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Support to Ukraine is wavering The Excelsior 12 Oct 2023
Last week, for the first time, foreign ministers from the 27 member European Union (EU) met outside their borders in Kiev. The intent was to reassert their commitment to Ukraine and display solidarity. Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy stated, ‘(This) should be understood as a clear commitment of the EU to Ukraine and its continuous support in all dimensions.’ However, all is not good within the EU and beyond as far as Ukraine is concerned.
In recent elections in Slovakia, a pro-Russian political party, SMER, led by Robert Fico obtained maximum votes, which was around 23%. Its rival, the current ruling pro-Ukraine party won 18%. Fico would need support from other political parties to form the government, which is likely. His poll promise was an immediate end to military support to Ukraine. Slovakia has announced no military assistance to Ukraine till the new government is formed. Fico’s victory displays the national sentiment.
Fico stated after poll results were announced that he would do ‘everything to kickstart peace talks,’ adding, ‘more killing is not going to help anyone.’ Hungary is also having second doubts and hence there is a possibility that Slovakia and Hungary could join hands to stall EU support for Ukraine.
The US may have avoided a shutdown but the recently passed spending bill did not include the USD 6 Billion earmarked for Ukraine. Biden’s administration has been stating that unless the US continues sending ammunition and spare parts, Ukraine’s counteroffensive could fail thereby opening doors for Russia to threaten other NATO allies. Russia has never threatened NATO nations aware of its consequences.
The US has thus far provided over USD 113 billion in security, economic and humanitarian aid but feels Ukraine needs much more. The failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive is pushing Americans to reconsider their commitments. Reports from the White House mention that President Biden spoke to 11 allies seeking to reassure them of continued commitment for Ukraine.
A poll conducted within the US projected 41% agreeing to continue with weapon supplies to Ukraine, down from 46% in May. Trump and others from his Republican party are unwilling to finance Ukraine. Biden may also have to reconsider his views, as support drops. Disagreement stems from the fact that while the taxpayer funds the war, US cities face decay.
Russia withdrawing from the grain deal, targeting Ukrainian ports and grain silos resulted in Ukraine seeking alternate European ports for exports. This led to disagreements with neighbouring nations as cheaper Ukrainian grain began flooding their markets impacting local produce. The ruling party in Poland, which is heading for elections, had to reassure voters that it would not place Ukrainian interests over theirs. It blocked movement of Ukrainian grain through its territory.
The EU had to intervene resulting in an agreement wherein Ukrainian grain would move in sealed containers from Ukrainian silos direct to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda, from where they would be exported. This would ensure that it does not impact local produce of countries through which it transits. Will it remain successful is to be seen.
Ukraine is considered as the most corrupt country in Europe. There are regular allegations of aid being siphoned off. Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has recently been on a firing spree removing over two dozen senior officials this year alone, including all regional heads of military recruitment centres as also his defence minister, all on charges of corruption. This has been one of the major stumbling blocks in its induction into the EU.
Zelensky has been insisting that Ukraine must be inducted into the EU and NATO, which has not happened. In Dec, the EU will vote on whether Ukraine can commence the process for admission. NATO admission is unlikely to ever happen, while for EU there are numerous conditions which have to be met, including rooting out corruption, which could take years.
Funding fatigue appears to be setting in. Nations are pumping in funds and military equipment with little to show as results. The war shows no signs of abating. Kiev’s counteroffensive has stalled while Zelensky sticks to his guns that Ukraine will continue to fight till it regains all its lost territories, which may never happen.
In the bargain, Ukraine has lost a complete generation in the war, the balance having migrated, unwilling to return. Its infrastructure has been devastated, reconstruction of which would necessitate immense funds. Winters are around the corner and Ukraine has yet to restore its destroyed energy installations. Will reconstruction aid come at the same pace as military support is unlikely. Ukraine would be compelled to sell most of its assets to obtain funding.
Russia has not been shaken nor has its economy been severely impacted. Putin is willing to suffer losses but will not back down. The areas Moscow has occupied are unlikely to be regained by Kiev. Putin has ensured that there is none left in Russia to challenge his power. Every Ukrainian strike on Russian soil only provides Putin with greater support as it is projected as a NATO action. There are reports that the west is considering monetizing seized Russian assets to fund Ukraine. This has legal ramifications and may not be implementable in the short term.
With winters approaching and the Ukrainian counteroffensive stalling it is time to rethink strategies and options. The west’s belief that Ukraine will draw Russia into an Afghanistan type operation is failing. The west is pumping more funds into Ukraine just to keep the war ongoing, while the Russian defence industry bounces back. Russia is being provided military equipment by Tehran and Pyongyang, both of whom are already under sanctions. Beijing is definitely supporting, levels of which remain unknown.
The global south, India, Turkey, Brazil and many other nations have demanded a diplomatic solution to end the conflict. Currently the EU and NATO have differing views and intend to continue supporting Ukraine. However, the public in these nations have begun demanding an end to financial support as recent events dictate. It is a matter of time before pressure mounts on individual national governments and Ukraine is forced into talks, which could signal the defeat of the west.