear blackmail, Snyder argued, would prompt countries in Europe and elsewhere to scramble to develop their own nuclear weapons. People attending security conferences in Tallinn and other regional capitals see all this with grim clarity.

It is better to spend money and accept risk now than later when the costs will be higher and prospects worse. The problem is how to convince others, highlighting the desperate need for more aid and the catastrophic consequences of Ukrainian defeat, while still maintaining an optimistic tone that victory is possible.

See you next year, perhaps.

Russians Advancing

That the claims of this truly esteemed expert are indeed serious is evidenced by the fact that the Russians have inflicted heavy defeats on Ukraine in recent days and reduced the morale of the Ukrainian army to a minimum.

Russian forces, in an offensive they started a week ago, are destroying the town of Vovchansk and advancing towards the village of Lukyantsi, pushing towards Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city with one and a half million residents.

The Russian army has often destroyed Ukrainian cities to capture them – Bakhmut last year or Avdiivka in February, resorting to heavy artillery attacks to drive Ukrainian forces away. "The enemy has begun to destroy Vovchansk, using tanks and artillery.

Being there is not just dangerous, it is practically impossible," said the governor of the Kharkiv region, Oleh Syniehubov, in a report. In that town, which had 18,000 inhabitants before the war, 200 civilians remain.

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