Later on Saturday evening, Russia still has its appearance at the Munich Security Conference. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, opponent of the Kremlin Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other Russian opposition figures sit on the podium in the Bayerischer Hof.
It is the other Russia that is hardly noticed anymore. The Russia of those who went into exile and now, along with Ukraine and their Western allies, fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not win his war of aggression against Ukraine. "A victory for Ukraine is the prerequisite for any change in Russia," says Kasparov.
Western solidarity rally for Ukraine
Putin's Russia, on the other hand, has to stay out this time - for the first time since the 1990s. He does not want to give the "war criminals in the Kremlin" a forum for their propaganda, was the slogan of the new conference leader Christoph Heusgen, former adviser to ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU). It was therefore clear from the outset what would primarily become of the conference this year: a demonstration of solidarity by the West for Ukraine.
And in the current war situation, solidarity means one thing above all for the Western allies gathered in Munich: military support. "Now is not the time for dialogue," said French President Emmanuel Macron right at the beginning. That set the tone. However, how far this support should go and how quickly it must be provided remains controversial among the alliance partners.
Care or risk: Western weapons course controversial
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) assured in Munich that the balance between the best possible support for Ukraine and the avoidance of an unwanted escalation would continue to be maintained. The following applies: "Care before quick action, cohesion before solo performance."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on the other hand, warned against being overly cautious. "Some worry that our support for Ukraine harbors escalation risks," says the Norwegian. The greatest risk is a victory for Putin. There are no risk-free options.
What has actually resulted from this in Munich?
- The formation of a main battle tank alliance remains difficult. Scholz, his new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) continued to look for available Leopard 2 tanks from the allies in Munich - but without any countable results. After all, some countries like Finland and Sweden haven't said no yet either. So the hope that it will still work in the end remains.
- The discussion about the delivery of fighter jets was moderated in Munich. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Der Spiegel that there was "a consensus among Western partners" that there would be no rapid delivery. "Certainly not in this phase of the war, certainly not in half a year." The debate is likely to continue anyway, that too is clear.
- Ukraine came back with a new demand: They now want phosphorus incendiary weapons and cluster munitions. Reason: Russia also uses these weapons. However, cluster munitions are outlawed by Germany and more than 100 countries. For this reason, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg promptly rejected the offer.
One then wants to talk about diplomacy
So the security conference had something of an arms exchange. But then there was still someone who spoke about diplomacy: the top Chinese foreign politician, Wang Yi. China backed Putin in the first year of the war - even if the warning against the use of nuclear weapons was seen in the West as a sign of Beijing's willingness to slow down the Russian president at least a little.
Now Wang Yi said something in Munich that makes you sit up and take notice: "We will present something. Namely the Chinese position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis." This plan is expected to be presented as early as the anniversary of the Russian invasion on Friday. Wang Yi gave only vague hints about the content. The chaos and conflicts that are wracking the world at the moment have been provoked because the principles of the UN Charter have not been upheld.
Is China using the Ukraine issue for its claim on Taiwan?
Western diplomats read this in such a way that China could insist on the so-called territorial integrity of Ukraine, i.e. on the inviolability of borders. China would then have to answer the question of what understanding it has of Ukraine's borders. Whether it sees Crimea as part of Russia, like Putin, or sees the 2014 annexation of the peninsula as illegal.
It could also be that China uses the "peace plan" to bolster its claim to the island democratic republic of Taiwan, which could pose a quandary for the West. One thing is certain: it will be a plan that the western allies will have to grapple with. Because China is the only country that is still believed to have an influence on Putin.
And now? When is the Russian major offensive coming?
The week promises to be exciting not only because of this, as far as the further course of the war is concerned. Putin has announced a major speech for Tuesday. At the same time, US President Joe Biden will be in Poland, backing Ukraine from there, just ahead of the anniversary of the Russian invasion on Friday.
The 2022 Security Conference ended with the open question: Can a Russian attack on Ukraine still be averted? The bitter answer followed four days later: Russian troops marched in the direction of Kiev. This year, too, most of the participants are likely to have left with a queasy feeling. Perhaps a new major Russian offensive will start in a few days. And during the three days of the conference in Munich, no one dared to predict when this war might end.
Conference leader Heusgen ended the event on Sunday with purposeful optimism. He pointed out that the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, who delivered the opening speech via video link from Kiev, would come to Munich in person again in peacetime. "We all hope that he will be here again in person next year. That would mean the war is over."
Munich Security Conference