Ukraine urges solidarity as Western leaders gather

On March 23rd, U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Brussels for meetings of the G7 and EU over the conflict in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24 and has escalated into Europe’s fastest-moving refugee crisis since the end of World War Two. The conflict has driven a quarter of Ukraine’s population from their homes and caused more than 3.6 million refugees to flee the country. President Volodymyr Zelensky urged for solidarity on Thursday, warning he would see who sells out at summits in Europe where bolstering sanctions are planned. However, restrictions on energy could prove divisive. Biden’s visit to Europe highlights a discussion with some European allies who are heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas, over whether to impose further energy sanctions. 

As the humanitarian toll from the conflict continues to rise, President Zelenskiy called on people around the world to use demonstrations and demand the war ended. According to Reuters, he also declared his expectations from his Western allies, repeating his call for a no-fly zone and criticizing the West for not providing Ukraine with planes, tanks, modern anti-missile systems, or anti-ship weapons. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated the alliance would boost its forces in Eastern Europe by deploying four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia. As Western leaders prepared to meet, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged for an increase in defensive lethal aid to Ukraine. In addition, a senior defense official claimed that the first U.S. shipment of an $800 million arms package for Ukraine has been authorized and will start flying out this week. All countries have also agreed that sanctions must be put on Russia, however, Russian gas accounts for some 40% of Europe’s total gas consumption, and Putin’s threat to switch certain gas sales to rubles is causing European leaders more concern. The move could provoke an energy crunch and constrain deals up to hundreds of millions of dollars every day.

On Thursday, after U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with European leaders in Brussels, he announced the United States plans to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees and is pledging $1 billion in new humanitarian aid. He is also launching a new human right and democracy program aimed to provide at least $320 million in new funding to defend human rights in Ukraine and its neighbors. The administration further stated that in order to attempt to hold Russia accountable for its actions, the program will document and preserve evidence of potential war crimes being committed in Ukraine. According to Reuters, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated there had been multiple credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians. Reuters reports the Biden administration said in a statement it would use “the full range of legal pathways” to bring Ukrainians to the United States, including the U.S. refugee resettlement program. 

According to Reuters, Moscow calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation”, claiming the operation is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbor’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as “dangerous nationalists”. The country has caused huge destruction and multiple civilian deaths, but the Kremlin still states its operation is going according to plan. BBC reports that economic measures to cut Russia off from the world’s financial arteries are the sanctions the West has implemented so far. Western countries have frozen the assets of Russia’s central bank to prohibit it from using its $630bn of foreign currency reserves. They have also removed some Russian bands from Swift, an international financial messaging system used to transfer money across borders. This has caused a delay in payments to Russia for energy exports. In terms of Russian oil and gas exports, the US is banning all, and the UK will phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022. The EU gets 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia but is still determined to make Europe independent from Russian energy before 2030. 

Ultimately, President Volodymyr Zelensky urges Western countries to support Ukrainians to achieve peace and put an end to the Russian bombardment that has forced millions to flee their homes. Data from The Internal U.S. State Department illustrates that only a handful of Ukrainian refugees resettled in the United States, and as the war intensified the number escalated quickly. It is the responsibility of all nations to ensure security and safety for all people fleeing from the conflict in Ukraine. As of March 27th, Ukraine is calling for more arms to prevent Russia from splitting the nation into two. The Biden Administration along with Western leaders plan to admit more refugees as the conflict intensifies, and to stand united in sanctions put on Russia. 

Olivia Berntsson