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Italy will be yet another Western country to supply arms to Ukraine, Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced on April 19, almost two months after the Russian invasion began. Better late than never, one might say. When the head of the government in Rome was announcing his plans (which for now are merely a declaration that eventually may or may not turn into reality), Russia’s new offensive in Donbas was already in full swing and Ukraine was fighting it off alone.

Western aid to Ukraine should’ve come much earlier

It would be unfair to say that the West has completely failed to respond to the challenges of the moment and left Kyiv with no aid whatsoever- but the Western response has so far been rather unhurried and limited. Italy’s announcement is a perfect example of that. Italy, however, is hardly the only one to be criticized here. The entire Western alliance is reacting belatedly, providing Ukraine with aid that might have tipped the balance in its favor a week ago, but today is no longer sufficient.

When Ukrainians needed effective anti-tank weapons - they got vests and helmets. When they asked for airplanes - they got portable short-range anti-aircraft launchers. When they asked for tanks, combat vehicles, and artillery, they received ammunition and small arms. Only much later, a thin stream of mid-range armor-piercing weapons and anti-aircraft launchers began to flow in, mainly from the former Warsaw Pact countries: Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and perhaps also Poland, but we don't know that for sure because the information was not made public.

The German government declares its readiness to provide the Ukrainian army with weapons, but when it comes to it, it strangely happens that the specific arms the Ukrainians have requested are momentarily unavailable. "There are no transporters, combat vehicles, howitzers, or tanks, but we can offer you a visit from President Frank Walter Steinmeier...".

That’s too little and too late. And even if some countries – such as the UK or the US – are proving themselves to be quicker and more decisive to react, the general picture of the West’s reaction remains unimpressive. The latest batch of support coming from the US worth $800 million includes heavy weapons that the Ukrainians already need today.

The US announced that it will soon begin to train Ukrainian artillerymen in firing howitzers. Only thing is, if the training is supposed to begin "soon," the troops will be ready to use them in a few weeks. Howitzers still need to be transported to Ukraine. Where will Ukraine’s line of defense run then? Near Kyiv? Or maybe already near Lviv?

The main obstacles are in the heads of Western politicians

The obstacles keeping Western allies from providing Ukrainian troops with proper aid are not financial, technical, or logistical. Rather, they are of a mental nature - the Western world still cannot come to terms with the idea that it is at war with Russia, which has once again become what it was in the Soviet era: a rogue, authoritarian dictatorship that hates liberal democracy and considers the West to be its mortal enemy. Many Western politicians, opinion leaders, and intellectuals still delude themselves that perhaps another confrontation with Russia and a second cold war can be avoided.

This cautiousness is characteristic primarily of career politicians. Military experts, on the other hand, often assess the situation more clearly and call for more decisive steps. For example, in an interview with Jane Coaston in early April, General Philip Breedlove, the former Supreme Commander of NATO, said: "I think we are in a proxy war with Russia. We are using Ukrainians as our proxy forces". He then went on to criticize Western policymakers for being too soft on Putin's Russia.

Similarly, the former head of Poland's National Security Bureau, professor and General Stanisław Koziej, has in recent weeks repeatedly called the West’s stance towards Putin too reactive and defensive. In an interview with Wirtualna Polska from March 12, he even suggested that NATO should close the airspace in western Ukraine because "we can't keep letting ourselves be blackmailed by Russia".

The effects of such an overly cautious approach could be observed during the embarrassing attempt to transfer Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Kyiv requested them, Warsaw wanted to give them to Kyiv, and the United States supported the plan by "giving Poland a green light". The only thing missing was anyone willing to take responsibility for the transfer. As a result, Ukraine didn’t receive the planes in March. Today, there would probably be no such obstacles, since even the relatively small Slovakia and the Czech Republic have openly, if not demonstratively, sent armored weapons and S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. Yet, airports all over Ukraine are already being bombed, so it is not clear whether Kyiv would still even have the capacity to launch these planes.

