Ukraine put on a show of military strength on independence day on Wednesday amid fresh tension with Russia over Crimea and President Petro Poroshenko said the country had to rely on its own might rather than international guarantees.
A march-past of army, navy and airforce units and hardware in the capital was intended to highlight the capability of Ukraine’s military, which the government has had to overhaul since pro-Russian eastern separatists rose up against a new Western-backed leadership in 2014.
The fresh tension over Crimea, which Russia annexed in March 2014, has reignited fears that a fragile ceasefire deal brokered in February 2015 with the help of Germany and France, could collapse following the deadliest month of fighting in eastern Ukraine in a year.
“From this parade, our international partners will get the message that Ukraine is able to protect itself, but needs further support,” Poroshenko told a large crowd of civilians and military personnel.
He warned that Ukraine was losing the attention of the international community.
“Every country is sometimes more preoccupied with its own problems … International pressure on Russia must remain until Russia implements the Minsk (ceasefire) agreements,” he later told diplomats.
His comments echoed those of several Ukrainian lawmakers from across the political spectrum who are now saying that Western actions against Russia – including economic sanctions – have failed to protect Ukraine.
“Our main guarantor is the Ukrainian armed forces,” Poroshenko said.
Ukraine has received billions of dollars in financial aid from Western allies, including the United States, in exchange for promises to root out widespread corruption following its political tilt towards Europe.
However, patchy reform progress and signs that vested interests continue to influence policy have prompted warnings from Western backers and delayed the disbursement of loans over the past year.
Despite repeated requests, the West has also not given Ukraine any weapons, instead offering non-lethal military assistance such as training and equipment.
For its part, Kiev has ramped up annual military spending to 5 percent of gross domestic product.
Poroshenko said it would take more time and money for Ukraine to fully protect itself from what he described as Russia’s “imperial ambitions”.
“We need years and tens of billions of hryvnias until we can sleep soundly,” he said.
Earlier in August Russia, which denies accusations from Kiev and NATO that it supports eastern rebels with troops and equipment, said Ukraine was trying to provoke a new conflict over annexed Crimea.