At Shangri-La Dialogue, Ukraine's allies - and Zelenskyy - push for more defence aid

    The Hawk
    June2/ 2024
    Last Updated:

    The U.S. and other Western nations continue to support Ukraine, but challenges remain due to Russia's manpower advantage.

    the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore

    Singapore: Ukraine's allies will step up to provide military assistance as the country weathers attacks by Russia, officials said at the Shangri-La Dialogue global defence forum in Singapore, where Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskyy was a surprise visitor.

    More than two years after Russia invaded, Kyiv faces renewed assaults on its territory, particularly in the region around the northeastern city of Kharkiv. A greater flow of artillery ammunition has strengthened defences there, but more is needed - particularly surface-to-air missiles, said Germany's chief of defence, General Carsten Breuer.

    "What we see is that Ukraine needs air defences... and of course, artillery ammunition and weapon systems to fight against Russia and this present attack," Breuer said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

    Experts and defence officials from three other Western countries said air defence systems are particularly critical for Ukraine.

    Stepped up missile and air attacks by Russia mean Kyiv must work harder to defend not just its military units near the front lines, but cities and critical infrastructure - straining its existing defences.

    "It has always been a high-priority requirement for a lot of different reasons," said Mick Ryan, a retired major general in the Australian Army. "One, to protect critical infrastructure; two, to protect civilians, who have been targets of attacks all the way through the war; three, to protect critical military capabilities; and four, so Ukraine can use its air capabilities to attack Russian systems."

    Zelenskyy arrived in Singapore on Saturday to try to gather support for a "peace summit" planned for June 15-16 in Switzerland. At that summit, he hopes to rally friendly countries around the idea of a resolution to the conflict, which began when Russia invaded in February 2022, that includes the withdrawal of Russian troops and the restoration of Ukraine's 1991 borders.

    "It is very important for us to begin the process of establishing a just peace," Zelenskyy said on the social media platform X. "Russia does not want to end the war. Therefore, we must work together with the entire world to bring peace closer."

    By Sunday afternoon, he had met US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Indonesia's president-elect, Prabowo Subianto; a delegation from the U.S. Congress; and the president of Timor-Leste, Jose Ramos-Horta. He was scheduled to meet Singapore's president and prime minister later in the day.

    There were no new pledges of military assistance announced at the security summit in Singapore.

    But Austin updated Zelenskyy on Washington's aid to Kyiv and "reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to maintaining the strong support," a Pentagon official said after the meeting, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

    Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, who has said her country's military will train troops inside Ukraine if needed, called on countries in the Indo-Pacific region to provide more assistance for Kyiv.

    "Ukraine needs the unwavering support of all nations that cherish freedom," Simonyte said. "This is not a regional issue. This is a global imperative. This is a fight for freedom for all us."

    In recent days, Ukraine began using US weapons such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to attack Russian forces inside Russia - a development Zelenskyy that said he was grateful for, but that it was not enough.

    He said Russia was using many airfields to launch attacks on Ukraine "knowing that Ukraine will not fire back because it has no responding systems and no permissions."

    Many of Ukraine's needs have stayed constant over the course of the war, said Rob Lee, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program. Because Russia mobilized hundreds of thousands of conscripted soldiers in 2023, however, the need for more Western weapons has become more acute.

    He noted that the Western gear Ukraine had accumulated since the start of the war was better than the Soviet-era weapons they had started with. Air defence systems in particular, he said, would make an immediate impact.

    But he cautioned that Russia had a major manpower advantage, which might limit the effects of renewed flows of military assistance.

    "I don’t think the US and Western countries will be able to get Ukraine to parity, but it will affect how likely Russia is to break the Ukraine defences," Lee said.

    The security conference in Singapore, organised by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, began Friday and ended Sunday.