"Putin-Versteher", or the Western politicians who got it all wrong

The same type of indolence and hesitation visible in the military sphere can also be observed in politics. The West is slowly and very reluctantly coming to terms with the idea that the carnival of the post-communist era is over and Europe is returning to the realities of the times when the eastern part of the continent was under Russian occupation. Of course, the ideological framework has changed - back in the twentieth century, the communist doctrine was the master narrative legitimizing the occupiers. Today, the "Russky mir" (the Russian World) is drawing its authority from the idea of Orthodox Pan-Slavism. But this is just a façade, a decorative layer, one that is not even consistently used, since Russian invaders, while invoking Orthodox conservatism, still erect monuments to Lenin, as in the port city of Henichesk in southern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the West is still holding on to clichés and attitudes formed during the time when Moscow was treated as a partner whose will and perception of reality should be taken into account - confrontational gestures should be avoided, people should not be pushed into a corner, fears should be understood and not stoked...

Even the policy of economic sanctions follows a logic of this bygone era, if only in how it’s phrased. After all, sanctions are implicitly decisions of an extraordinary and temporary nature meant to put an erring member of the international community back on the right track. Just as a prison sentence or a fine is supposed to have a corrective effect on the punished person - it is supposed to rehabilitate them and bring them back as a functioning member of society. So, the West imposes sanctions on Russia with the assumption that once Russia realizes its mistakes, the reasons for imposing the sanctions will cease and restrictions will be lifted.

The West’s perception of the conflict is entirely different than during the Cold War when the doctrine of deterrence was in force and no one dared to be so naïve as to think that the Soviet Union could ever be incorporated into the liberal-democratic international order. The ban on exporting many hi-tech products to the USSR was not a punitive, temporary measure, but rather a deliberate policy aimed at isolating and weakening Moscow.

The EU is opening its doors to Ukraine very slowly

The same deeply internalized tropes, dating back to the era of post-communist relaxation, tell the West to be cautious of Kyiv's Euro-Atlantic aspirations and keep Ukraine at a distance. Here, too, the Russian invasion and Ukraine’s effective resistance are causing the EU and NATO to revaluate their positions, but the pace of this evolution does not match the dynamics of current challenges.

At the moment of Russian aggression, Kyiv was not even waiting in the foyer of the European Union - it was standing outside the door on a doormat and politely ringing the bell. The only sign of Brussels' goodwill was that it was kind enough not to let the dogs off the leash. However, the EU didn't even open the door; it only looked through the peephole, asking "who's there?" and pretended not to hear the answer.

There was visible progress in this regard after the Russian invasion: The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, went to Kyiv on an official visit, bringing President Volodymyr Zelensky an EU membership application to fill out. It is not yet a promise of admission, especially since some members (e.g. the Netherlands and Germany) are strongly resisting the idea, but it is already a step in the desired direction. Half-hearted and tentative, yes- but it’s better than nothing…

The door to NATO is still shut

However, as far as Ukraine’s potential NATO membership is concerned, there are no such steps, even though the main arguments against Ukraine's membership have lost their validity, especially since the announcement that Finland and Sweden will seek to join the Atlantic Alliance. Opponents of NATO's eastern enlargement have argued that Moscow should not be provoked by moving the Alliance closer to its borders. If provoked- the logic went- Russia could behave unpredictably.

But Russia behaves in an incalculable and criminal manner anyway, even though no one provoked it. Moscow’s initial plan for a quick and easy invasion turned out to be a complete failure, and the course of its military campaign has only shown that the strength and capabilities of the Russian army were greatly exaggerated. The Finns are now shrugging their shoulders at Russian threats, and NATO - although it has not yet officially taken a position - seems to be implicitly indicating that it accepts the membership aspirations of the Scandinavians. So, if the Finns and Swedes can join the Alliance, why can’t Ukraine?

Because Ukraine is a country at war? Yes, but it would join the Atlantic Alliance after the fighting has ended, and a Ukrainian victory would only demonstrate its great effectiveness and military competence. These assets would significantly add to the strengthening of the Alliance- in this case, Kyiv is not a poor relative who comes begging for help, but contributes very significant assets, radically increasing NATO's potential in confronting a resurgent Great Russian imperialism.

Letting Ukraine join NATO is a way to ensure European security

And contrary to what opponents of Ukraine's NATO membership claim, its admission to the Alliance would not increase the threat of war in the eastern part of the continent. Quite the opposite- it would reduce it. The Kremlin is already aware that it cannot bring the Ukrainian army to its knees. So how could it even think of standing up to a Ukrainian army supported by NATO?

The Russian invasion and the Ukrainian defense came to represent a geopolitical paradigm shift in our part of the world. The only problem is that the Western political elite should recognize this in time and draw the appropriate conclusions. If they are hesitant and overl cautious, as they have been so far, they will give Putin a good reason to rub his hands with glee.

***

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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