Last year, mere days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dozens of officials from Western nations met in Munich for a security conference in which they discussed the West’s appetite for intervening. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, attended in person and chastised the West for failing to deter Russian aggression over many years.
This year, as officials including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken convene for the event, they hope to show unity against Moscow as the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion approaches.
Friday is the first day of the annual three-day Munich Security Conference, attended each year by hundreds of government officials and intelligence, diplomacy and security elites. Run by a German company, the forum has taken on a quasi-official nature as world leaders speak publicly and huddle privately on collective security issues.
Ukraine is sure to be the main topic, with Western officials intent on showing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he cannot divide the West. As they gathered, Mr. Putin was to meet with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus in Moscow as the Russian leader sought to firm up his own alliances in the face of a rocky new offensive that aims to swallow up more territory in Ukraine’s east.
The war is expected to last at least another year, and the crowing about unity, while generally merited, will be tested. Few expect a sudden breakthrough by either side, and the cost of sustaining the Ukrainian fight against a larger foe is also expected to create new strains among allies.
One of the ongoing conversations in Munich will be differing views of how the war should end: Is full Ukrainian sovereignty over all of its territory even possible? If not, can there be negotiations? Is Mr. Putin even interested in negotiations?
Then there are worries among Europeans that the next American leader may not be President Biden, and that a Republican may not have the same devotion to the trans-Atlantic alliance and the war in Ukraine that Mr. Biden does.
Ms. Harris, who will deliver a speech on Saturday, is expected to reiterate the Biden administration’s commitment to defending Kyiv for “as long as it takes,” as President Biden has said.
“My guess is that the mood will be one of unity and determination,” said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Mr. Daalder said that Western leaders saw little prospect for worthwhile peace talks unless Ukraine can achieve more territorial gains.
In a likely preview of U.S. messaging at the event, Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters in a Wednesday briefing that the Western coalition had dashed Mr. Putin’s hopes of swift victory. “Putin thought he would break the West and roll over Ukraine. He was wrong,” Ms. Donfried said. “One year on, our commitment has not waned.”
The conference is held at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in downtown Munich and features public speeches, panels, as well as numerous private meetings, official and unofficial. Mr. Daalder jokingly said the conference involved “a kind of speed dating for diplomats.”
Several prominent heads of state are expected to attend, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain. Mr. Biden attended the conference as vice president and as a private citizen during the Trump administration but has sent Ms. Harris each of the past two years. Mr. Biden plans to travel to Warsaw on Monday as part of a three-day visit to observe the war’s anniversary.
A main event of the Munich conference will be remarks by Wang Yi, China’s top foreign policy official, who will talk about Beijing’s foreign policy outlook, China’s Foreign Ministry said last week. The Chinese state news media has portrayed his presence at the event as a sign of China’s moderating influence in a forum that would otherwise be dominated by U.S. interests.
Mr. Wang is on an extended European tour, and Europeans in general do not see China as a rival, as the United States does, but as a troubling but vital trade partner.
David Pierson contributed reporting.