Munich, Germany — As dozens of world leaders descended on Germany this weekend for the annual Munich Security Conference, declarations of support for Ukraine were nearly ubiquitous — as were acknowledgments that help and weapons are arriving too slowly.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy started off the three-day forum with a message of urgency, telling delegates in a virtual address on Friday that “we need to hurry up.”
“There is no alternative to speed,” he said. “Because it is the speed that life depends on.”
The Western leaders who spoke after Zelenskyy adhered to similar themes, albeit with lower stakes. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who agreed in January to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv after coming under intense diplomatic pressure, cajoled other nations to step up their military assistance.
“We will do whatever Germany can do to make this decision easier for our partners, for example, by training Ukrainian soldiers here in Germany or providing support with supplies and logistics,” Scholz said. He also said Germany would permanently increase its defense spending to 2% of GDP, a level long called the “minimum” by NATO leaders.
This year’s Munich Security Conference — occasionally dubbed “the Davos of Defense” — convened more than 40 heads of state and hundreds of senior diplomatic, military and intelligence officers. It attracted the largest U.S. congressional delegation in its nearly 60-year history.
In remarks on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the coming months would be decisive for the war in Ukraine, and urged the West to “intensify” its support while also preparing for “prolonged conflict.”
Vice President Kamala Harris said Saturday there was “no doubt” Western unity would endure, but said the grind of war would continue.
“There will be more dark days in Ukraine. The daily agony of war will persist,” she said. “But if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin thinks he can wait us out, he is badly mistaken. Time is not on his side.”
In her address, Harris also announced the U.S. had formally determined Russia had committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine, vowing that Russian soldiers who perpetrated crimes and their superiors would be “held to account.”
Historically a forum that prided itself on dialogue even when views were controversial — in 2007, Putin delivered now-infamous remarks that foreshadowed an eventual Ukraine invasion — organizers of this year’s event did not invite representatives from Russia or Iran, arguing they did not want to provide a platform for state propaganda.
And while efforts to maintain a focus on Ukraine’s needs were apparent, the recent diplomatic strain between the United States and China — triggered by the shootdown ordered by President Biden of a Chinese balloon that entered U.S. airspace earlier this month — drifted into most conversations.
Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, who spoke on Saturday, castigated the United States’ downing of the balloon as “absurd and hysterical,” calling it “100% abuse of the use of force.”
Speculation that Wang would nevertheless meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken pervaded the atmosphere Saturday, and only subsided after the State Department confirmed the two met face-to-face that evening on the margins of the conference.
In an interview with “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan after what he said was a direct conversation with Wang, Blinken said he had raised new information the U.S. had obtained about China weighing the possibility of sending weapons to Russia.
“The concern that we have now is based on information we have that they’re considering providing lethal support, and we’ve made very clear to them that that would cause a serious problem for us and in our relationship,” Blinken said.
A summary of the meeting issued by the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs said “the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination is built on the basis of non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting of third countries, which is within the sovereign right of any two independent states.”
“We do not accept the U.S.’s finger-pointing or even coercion targeting China-Russia relations,” the statement said.
CIA Director William Burns told conference attendees on Saturday that Chinese President Xi Jinping had been paying “very careful attention” to developments in Ukraine since the start of the war.
“I think [Xi] early on in the war was unsettled and certainly sobered by what he saw, not just the incompetent and very poor performance of the Russian military — which I don’t think he or his intelligence services anticipated — but the way in which the Ukrainians resisted … the way in which they used asymmetrical weapons to set back a more powerful military in many respects,” Burns said, adding that the CIA had “no higher priority than that long-term geopolitical challenge posed by China.”
“For all the focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine, we’ve continued to devote more and more resources, more and more attention to the China challenge, because it is going to loom larger than any other single challenge that we face, as a country and as an intelligence service,” Burns said.