„Make Russia pay for its unprovoked aggression“
After the strategy session „Ukraine’s Path Forward between Defense and Recovery“ in November 2023 in Düsseldorf, Olena Halushka, one of the speakers, kindly answered some of our questions.
The full-scale war that Russia has imposed on Ukraine will soon enter its third year. Is the West doing enough to put Ukraine in a position from which it can not only not lose, but win the war?
The approach to supporting Ukraine which Western leaders have been taking so far has been „as long as it takes“. The lack of a clearly defined end goal impacted the pace and scale of the assistance, as well as raised questions on its efficiency. It cannot last this way in the protracted war as Ukraine’s mobilisation potential and resources are shorter than Russia’s. Instead, a clear commitment of the West to aid Ukraine with „whatever it takes for a fast victory“ is the only way to return sustainable peace back to Europe.
In the past weeks, global attention has considerably shifted away from Ukraine, and many fear that the United States will scale down its commitments. Do you share this fear and, if so, do you think the Europeans could compensate for this?
That is exactly the calculation of the Kremlin that in the long war of attrition the Western attention and aid for Ukraine will be decreasing, while the alliance of dictators united by the goal to destroy the rules-based world order and impose the rule of force is getting stronger with time. Therefore, the assistance for Ukraine should justly be perceived as an investment into the transatlantic security which will pay back with the preservation of the world order.
There are realistic options on how to decrease the cost for the Western taxpayers without undermining Ukraine’s defence capacity and resilience. One way is to finally make Russia pay for its aggression. In the first days of the full-scale war Western governments have frozen the Russian central bank’s assets worth around 300 billion USD, but this money was never used for Ukraine’s recovery, compensation for the damages or Ukraine’s self-defence. The other is to invite Ukraine to start the accession process to NATO. This won’t mean membership and won’t trigger article 5 so the Alliance won’t be dragged into war, but will serve as strong discouragement for Russia’s imperialist war of conquest in the long-term perspective.
There are those voices in the West which argue exclusively for either military or economic support. What is your response to them?
Both these types of aid are deeply intertwined and important. The financial support is necessary for keeping our economy running which allows Ukraine to generate income so we can cover a big part of the defence costs ourselves. This aid keeps our schools and kindergartens open, hospitals operational, energy system repaired, or lets farmers to plant crops. The urgent need of military aid shouldn’t need extra explanation as it is clear that the developments on the battlefield will define the outcome of this war and the more assistance comes in time, the more lives will be saved. Ukrainians are Ukraine’s most valuable asset.
What are the key requirements and key challenges for the successful recovery of Ukraine?
The success of the recovery tomorrow will be largely defined by the scale and quality of the weapons supplies today. The longer the war lasts, the more destruction Russia inflicts on Ukraine. Over the first year of the full-scale war the losses brought by the Russian aggression amounted to 411 billions USD, and Ukraine lost 29% of GDP. For investors to come and refugees to return home, the sustainable guarantees of security are needed. Ukraine already had the Budapest memorandum under which we gave up the third largest nuclear arsenal which did not prevent the ongoing Russian genocidal war. In the mid-term perspective Ukraine’s membership in NATO is the most cost-effective security guarantee, which we’ve recently explained in detail in our essay for the APuZ magazine. Another precondition for successful recovery is of course continuation of country’s democratic transformation which includes rule of law reforms, zero corruption, transparency and real de-oligarchization.
What role will Ukraine’s path to EU membership play in building back its economy?
EU accession process is not only a powerful geopolitical anchor of Ukraine with the West and a morale booster, but also a tool of advocacy for reforms in the areas of the fight against corruption, rule of law, economic growth, energy, agriculture and others since every step on the way is conditioned on specific reforms deliverables. Ukraine’s movement on the way to EU membership will serve as a guarantee for investors in the country’s sustainable transformation and that the long-awaited reforms for improvement of the business climate will be implemented.
One of the central slogans of the International Center for Ukrainian Victory that you co-founded is #MakeRussiaPay, demanding that Russia is held accountable to compensate for the damages it caused. How can Ukraine and its allies make this happen?
It is morally right, economically justified and doable to make Russia pay for its unprovoked aggression and an attempt to take over a sovereign democratic state if there is a political will. Ukraine has already started confiscation of the assets of Russia and Russian malign actors amounting to approximately 1 billion USD. Confiscation of Russian sovereign assets by the Western countries and their transfer into Ukraine’s recovery and self-defence, and also compensation of damages for the victims of Russian aggression is a long overdue step, too. The international compensation mechanism was established on the basis of the Council of Europe, which consists of the register of damages, the compensation commission and the compensation fund which needs to be filled with the confiscated assets. Several countries like the US and Canada are seeking to establish the legal instruments domestically now. However, it is important to have the entire G7 and EU on board as most of the assets were frozen in the European countries. Furthermore, not only will it ensure Russia is brought to account and the West has a sustainable source to support Ukraine, but this will also create a positive safeguard against the acts of aggression by other dictators.
Olena is a board member of the Ukrainian NGO “Anti-corruption Action Center”. She advised to the Member of Parliament of Ukraine (2012-2014) and has experience in local-level politics as she served as the Kyiv City Council member, and deputy chair of the Council’s Commission on Housing and Energy (2014-2015). Olena is a contributor to the Atlantic Council. In November 2023 she just published an essay in German about Ukraine’s path to NATO: https://www.bpb.de/shop/zeitschriften/apuz/nato-2023/542751/auf-dem-weg-zur-mitgliedschaft/
Foto: International Center for Ukrainian Victory