The G7 Needs to Commit to Supporting Ukraine
BERLIN—When G7 leaders meet for their annual summit in Germany this weekend, for a second year without Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will rank high on their agenda. Though questions of war and peace may seem misplaced in what is, essentially, an economic policy forum, the escalation in Eastern Europe, and the broader challenge it embodies to the West, demands attention and action. A solution will be hard to reach, but the meeting at Schloss Elmau must show that the leaders are both principled on Russia and practical on Ukraine.
In their search for responses, G7 leaders will be well-advised to start by reassessing the problem. A year ago, it may have seemed to many in the West that the Ukraine crisis was indeed largely a local, perhaps a regional, issue revolving around the internal political development of one Eastern European state and its international affiliations. In the meantime, however, it has become blatantly clear that this crisis is a tragic symptom of a broader confrontation waged by Russia against the West.
In response to this challenge, the G7 Summit should first and foremost be a show of commitment to the values, principles, and institutions that have undergirded the European order for decades. These include the inviolability of existing borders, the rule of law, human rights and democracy from within, and the sovereign choice of countries to choose its affiliations from without. A clear signal is needed that the West will not compromise these norms, even as a resolution to the conflict remains out of reach. The G7 leaders need to stand up for their values, to counter Russia, and to send a signal to emerging powers globally, but also to bolster Western unity, fragile as it has become over seemingly endless transatlantic frictions and intra-EU tensions.
Second, the West must end the strange inhibition with which it has so far responded to Russian revisionism and aggression. To be sure, its multipronged and measured approach, combining punitive measures against Russia with offers to negotiate solutions to the crisis and reassurance for Eastern EU and NATO members with some support to Ukraine and other post-Soviet neighbors, was not a mean feat. But these steps pale before the vast numerical superiority of the G7 and its Western allies, which outnumbers Russia economically at a rate of 20 to 1 and militarily more than tenfold. The West should clearly communicate that it will bring this strength to bear fully to deter Russia, to enable countries like Ukraine to withstand Russian pressures, and to put up the defenses of the most vulnerable of Western allies. And in so doing, all tools, from political to economic to military, must remain on the table and be employed if needed.
Third, the G7 states need to make a stronger contribution to help Ukraine weather the massive humanitarian crisis that has ensued following Russia’s aggression. At present, around 1.3 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, victims not only of a just fight for their own country but of the defense of Western values that are under Russian assault. In response, the West has been shockingly stingy, having delivered only 28 percent of the $316 million in humanitarian aid that the United Nations estimates is needed. Those G7 members that have been more forthcoming in providing assistance, such as the United States and Canada, should urge their reluctant peers and additional Western nations to finally demonstrate the responsibility and generosity that is due to the Ukrainian people.
Fourth, the meeting this weekend should result in a significantly larger commitment to supporting reform in Ukraine. Burdened with a devastating heritage of the previous kleptocratic regime, and facing permanent attempts at destabilization by Russia, the new Ukrainian government has embarked on ambitious reforms and it can already show modest progress. To accelerate this process and to make its results durable, Western support must grow exponentially. Estimates are that up to $100 billion are needed in long-term funding to successfully transform and modernize the Ukrainian economy; only $17.5 billion have so far been pledged in mid-term stabilization funds. Here, too, the G7 countries must provide critical momentum for long-term changes in Ukraine and the surrounding region.
If the upcoming G7 Summit in Germany delivered on some or even all of these accounts, it would help bolster its claim to relevance. If the group, meeting this year as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine and Putin’s anti-Western campaign flourishes, does not manage to offer meaningful commitments to supporting the European order, then it will indeed be left looking like merely a photo opportunity for world leaders.
Joerg Forbrig is Transatlantic Fellow for Central and Eastern Europe at The German Marshall Fund of the United States. Follow him on Twitter @JoergForbrig.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.