President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits positions of Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut city and Lysychansk districts, Ukraine on June 5, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidency | Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
LONDON – There are mounting signs that Western unity over the war in Ukraine could begin to erupt as the conflict continues and leaders face public discontent over rampant inflation and the cost of living.
There are widespread concerns about how long the war could go on, with some strategists saying it has all the hallmarks of a war of attrition where neither side “wins” and the losses and damage inflicted by both sides, over a prolonged and prolonged period. , are immense.
The US, UK and Eastern Europe appear to be steadfast in their stance that Russia should not be able to succeed or “win” in Ukraine by carving out (or reclaiming) parts of the territory for itself. as Moscow sees it) and say that could have happened. major global geopolitical implications.
They also made it clear that Ukraine must decide if and when it wants to negotiate a peace deal with Russia. For its part, Kiev has said that it is willing to hold talks, but that it mainly has red lines, that it does not want to cede territory to Russia.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a faction within Europe – namely France, Italy and Germany – hoping for a peace deal sooner rather than later.
On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his officials will have to negotiate with Russia “at some point”.
Macron and his German and Italian colleagues (all of whom will be in Kiev on Thursday) have all called for a ceasefire and a negotiated end to the war, and urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold peace talks with Zelenskyy. , but to no avail.
French President Emmanuel Macron arrives at Kiev train station on June 16, 2022, after traveling from Poland with the German Chancellor and the Italian Prime Minister.
Ludovic Marin | Afp | Getty Images
Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to advocate for more weapons from its Western allies, with NATO officials meeting this week in Brussels to discuss the urgent need for more weapons in Kiev.
It comes as Russia is making a profit in eastern Ukraine, largely as a result of its relentless artillery bombardment of the Donbas. Russian forces are making slow but steady progress in conquering more parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which are home to two pro-Russian separatist “republics” that Moscow, it says, wants to “liberate” from Ukraine.
The West continues to help Ukraine; US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that his administration will send $1 billion more in weapons to Kiev, as well as another $225 million in humanitarian aid. For Kiev, the weapons cannot arrive soon enough.
But questions are now being raised about how long the country’s military aid could last, especially if the conflict continues for years.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was asked on CNN how much Biden is willing to spend on Ukraine given the inflation crisis and economic pressures the US faces at home. Data released last Friday shows that the US consumer price index rose 8.6% in May from a year ago, the highest increase since December 1981, with similar high levels in Europe (the price reached 40 in April). year high of 9% in the UK).
Kirby said Ukraine was “a top priority” for the president, saying the US will do “as much as we can while we can”, reiterating that the latest weapons pledge was only a small part of the larger $40 billion in aid approved by the United States. Congress.
“This is the first tranche announced within that $40 billion total package. So we still have a long way to go here… How long can all of this take? How long will the war last? No one knows for sure, Kirby said.
“We knew and predicted that the battle in the Donbas was going to be a grueling one, that this war would probably last for many months. And it seems that it is now paying off.”
Western leaders under pressure
When the Russian invasion began on February 24, the West’s united opposition to the war, and the strong response by imposing a series of harsh sanctions, was striking.
Four months into the conflict, however, Western leaders are coming under increasing pressure from their voters as the effects of the conflict — essentially rising food and energy costs due to supply chain disruptions and sanctions against Russia — hit consumers hard. meet.
Summarizing the dilemma facing officials, Helima Croft, head of global commodities strategy and MENA research at RBC Capital Markets, said, “‘What’s the price you’re willing to pay?’ has seemingly emerged as the central question of the summer as Western leaders try to strike a balance between their desire to support the Ukrainian resistance and their urgent need to curb inflation and avert recession.”
This divide appears to have a geographic dimension, Croft noted in her note Wednesday. “The leaders of the US, UK and Eastern Europe appear to be the staunchest defenders of the principle that Ukrainians will define just peace and have expressed their strong commitment to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
But, she said, “on the other hand, officials from continental Europe and many developing countries seem more likely to argue for a compromise that will give Putin a ‘golden bridge’ to cross.”
Croft said she had recently attended meetings and policy forums where “there was a noticeable gap” between those officials who called for more full military aid to Ukraine, and “who suggested it is time for Ukraine to make concessions at the negotiating table, while referring to the devastating impact of rising commodity prices.”
A pan-European poll released Wednesday also indicated that Europeans’ sense of unity over the war in Ukraine could be waning.
A Russian soldier inspects an underground tunnel under the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol amid ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine on June 13, 2022. (Photo by Yuri KADOBNOV/AFP) (Photo by YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images)
Yuri Kadobnov | AFP | Getty Images
Research by the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank shows that the population is increasingly concerned about the costs of economic sanctions and in particular the threat of nuclear escalation. It was based on polls of more than 8,000 people between 28 April and 11 May in nine EU countries.
About 35% of those polled wanted to see an end to the conflict, even if it meant giving Ukraine territory to Russia, while 22% said they were more interested in seeing Russia punished for its aggression, even if it meant that the war would be extended.
In addition, a growing number of people said they were concerned that their governments were prioritizing the war over other issues, such as the cost of living crisis.
“Many in Europe want the war to end as soon as possible – even if it means a territorial loss to Ukraine – and believe that the EU, rather than the US or China, will be worse off as a result of this conflict.” The report on the poll’s findings, co-author Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev, said.
“Unless something drastic changes, Europeans will resist a long and protracted war. Only in Poland, Germany, Sweden and Finland is there substantial public support for increasing military spending.”