Europe must deliver on Ukraine

Richard Branson looking pensive
John Armstrong
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 20 September 2022

Nearly seven months have passed since Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine began. The impact on this nation and its people has been catastrophic. Countless cities and towns have suffered from indiscriminate Russian shelling. Critical infrastructure has been destroyed and will take years to rebuild.

What’s most shocking is the human toll: according to some reports, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, including many who reportedly fell victim to mass atrocities in places under Russian occupation. More than seven million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring countries, facing an uncertain future as refugees while the fight for Ukraine’s freedom and sovereignty continues. Estimates suggest that roughly one third of the population has had to leave their homes, their communities, their friends and families. When I visited Ukraine in late June, the scars of war were inescapable, but I was equally impressed with the resilience and determination of Ukraine’s people to repel the aggression and look forward to a better time.

Richard Branson in Ukraine, June 2022
Taras Dumenko

In recent days and weeks, I was encouraged to see Ukraine’s armed forces make significant progress in countering the Russian onslaught and liberating vast swaths of previously occupied territory. This is a critical moment of the war. The bravery and passion of Ukraine‘s forces in defending their homeland, their excellent training, and the availability of Western weapons have turned out to be a massive advantage over what appears to be a poorly trained, poorly equipped and, most of all, poorly motivated Russian army.

Richard Branson meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukraine government

Putin’s troops, often recruited from remote regions of the country, don’t know what they are fighting for. It seems increasingly clear to many on the frontlines that they’ve been sent into a battle they cannot win, which serves no purpose other than satisfying Putin’s imperial ambitions and delusions. I haven’t given up hope that ordinary Russians will eventually see through the propaganda and rise up against a Kremlin regime that is so readily willing to sacrifice their brothers, sons, and fathers.

Whilst Ukraine’s counter-offensive is rightly hailed as a stroke of strategic genius, Western leaders must continue to do their part to sustain the momentum of Ukraine’s efforts in words and deeds. I appreciate the words of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who reaffirmed the EU’s “unshakeable solidarity” with the people of Ukraine. And I welcome German Chancellor Scholz’s earlier statement preconditioning peace negotiations on a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine‘s sovereign territory. Ukraine’s allies must remain unified on this demand.

Richard Branson visits Ukraine

I also appreciate that the German contribution of weapons and other equipment to Ukraine has been far more extensive than is commonly known: in fact, only the US and the UK have delivered more military equipment and aid. But at this critical juncture, Germany can no longer drag its feet on the long-promised delivery of the weapons system most urgently needed – particularly Leopard 2 tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles. These systems can and will make a significance difference in supporting Ukraine’s advances as autumn and winter approach.

Other nations, like France, must match rhetoric and action, too. It’s only through the combination of tight sanctions and sustained military aid that this awful aggression can be brought to end.