(CN) — European and American heads of state and political leaders, including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, met at a major security conference in Munich on Friday and vowed their continued support for Ukraine.
The Munich Security Conference was scheduled to run through the weekend. About 40 heads of state and government attended the meeting, which traditionally has been a forum for dialogue among allies and between adversaries. This year, Russian representatives were not invited, though a Chinese delegation was in attendance. There was a potential for talks to take place between American and Chinese diplomats.
The war in Ukraine dominated the conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy giving an opening speech via video from Kyiv.
“We can make sure that there is no alternative to our victory,” Zelenskyy said as he pleaded for more Western support and a faster delivery of weapons.
He defined the war in Ukraine as a pivotal global conflict between democracy and autocracy. He also urged European Union and NATO leaders to admit Ukraine into these Western institutions.
It's been nearly a year since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine, upending the international order and bringing war back to Europe.
Speaking in Munich, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the war had caused profound changes in Germany and forced his country to reconsider decades of policy toward Russia and security. In the past, Germany has sought to foster warm relations with Russia and not prioritized military spending.
“Germany is committed to living up to its responsibility to Europe's security and that of NATO territory without any ifs or buts,” Scholz said.
In the wake of Russia's invasion, Scholz announced a “sea change” in Germany's foreign policy and his government has pledged to undertake a massive rebuilding of Germany's long-neglected military.
His government says it will spend 100 billion euros ($106.6 billion) to upgrade and modernize its army, the Bundeswehr, and increase annual defense spending to 2% of gross domestic product. Prior to the outbreak of war, the United States had long complained that Germany and other European allies were not meeting a NATO target of 2% of GDP going to military spending.
Scholz said Germany is stepping up militarily by placing 17,000 soldiers on standby for quick deployment, sending an additional brigade to Lithuania and providing more defense capabilities to Poland and Slovakia.
He added that Germany is working with France to develop new combat and air defense systems.
“These are steps towards a Europe of defense and armament,” Scholz said. “They are also steps towards a Europe more capable of taking action in geopolitical terms.”
He said a more robust European military will strengthen the NATO alliance and mean Europe can do more “to resolve conflicts in our neighborhood.”
Scholz said Russia must be defeated, though he added there must not be an “unintended escalation” and that NATO must not be drawn into the war against Russia.
Western leaders also hoped to use the Munich conference to win over leaders from Asia, Africa and Latin America who have not gone along with sanctions against the Kremlin and continued trading with Russia.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.Follow @https://twitter.com/cainburdeau
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