How the West Can Help Ukraine: Three Strategies for Victory and Rebirth

Western support for Ukraine is not just about winning the war but also about the peace afterward, argues Andreas Umland. In a special report for the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies, Umland outlines that support for the (infrastructural) reconstruction should be closely linked to Ukraine’s staged accession to the EU. Central to conditions for continuing Western help will be Kyiv’s ongoing strengthening of the rule of law and fight against corruption. Beneath a summary of this report written for and published by the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS) in Sweden.

Robert Serry 22
Irpin after the Russian occupation. Picture Robert Serry /

By Andreas Umland

Thus far, the West’s help to Ukraine has, in its strategic formulation, material substance and public perception, constituted a rescue operation.

From the beginning, however, reconstruction planning has also been conceived by both Ukrainians and Western experts as a forward-looking programme. It should be even more clearly perceived and presented as an agenda not only for relief but also for renewal – out of which a more modern and successful Ukraine will emerge.

Giving Western support for Kyiv a 'positive spin' has important psychological underpinnings for Ukrainians and foreigners involved in military and civilian assistance. Western help for rebuilding and integrating Ukraine should be sequenced in a way that produces a continuous succession of swiftly completable 'baby steps'. The achievement of each intermediate stage, such as accession to an EU institution or initiative, completion of a physical or virtual project, the start of a new service or company, should be publicly acknowledged and occasionally celebrated to provide Ukrainians and their Western supporters with a sense of stable progress. Inevitable setbacks must be accompanied by communication strategies that allow for contextualization as well as further progress and be handled by all parties in ways that boost rather than undermine confidence in the process.

For both psychological and practical reasons, future Western-Ukrainian exchanges should also flow more than previously in both directions. Western governments and non-governmental actors should, in their own interests, more actively and publicly utilize the peculiarly novel experiences and knowledge that have been accumulated by Ukrainian individuals and institutions, before and during the current war. This concerns above all, but not only, the conduct and repulsing of military and hybrid operations in the context of an armed conflict with a highly adversarial enemy. In the civilian sector, too, Ukraine can share valuable insights on the successful digitalization, liberalization and decentralization of its state, civil society and economy. Enabling Ukrainian help for foreign governments, including Moldova’s and Georgia’s, as well as other actors and making it visible will increase both Ukrainian pride in, and Western sympathy for, the achievements of its embattled people.

A doctrine of building Ukraine back better has wider security-political reverberations beyond Eastern Europe. Its implementation would demonstrate to potentially expansionist actors around the world that foreign aggression will fail to achieve its aims, and international responses to attacks on vulnerable states might even have positive effects for the assailed nations. A paradoxical repercussion of an act of aggression would be a strengthening rather than weakening of the victim state’s geopolitical position. The attacked country’s domestic situation might partially even improve rather than just worsen following a military assault on it.

Sending such a signal will not only be beneficial for Ukrainians. It should also result in a hardening of the international order, reassurance for smaller countries and a strengthening of the non-proliferation regime for weapons of mass destruction. Ukraine’s fate should teach both future possible aggressors and their potential victims three simple lessons: (a) might is never right; (b) rules will be upheld; and (c) that more powerful states will protect weaker ones. International law and organizations would thereby be strengthened, resulting in an increase in worldwide security and trust that is in the interests of every human being.

Modification and innovation

Numerous reports and briefs have been published in recent months dealing with one or more aspects of Ukrainians’ resistance to Russia and the prospects for reconstruction as well as European integration. This report synthesizes some of the proposals of these brief and classifies the instruments for helping Ukraine in both military and civilian terms, according to the need to set them up for the first time, accelerate them or adapt them.

These needs for modification, adaptation and innovation apply, to different degrees, to various types of Western aid to Ukraine, from military and contingency support to macro-financial, humanitarian, and technical assistance, and modernization and reconstruction, as well as European integration. Several of the proposals set out below are also applicable to Moldova and Georgia, which are involved in protracted conflicts with Russia and could, at some point in the future, suffer a similar fate to Ukraine’s.

