This weekend will mark two months since Russia invaded Ukraine. The milestone comes as Moscow, beaten back from Kyiv by a determined Ukrainian resistance, launches a new offensive in the country’s east. “Another stage of this operation [in eastern Ukraine] is beginning, and I am sure this will be a very important moment,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Tuesday. As Grid reported that day, the “battle for the Donbas” will be a critical and very different fight.
For Ukraine, this new phase of the war underlines the need for international support — in particular, for more weapons and more sanctions against Russia, according to Oleksandr Merezhko, head of the Ukrainian parliament’s international affairs committee. Merezhko has been liaising with foreign politicians and other officials since the war began.
Speaking to Grid from his office in Kyiv, Merezhko acknowledged the support his country had received from the U.S., the U.K., Poland and the Baltic countries that themselves feel increasingly threatened by an expansion-minded Kremlin. But two months into the war, with entire Ukrainian cities razed to the ground by Russian bombs, he had harsh words for the major European powers that he said were “dragging their feet,” even trying to appease Moscow. “Germany and France have disappointed me,” he said.
As Russia steps up its violent campaign in eastern Ukraine, Merezhko said his conversations with colleagues around Europe had left him with the impression that some “would prefer that we lose this war.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Grid: We’re almost two months into the war in your country — looking back at how the conflict has unfolded, what stands out for you? And what is your assessment of where things stand now?
Oleksandr Merezhko: The most important thing is that we have survived. We have not only managed to defend ourselves, but we’ve repelled Russian attacks. We’ve saved Kyiv — that’s our biggest achievement so far. Russia seriously underestimated our capabilities. We sank the Moskva warship. We have held the front line in eastern Ukraine. These are the symbols of our resistance.
Ukraine’s fight against Russia is like the biblical story of David versus Goliath. We are highly motivated, and that is because we are fighting for our families and homes. And that is why [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has already strategically lost this war.
G: What about the broader international landscape? We’ve seen unprecedented sanctions on Russia. We have seen military and humanitarian aid for your country, particularly from the West. But what — as someone intimately involved with your country’s foreign policy — has been missing? What’s disappointed you?
OM: To me, the biggest disappointment was that we had hoped that countries like Germany and France will wake up, that they will give us the heavy weapons we need. That they will give us whatever we need for this fight. But they have been dragging their feet. I still don’t see wholehearted support on their part. Sometimes I get the impression — and I have been in Zoom meetings with colleagues around Europe — that for some European politicians the fact that we have survived, that we continue to fight, is very uncomfortable for them. Because they would prefer that we lose this war, that we surrender and that they — these European politicians — can then return to business as usual with Russia.
We have been trying to reach out to our colleagues around Europe with one message: Give us a no-fly zone, give us heavy weapons, and impose even tougher sanctions on Russia. Unfortunately, the reaction of some countries has not been as we had hoped.
There are countries in Europe that do understand us, and we don’t have to explain everything to them — the United Kingdom, Poland, the Baltic countries. They are very sympathetic. For instance, Estonia, it is a small country. But it is doing more than many bigger countries.
But other countries, like unfortunately Germany and France, sometimes it feels like they are under the influence of Russian propaganda. Both Germany and France have disappointed me. At one point, it had seemed like they are ready to provide us with what we need, then they aren’t. They are not doing enough.
G: What about the U.S.?
OM: Without the U.S., and this is the truth, we would be dead. It is the biggest supporter we have right now. Of course, we want more. But they are leading in the support. I don’t have insider information regarding their military help, but what I do know is that they have been ahead of everyone in terms of supporting us. They have for example taken a lead in imposing sanctions on Russia. Naturally, we will continue to ask for more support. But I can say that the U.S. has been very important for us to survive, and we are extremely grateful to them.
Looking ahead, given the situation right now in the east, what we need more of now are things like tanks and jets — and we need them fast.
G: What about China — what have you made of the way it has sided with Russia?
OM: We should expect more from China. China is trying to preserve good relations with Russia. They have a strategic interest in Russian resources. We understand that. But it is also a fact that China could stop this war. It has serious influence over Russia. But of course I do not see that happening. It is unfortunate. I hope their position changes. But at the present moment, all I can tell you is that I am disappointed in their position. I am not losing hope completely, but I am getting more and more realistic about China.
In this moment, we are learning who is our friend and who is not our friend.
G: There are several other countries around the world that have tried to avoid taking sides in this conflict — big players like India, Brazil and others. What do you make of their position? What is your message to them?
OM: First of all, I don’t expect much from them because they are not members of the European Union or of NATO. Of course we want the support of all of these countries.
And then what I would say is that everyone around the world should really see that this war is not only about Ukraine. It is about international law and norms. If today we allow an aggressor like Russia to invade the territory of a weaker neighbor, then it is like we are going back in time to the 19th century. So that is the reason for other countries to support us. Because what is happening in Ukraine ultimately is a conflict between democratic states and authoritarian states. It is a global war.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.