Leaders focus on Ukraine war at Munich Security Conference

MUNICH (AP): Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy planned to give the opening address Friday at a major annual conference on international security policy, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was expected to dominate the event after almost a year of war that has produced worldwide repercussions.

About 40 heads of state and government, as well as politicians and security experts from almost 100 countries, including the United States, Europe and China, were expected to attend the three-day Munich Security Conference in Germany. Zelenskyy is participating by video link.

For the first time in two decades, conference organizers did not invite Russian officials. Western countries have sought to isolate Russia diplomatically over the invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24 2022.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Russia’s war in Ukraine would overshadow the proceedings. Western officials and analysts say the conflict is approaching a critical phase as it enters its second year next week.

The war is “not merely a European conflict” but has implications far beyond the continent, Pistorius said. Economies around the world have reeled from the war’s impact on grain supplies, energy prices and inflation.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris was set to join the leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. at the Munich conference.

At the same conference last year, held just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine, Harris shared U.S. warnings that Russia was about to attack its neighbor and said, “Not since the end of the Cold War has this forum convened under such dire circumstances.”

In a speech scheduled for Saturday, the vice president will lay out what’s at stake in the war and why it matters, to bolster the case for maintaining U.S. support for Ukraine for as long as it takes, the White House said.

Ukraine is depending on Western weapons to thwart Putin’s ambition of securing control of large areas of the country, in what has become a test of governments’ resolve amid increasing financial costs.

Zelenskyy portrays Ukraine as defending Western values of freedom and democracy against tyranny and argues that his country needs to be properly provisioned to fend off Russia’s much bigger force. Western countries have sided with him, but at times they have been slow to meet his requests.

Kyiv, after receiving Western pledges of tanks and more ammunition, is now hoping for fighter jets, but some countries have balked at sending them.

Frans Timmermans, the executive vice president of the European Union’s executive commission, said the 27-nation EU so far has maintained unity on the issue.

“I think everyone can see how important it is for Ukraine to win this war,” Timmermans said. “This is important for our Europe, too, because Putin isn’t just attacking Ukraine, he is also attacking us in the sense that he doesn’t support our values.”

He said it was important to make clear that Europe will support Ukraine however long the war lasts. “Putin is in difficulty,” Timmermans said, adding that the Russian leader would seek to put severe military pressure on Ukraine in the coming weeks and months.

Timmermans also expressed hope that China could exert pressure on Russia to end the war.