The West Needs to Be the Arsenal of Ukraine’s Democracy

March 07, 2022
4 min read
Photo credit: Mykola Komarovskyy /
The last time tanks rolled in Europe to redraw sovereign borders, President Franklin Roosevelt argued that the United States should become “the great arsenal of democracy” to sustain resistance to Nazi conquest.

After four generations of peace, the free world now faces a similar challenge and it is stepping up. With Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine, the West’s strategy has sharpened beyond swift and severe sanctions on Russia to funding, training, and equipping Ukrainians to resist the invasion.

Within just a week, the list of countries resolved to support Ukrainian forces has jumped from a limited few to 25, representing around half of global GDP. Germany, reversing its long-standing policy against arms shipments to conflict zones, decided to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. The European Union, which conceives of itself as a peace project, made the unprecedented decision to finance €450 million worth of arms. Over the weekend, Poland has been reportedly in talks to provide its Mig-29 fighter jets to Ukraine and backfill with F-16 planes from the United States. Other EU countries may also provide further jets, given HRVP Josep Borrell’s pledge to do so.

No one can doubt the resolve of the Ukraine’s forces and civilians to defend their country. But they need equipment and armament to sustain the fight against the technologically advanced Russian army. And, even if Ukraine is temporarily outmatched in immediate combat, it could sustain a powerful insurgency over an indefinite period of time—particularly if it receives sufficient support from the West.

President Vladmir Putin wishes to reverse history and to reconstruct some version of the Soviet Union or the Russian empire. And many commentators wrongly assume that Ukraine is central to this project and Russia’s foreign policy, but only peripheral for the West. In fact, it is the reverse: Ukraine’s democratic vibrancy and economic progress is core to the idea of the free world and only marginal to the Kremlin’s authoritarian project. Giving democracies a chance to succeed has always been the West’s guiding principle: where local movements strive to establish free and fair elections and market capitalism, they should be supported and protected. Democracy protection was the real insight of integrating Central and Eastern Europe into the EU and NATO after the end of the Cold War. The West is collectively stronger, wealthier, and more peaceful as a result, and has a core interest in supporting Ukraine’s Western trajectory.

Ukraine’s, and the West’s, core advantage, and the main challenge for Putin, is the homegrown nature of the Euromaidan movement that emerged from 2013. Contrary to Russia’s alleged concerns about NATO expansion, it was a trade agreement with the EU that triggered the chain of events that have led to the current conflict. Neither the EU nor the United States predicted, let alone orchestrated, the developments in Ukraine in and since 2013. Instead, Ukrainian democrats braved violence from Yanukovych’s snipers to demand the right to determine their future, without external arm-twisting, as in any sovereign country. The local sources of this political change also mean that it is built to last.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine must fail, which is why the West must help Ukraine fight and prevail by serving as the arsenal of Ukraine’s resistance and democracy.

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