Twelve months ago, the fate of free and democratic Ukraine seemed sealed. Within a very short time, the Russian army would march into Kiev and completely subjugate the country - according to the unanimous assessment of almost all military experts. But the Ukrainians, with incredible courage and massive support from their allies, have done heroic things.
However, there is still no sign of an end to the war anytime soon. Despite massive losses, the Russian regime is sticking to the goal of destroying Ukrainian statehood and the nation.
Ukraine will need our support for a long time to come. But this is not just an act of solidarity, but the best investment in Europe's security. For too long we ignored Ukraine's strategic importance for the stability of Eastern Europe and the European security architecture. For fear of provoking Russia, we recognized Moscow's thinking in spheres of influence and relativized the sovereignty of Ukraine, but also of Moldova and Georgia. In doing so, we neither increased the security of the region nor prevented Russia from invading Ukraine.
By February 24, 2022 at the latest, the policy of leniency towards Russia and the lack of defenses in a united Europe failed. Eastern Europe can only be brought to peace in the long term if Ukraine wins, ie remains a free, democratic state while maintaining its territorial integrity. In order to pave the way for Ukraine from the geopolitical no man's land to a key state in Europe, we must set the course today.
First, we must continue to support Ukraine in building a state-of-the-art and powerful army. In the short term, the aim is to train the Ukraine so that it can defend itself as well as possible against the threat of Russian offensives and liberate occupied areas again. Modern Western weapon systems like the Leopard 2 main battle tank will make a real difference.
Above all, however, the international allies must ensure a steady supply of ammunition, spare parts and new equipment in the coming months. But even in the long term, a modern army, equipped with the highest level of conventional equipment, is the best guarantee that Russia will never again endanger Ukraine's security, independence and territorial integrity. The Ukrainian armed forces should cooperate as closely as possible with NATO. Those sanctions in the high-tech sector that will prevent Russia from massively upgrading again for the foreseeable future should be maintained permanently and closely monitored.
Second, we must start now with plans to rebuild Ukraine as a modern, democratic, economically and socially stable country. Russia has been deliberately destroying the livelihoods of the Ukrainian population for the past twelve months. Countless Ukrainian towns and villages have been reduced to rubble and large parts of the critical infrastructure have been damaged by Russian rocket and drone terror.
In addition to humanitarian and financial support, what Ukrainians need most is hope for a better future. The millions of war refugees must also know that Ukraine will again offer a safe, attractive home after the war. For this, the Ukraine needs a Marshall Plan which, like in Western Europe after 1945, lays the foundation for security, democracy and a new economic miracle. In order to finance the reconstruction, we and our partners are looking for legally secure ways to be able to use frozen Russian assets for this purpose.
Third, Ukraine deserves a realistic and honest roadmap to full EU membership, which is linked to concrete reform steps but also incentives such as early access to the internal market. Speedy EU accession is not an act of mercy for Ukraine, but a win-win situation that is primarily in our interest. The accession negotiations should therefore begin by early 2024 at the latest and be conducted with great ambition and seriousness by all those involved.
We cannot once again allow a candidate country to starve to death like the Western Balkans have done over the past 20 years. All EU partners must unequivocally declare that the EU's door is open to Ukraine. How quickly the country can actually become a member of the EU depends on the specific reform progress, but also on the further course of the war. The government in Kiev must resolutely continue along the arduous path of reforms, particularly in the fight against corruption.
All this will take time and a lot of money, but we are also investing in our common security. Because a defeat of the Ukraine would permanently destabilize the whole of Central and Eastern Europe and cost us much more politically, economically and militarily. That is why Ukraine needs reliable (survival) life insurance against further Russian aggression in the long term. That's why we have to start rebuilding and transforming the devastated country now, so that Ukraine has hopeful prospects. And that is why Ukraine must press ahead with its reforms, which will soon bring it into the European Union.
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