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Key security conference in Munich has Ukraine in focus

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Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is now ramping up pleas for Western fighter jets./AFP
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Feb 17, 2023 - 09:15 AM

MUNICH, GERMANY — The Munich Security Conference opens on Friday, bringing world leaders together ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Kyiv steps up pleas for more weapons.

US-China ties will also be in focus at the three-day gathering, with tensions sky-high after Washington shot down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon over US territory.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and France’s President Emmanuel Macron will speak at the opening event, focused on Ukraine.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg will also be attending.

Coming just days ahead of the February 24 anniversary of Moscow sending its forces into Ukraine, the conflict will top the agenda, with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba representing Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Western backers, led by the United States, have given it a huge amount of weapons and pledged a barrage of others, including heavy battle tanks long sought by Kyiv to counter Russia’s offensive.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is now ramping up pleas for Western fighter jets, though Ukraine’s allies have so far been cool on the subject.

In a BBC interview released Thursday, Zelensky repeated his calls for more Western military aid: “Of course, modern weapons speed up peace. Weapons are the only language Russia understands.”

He also ruled out conceding Ukrainian territory in a potential peace deal with Russia, warning that giving up land would mean that Russia could “keep coming back”, the British broadcaster reported.

Rising balloon tensions 

But the recent decision by Berlin to allow German-made Leopard tanks to be sent to Ukraine — after weeks of hesitation — has fuelled hope in Kyiv about potential future weapons deliveries.

While “some decisions took too long,” Kuleba told Germany’s Funke media group that Berlin had “risen above itself”.

“I believe that things will go much smoother after the Leopard decision,” he said.

Kuleba is also expected to join a meeting of foreign ministers from the G7 club of rich countries on Saturday, on the sidelines of the conference.

With signs that Russia is managing to adapt to the sanctions imposed over its invasion, the United States and its allies plan a major array of new measures against Moscow to mark the invasion’s anniversary, a US official said.

Ahead of the conference, chairman Christoph Heusgen said the participants would grapple with the question of how the “rules-based international order” can be respected.

“In future, will there be an order where the strength of law dominates, or will there be an order in which the law of the strongest prevails?” he said.

With a high-level US delegation including Harris and Blinken in town, and a senior Chinese team led by Wang, there has been speculation of talks on the sidelines to ease tensions amid the spy balloon row.

The huge white balloon from China was spotted over a series of secret nuclear weapons sites earlier this month, before being shot down just off the eastern US coast.

The incident prompted a diplomatic rift, with Blinken cancelling a rare China visit. Beijing however says the balloon was just a stray weather research craft.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would talk to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping “to get to the bottom of this”.

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