President Volodymyr Zelensky is redoubling his diplomatic outreach to Europe in the hopes of starting to fill the void left by months of American indecision, as the debate over providing renewed military assistance for Ukraine continues to play out in Washington.
The Ukrainian leader was quick to praise the bipartisan group of U.S. senators who approved $60 billion in assistance for his nation at a moment when Ukrainian soldiers are struggling with a shortage of weapons and ammunition, saying “continued U.S. assistance helps to save human lives from Russian terror.”
Reaction across the Ukrainian political spectrum was similar — seeking to express gratitude to those who are standing by the government in Kyiv, while being cautious not to say anything that could in any way jeopardize the debate going forward. The aid package must still make it through the Republican-led House, where the speaker, Mike Johnson, said he would ignore it.
“We hope that as a result of constructive debate and dialogue, the bill will also receive bipartisan support and be adopted in the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Olena Kondratyuk, the vice speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament. “We need this support to continue to fight for our freedom and independence. A clear message must also be sent to the aggressor country of Russia about the unity of the democratic world and the continued U.S. leadership in providing comprehensive assistance to Ukraine.”
But Ukrainians are keenly aware that the bill will face stiff resistance from a powerful faction of Republicans encouraged by former President Donald J. Trump to kill the bill. So the Zelensky government is also increasingly turning to friends closer to home.
A senior Ukrainian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal diplomatic discussions, said that a victory in Ukraine by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia “would be disastrous for Europe.”
“It could lead to him expanding his aggression into other countries in the region,” the official said of Mr. Putin. “Europeans understand this, and it motivates them to act despite the turmoil across the Atlantic.”
Mr. Zelensky will most likely push for more military assistance on visits to Berlin, Paris and possibly London as part of a whirlwind tour this week meant to coincide with the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of leaders focused on international security, the Ukrainian official said. The president’s office does not comment on his travel plans for security reasons and cautioned that nothing was finalized, but Mr. Zelensky alluded to the diplomatic outreach in a recent speech, saying his team was preparing for the conference in Munich.
“Ukraine will present its vision for this year,” Mr. Zelensky said. “A decisive year in many ways.”
Russia has seized the initiative across the front and is using its growing advantage in artillery and air power to bolster waves of its soldiers.
So far, the Russians have failed to score a major break through Ukrainian lines, but senior Western officials have warned that without American aid, it could become impossible for Kyiv to withstand the onslaught and Ukraine could start slowly losing the war.
While Russian losses continue to mount — at least 8,800 armored fighting vehicles have been destroyed since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion two years ago — Moscow “has been able to keep its active inventory numbers stable,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research group that studies military stockpiles globally, said in a new report.
“It is our assessment, therefore, that Russia will be able to sustain its assault on Ukraine at current attrition rates for another 2-3 years, and maybe even longer,” the group estimated.
The resilience of Russia’s military industrial complex in the face of sprawling Western sanctions has surprised some analysts and heightened concerns among countries along the eastern flank of NATO, with a growing number of Western officials warning of the need to urgently step up their own weapons production given the threat that Mr. Putin poses beyond Ukraine.
Kaupo Rosin, director general of the Estonian intelligence agency, said on Tuesday, ahead of the release of the agency’s annual security assessment, that it was highly unlikely that Russia would conduct any military actions directed at a NATO-aligned nation while it is bogged down in Ukraine. But he warned that “we see that the Russians in their own thinking are calculating that military conflict with NATO is possible in the next decade.”
“Russians are planning to increase the military force along the Baltic States’ border, but also the Finnish border,” Mr. Rosin said. “We will highly likely see an increase of manpower — about doubling, perhaps. We will see an increase in armed personnel carriers, tanks, artillery systems over the coming years.”
Ukraine’s supporters have argued that investing in the fight against Russia in Ukraine would save lives down the line — an argument Mr. Zelensky himself made two years ago in Munich, on the eve of Russia’s invasion.
In that speech on Feb. 19, 2022, he recalled how, when Germany invaded Poland at the outbreak of World War II, many asked, “Why die for Danzig?”
That question, he said that day, “turned into the need to die for Dunkirk and dozens of other cities in Europe and the world. At the cost of tens of millions of lives.”
“We appreciate any help, but everyone should understand that these are not charitable contributions,” he said at the time. “These are not noble gestures for which Ukraine should bow low. This is your contribution to the security of Europe and the world.”
When he made that speech, war was not certain. Mr. Putin insisted he had no plans to invade Ukraine, and even Mr. Zelensky was not sure if he should believe the dire warnings of Western allies.
Two years later, dozens of Ukrainian towns and cities are in ruins. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded. And both armies continue to battle, despite hundreds of thousands of casualties.
Ukraine’s message to its European allies will most likely be much the same this week as it was just before the war. But now, Kyiv hopes, many of the illusions about Russia’s intent have been shattered, and the danger Russian poses to the continent has become evident in the carnage wrought in Ukraine.
Mr. Zelensky also held out hope on Tuesday after the Senate vote that America would continue to play its vital role as the arsenal for democracy.
“The world is waiting for American leadership to remain steadfast and help protect lives and preserve freedom,” he said.
Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv.