Cold winter tests Europe’s resolve with Ukraine

The harsh winter and the protracted war will be major challenges to Europe’s pledge of “unlimited” support for Ukraine.

Nearly six months after Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine, Western support for Kiev remains strong and fairly unified, surprising many. However, many European officials fear that spirit of solidarity is at risk of collapsing as the continent enters winter, amid rising food prices, limited gas for heating and the risk of an economic recession. increasingly clear.

The German capital Berlin has turned off the lights on monuments, while French shops are required to close while the air conditioner is on if they do not want to pay a fine.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has been persistent in calling on the West to continue to aid the country, may find it difficult to continue to attract the attention of European leaders as the conflict drags on.

The challenge for Ukraine is the same as it was on day one: keeping the West on their side as these countries face the high cost of their support for Kiev, not only pressure on gas from Russia, but also the cost of gas. huge cost of economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, according to Keir Giles, a senior consultant at Chatham House.

“That’s probably why President Zelensky said he wanted to end the war by Christmas, because the real issue will be how the West delivers on its promises in the long run,” Giles said.

President Joe Biden (centre) with G7 leaders in Germany on June 26.  Photo: NY Times.

President Joe Biden (centre) with G7 leaders in Germany on June 26. Image: New York Times.

The winter fuel crisis is what haunts European officials and diplomats every day, as Russia accounts for about 55% of the continent’s total gas imports in 2021. EU countries also need Russian oil. , with almost half of Moscow’s oil exports going to Europe. The EU imported 2.2 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2021.

“The situation within the EU will be very difficult and we must try to fulfill our commitment to prevent Russia from profiting from gas and other energy sources,” said a senior European diplomat, referring to to the agreement of EU member states to cut gas demand by 15%.

However, this agreement is difficult to achieve the desired goal because it is only on a voluntary basis. EU officials fear that if pressed, some member states will not join the joint effort to save gas.

“Some Western European countries do not see Russian energy dependence as a serious risk and they are even hoping to return to a normal relationship with Russia,” Giles said.

European officials also fear that the current strategy of arming Ukraine is becoming the immediate solution to a long-term problem: an unending conflict.

France, Germany and many European allies have supplied Ukraine with a variety of heavy weapons, helping Kiev to block the advance of Russian forces in the east and open the door to counterattack in the south. However, that also turned the battlefield into a protracted war of attrition, with neither side gaining a clear advantage.

“The good news is that these weapons are helping Ukraine. But the bad news is that the longer the war drags on, the less the supply of these weapons will become, making the opportunity to increase pressure on Russia to end the military campaign better. lower,” said a NATO official.

In addition to the economic and military costs that affect Western generosity, there are also concerns that the world is beginning to grow weary of the conflict.

“During the fast-paced events at the beginning of the war, it was easy for the West to make drastic decisions with Russia. But the war is now in its most boring phase, with little real change on the battlefield.” , a NATO diplomat said.

Luke McGee, analyst at CNNthinks that European countries will not simply withdraw their support for Ukraine, but they will probably change the way they do it.

Some Western European countries, especially Germany and France, openly say that the West needs to maintain dialogue with Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly said he believes Ukraine needs to negotiate with Russia at some point, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been criticized for not being determined to quickly cut off Russian gas.

“Are we still on the same page about the end of the conflict? Was it pushing the Russians away from the pre-conflict boundary? Or was it the pre–2014 line, when Russia annexed Crimea?” , a European diplomat said. “Those are the long-term questions that we need to ask, but it’s better not to ask these questions right now.”

The next few months will be the most difficult for European countries since the conflict broke out. As the cold winter approaches, Europeans will feel the price and energy crisis clearly, which could leave many people with a choice between heating and food.

“In that context, it’s hard for political leaders to rationally explain donations to another country, especially when some people in their own country may now feel they’re generous enough.” analyst McGee said.

Many Western officials say that at some point, European leaders may have to choose the best thing to do is forge a peace agreement, gradually abandoning the scenario of ending the conflict that Ukraine wants to push back. Russian forces to the pre-conflict boundary.

“There is growing concern that if Ukraine stalemate and loses its advantage over Russia, calls for compromise will be stronger. the battlefield, is fighting hard and needs more weapons,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia-Eurasia Studies.

A residential building in Donetsk province, eastern Ukraine, destroyed by a missile attack in April. Photo: Reuters.

A residential building in Donetsk province, eastern Ukraine, destroyed after a missile attack in April. Photo: Reuters.

Fallon added that as soon as the Europeans see Kiev showing signs of defeat, they will begin to question “why should we continue to supply Ukraine with expensive weapons in the midst of economic tension” and “why should we continue to supply Ukraine with expensive weapons in the midst of economic tension” Why are we throwing money out the window?”

This is important, because many of Ukraine’s key allies are facing domestic political problems. Italy will hold elections, while the UK will have a new prime minister and the US will hold midterm elections, which could determine the rest of President Joe Biden’s term.

“When domestic political problems start to emerge, people may question why we are helping Ukraine instead of building infrastructure,” Fallon said.

Western efforts to support Ukraine, especially Europe, may be much more difficult in the near future, according to observers. Most officials admit that no one fully understands how the conflict will end.

“While most Europeans would like to see Ukraine achieve their goals and force Russia to withdraw from the territory, their resolve has not been fully tested,” said analyst Luke McGee.

Thanh Tam (Theo CNN)

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