This report focuses on just some of the challenges often discussed in previous publications. For reasons of brevity, it leaves out other relevant themes, such as Moscow’s accountability and reparations, confiscation of frozen Russian assets, China’s behaviour, the Lublin Triangle [multilateral cooperation of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine – ed] or the Quadriga Format [bilateral defence and foreign affairs contact between Turkey and Ukraine – ed], as well as the special roles of select nation states, to name but a few salient topics.

Six recommendations

The following six points of advice are the conclusions from the report.

  • Military and civilian aid to Ukraine should be presented not just as a matter of international solidarity, but of national security for the supporting countries. Spokespersons for national governments and international organizations should outline why and how their support makes not only Ukraine but Europe and the entire world a safer place. Foreign assistance should be justified as enabling Kyiv not only to prevail in the current war, but also to win the subsequent peace, and not just rebuild but renew Ukraine.
  • In accordance with Ukraine’s current and future needs, Western military and non-military programmes of support should be intensified, modified or created anew. Demand- rather than donor-driven, these older intensified, newly adapted or entirely novel programmes should help Kyiv to achieve its most urgent tasks as formulated by Ukrainian national and local governments.
  • In Eastern and Western Europe, and in other regions of the world, many individuals, groups and institutions stand ready to help Ukraine in one way or another. To make delivery of such assistance possible, the functioning of Ukraine’s defence, security, transport, communications and energy infrastructure has priority, together with anti-corruption measures. Facilitation of fast and uncomplicated domestic and transborder interactions for Ukrainians among themselves and with their allies is a core task.
  • Comprehensive relief and recovery measures should start now, before and independent of the end of the war, and later become a thoroughly modernizing reconstruction. These should combine better exploitation of existing formats (intensification) and adaptation of now dated projects (modification) with the launch of completely new programmes (innovation) to address Ukraine’s war effort, infrastructure stability and imminent rebuilding.
  • Humanitarian relief and reconstruction support for Ukraine should be linked to each other and to European integration with the help of a multi-agency donor coordination platform, as well as such EU instruments as a security compact, a staged accession process and growing participation by candidate countries, including Ukraine, in intra-EU affairs before full membership.
  • The policies of and assistance to Kyiv should promote decentralized and multiple engagement by Ukrainians with foreign governmental, non-governmental and commercial partners. This can happen through facilitation of direct contacts between local communities and institutions, insurance cover for direct investment in Ukraine to protect against political risks and liberalization of residency rules for foreigners from friendly countries, among other measures.

Long-term prospects for Ukraine

A concluding note on long-term prospects. The Ukrainian state’s precarious location bordered with an irredentist state and in a partial geopolitical grey zone will not change any time soon. As long as Ukraine is not a full member of NATO and the EU, the country will have to take care of its own national security. Russia might continue its aggression now or resume it later. A comprehensive and as modern as possible arming of Ukraine therefore does not just have a short-term, tactical dimension. It is not merely essential to a successful completion of the current counteroffensive, to reconquering occupied territories and to the eventual achievement of a peace deal with Moscow that is acceptable to Kyiv.

Arming Ukraine also has a distinctly geostrategic and long-term dimension. Kyiv needs to be well-equipped not only for as long as the current fighting continues, but also during the ensuing interregnum between the end of Russia’s current attack and Ukraine’s eventual accession to the EU and NATO. Heavy weapons, functioning security agencies and international guarantees are needed not only to end the current war, but also to prevent the next one. Even after joining NATO and the EU, Ukraine will remain a frontier state for as long as Russia continues to harbour revanchist ambitions. For years or even decades, a well-armed, internationally embedded and socio-economically viable Ukraine will be needed to secure Europe’s eastern border.

This article was originally written for and published by the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS); an independent Swedish national centre of competence based at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. Here the link:

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