Ukraine’s Fight for the Future: The Urgent Need for More Consistent European Military Support

Opinion article by EP candidates Teun Janssen & Cristian Castrillon

May 28, 2024
  • Teun Janssen is an EU affairs expert (specifically defence and enlargement) and a candidate for the European Parliament with Volt Netherlands.

  • Cristian Castrillon is a military Veteran and security consultant and a candidate for the European Parliament with Volt Spain.

Over the last two years, Ukraine has demonstrated remarkable resilience and ingenuity in its struggle against a vastly superior military force. With limited resources and high morale, the Ukrainians have managed to keep the Russian advances at bay, using whatever tools available to defend Europe. However, this resilience has its limits. The support from the US and EU, while vital, has been geared more towards helping Ukraine survive rather than enabling it to prevail. ‘’Escalation management’’ isn’t; it drags out the war and actually increases risks. Putin reacts to weakness by escalating his aims and means.

This approach needs to change. Committing to a decisive Ukrainian victory on the battlefield will save countless lives, destruction, and set the conditions for a more stable Ukraine, a de-imperialised Russia and a more peaceful European continent. The options discussed below are not official positions of Volt Europa. They are rather meant to initiate a serious discussion about the conditions for a real European strategy to help Ukraine win the peace through raising several non mutually-exclusive options.

Effective Air-defence over all of Ukraine
The EU must provide Ukraine with more air defence systems that have proven crucial in protecting cities and allowing civilians to lead a semblance of normal life amidst war. At the same time, they protect vital infrastructure contributing to Ukraine’s effective defence. Last month’s destruction of Ukraine’s largest energy plant  (which in April, the authors experienced a few KM away in an air raid shelter in Kyiv) shows clearly what Russia aims to do. If Ukraine is left without sufficient air defence munitions, Russia will succeed. Recent commitments by countries like Germany to send additional Patriot air-defence systems to Ukraine were positive but reactive rather than proactive decisions. A clearer plan is required and possible.

Last month’s effective interception of a large-scale Iranian attack on Israeli soil by the advanced Israeli Iron Dome system and Western Allies’ air forces demonstrates that the West has the means to provide immediate and effective air defence in a complex environment. It is fair to question why the same support cannot be granted to Ukraine. This disparity should serve as a catalyst for the US and European leaders to reassess and enhance their support to Ukraine. It is imperative that the EU not only expands its support by increasing and speeding up production and delivery of systems like the Patriot or IRIS-T to enhance air defence but also increases its overall reserves and readiness. At the same time, discussions should begin about how Western militaries could provide more direct assistance.

This is not an easy discussion. Ukraine is 28 times larger than Israel. Russian planes penetrate Ukrainian airspace daily whereas Iran attacked with weapons from over a thousand kilometres away. And Iran does (not yet) have nuclear weapons. But creative solutions should be considered. Western air forces engaging Russian missiles and drones, and not manned aircraft, could be one option (as happened in the Middle East). Protecting areas of Ukraine without active fighting ongoing with Western ground based air defence could be another. Such actions are essential for enabling Ukrainians to defend themselves without the disproportionate disadvantage they currently face, while minimising escalation risks.

Enabling Ukraine to disable offensive weapons in Russia
While the bolstering of air defences marks significant support, there remains a glaring gap in the strategic offensive capabilities provided to Ukraine. Cruise and ballistic missiles can destroy Russian ground based launching platforms, therefore decreasing incoming air threats and thus the need to reinforce costly air defences. The refusal to supply Taurus and other advanced cruise missiles also limits Ukraine's ability to effectively counteract and disrupt enemy supply lines and logistics hubs deep within occupied and russian territories. These missiles, capable of striking targets up to 500 km away, are crucial for disabling strategic military logistic infrastructure such as the illegally constructed Kerch Bridge, which links Russia to occupied Crimea. The ability to target such critical infrastructure would not only hinder Russian logistical and operational capabilities but also level the playing field. Ukraine is operating within the UN charter (51) on self defence. This includes disabling enemy offensive weapons. 

Securing airspace over non-frontline areas
Enhancing Ukraine's offensive capacity complements the necessity for protective measures such as EU member states securing the airspace over parts of Ukraine. Particularly over the western regions and the capital city of Kyiv, these zones could significantly alter the strategic dynamics of the conflict. Securing these zones would ensure the safety of key urban areas from aerial attacks, offering not just a physical barrier against aggressive manoeuvres but also a psychological boost to Ukrainian morale. At the same time, they could enable Ukraine to concentrate its own air defence and air force on the frontline.

Protecting cities such as Kyiv—the heart of Ukraine's administrative, cultural, and political life—industrial hub Kharkiv and Odessa, its main maritime export hub and a granary for the world, would prevent further devastation and disruption of civilian life, while minimising the effect on international food prices and other goods Together, these strategies of offence and defence embody a comprehensive approach, ensuring that Ukraine not only survives but also gains the upper hand in reclaiming sovereignty.

Relieving Ukrainian forces in the rear
In addition, a genuine commitment from Europe to safeguard Ukrainian lives and European security may at some point necessitate an indirect deployment of European forces. The conditions under which this particular option would become feasible and politically acceptable must be the subject of rigorous democratic debate, but the discussion should start today. A deployment could take the form of non-combat units specialised in disaster management, reconstruction  and field hospitals. These units, crucially positioned away from the front lines, are vital for the defence effort and would remove pressure from strained Ukrainian military and civil services. Setting up such infrastructure would mean establishing field hospitals and supply distribution centres essential for supporting not only the armed forces but also the affected civilian populations. This would encompass everything from emergency medical care to firefighting services and the distribution of food, water, and shelter, contributing to  Ukraine's resilience and eventual victory.

Another option which could be considered includes EU combat forces being deployed to areas of Ukraine where combat is not taking place, such as along the Ukrainian border with Belarus or Moldova. This could free up thousands of combat effective Ukrainian forces which could be employed on the frontline. We reiterate  that any option of European boots on the ground in Ukraine would not confront Russian forces.  They would be meant to relieve Ukrainian forces located  in non-combat zones and deter a potential Russian offensive and breakthrough in depth.

Firm security guarantees to enable a real peace

Finally, the only way to ensure an effective long-term return of peace to the European continent is a Ukraine firmly within the EU and NATO. The latter is a complicated question; a country cannot join NATO while at war. Ukrainian experts themselves are seriously considering different avenues. Full NATO membership and the collective defence of article 5 is the only durable solution. Prior to full NATO accession, Ukraine could follow the so-called ‘’West German’’ model: gradual NATO membership; first of the territories Ukraine controls, ultimately all its territory from 1991. Talk of a ceasefire, or peace negotiations, are meaningless when two factors remain true: Russia’s long term aims remain unchanged (the destruction of Ukraine as a state), and Ukraine does not receive credible security guarantees. Otherwise, the outcome of such negotiations will become an armistice … not a peace. A moment for Russia to breathe and re-arm for round two.

Ukraine must win this war because otherwise Europe will not be at peace.  Europe must wake up and assist in ending the atrocities occurring within our borders. Setting the stakes now will regain us the initiative and deter Putin. Right now, we still have the choice how to do it. The ideas above should contribute to a serious discussion on our common strategy to win the peace. If not, Putin will decide for us; and it will be endlessly costlier in taxpayer money and lives.  As FDR once said: ‘’we have nothing to fear but fear itself’’. The time to act is now.