Electoral politics begins to undermine support for Ukraine

by MMC
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  • By James Landale
  • Diplomatic correspondent in Poland

Image source, EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock


Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech at the UN last month did not get the same attention as before

Ukraine is fighting Russia on several fronts. And just as progress on the battlefield is hard-won, so too are diplomatic gains today.

Since the Russian invasion last year, Western support for kyiv has largely remained strong. But cracks are beginning to form within the pro-Ukraine alliance.

The United States is by far Ukraine’s biggest supporter, allocating more than $110 billion (£90 billion) in military and economic support. However, during the weekend, Congress scrapped plan to give Ukraine another $6 billion in a bitter internal battle over how to fund the federal government.

Some Republicans think support for Ukraine should be limited, others think it should only be provided if President Biden spends more on US border security.

Mr Biden has promised Ukraine another $24 billion soon, but this could now be vulnerable to US domestic politics.

Across the Atlantic, Ukraine may be about to lose another ally.

In Slovakia, elections saw Robert Fico’s Smer party win most of the seats, although it has yet to form a coalition. The populist former prime minister is widely seen as pro-Moscow and anti-kyiv, having campaigned on a promise to end military support for Ukraine.

“People in Slovakia have bigger problems than in Ukraine,” he said. This means that alongside Viktor Orban’s Hungary, two European Union countries are now ready to veto any further collective EU action aimed at supporting Ukraine.

Neighboring Poland will also hold elections soon – and there, too, doubts about support for Ukraine have been raised. The ruling Law and Justice party has promised to end the import of cheap Ukrainian grain that Polish farmers oppose.

President Andrzej Duda described Ukraine as a drowning man dragging away his saviors. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland was “no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine”, although this decision was later reversed.

Electoral politics is therefore beginning to undermine support for Ukraine. The same goes for other issues, whether it’s the global cost of living crisis or the climate emergency.

Recently, at the United Nations General Assembly, it was noted that Ukraine was no longer automatically at the top of the agenda.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first in-person speeches to the UN Assembly and Security Council did not attract the same attention as before. Diplomats noted that the Ukrainian delegation had lost its luster as leaders of the Global South focused on their own agendas.

This is all that Kremlin strategists have been hoping for for a long time. Diplomats believe Vladimir Putin wants to wait out the West, continuing the fighting until Ukraine begins to lose international support and seeks a political settlement.

It’s not for nothing that British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told House Magazine this weekend that international war fatigue was a “significant problem” and “something we have to confront ”, recognizing that this “put pressure on all countries”. in the world”.

His counterargument was that if Western support for Ukraine diminished, then these pressures – whether economic or political – would only get worse: “It’s hard and it’s painful. But it will only be harder and more painful if we fail. ”

To counter this impression, EU foreign ministers traveled to kyiv on Monday, meeting there for the first time collectively in a show of support.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, told the BBC the EU would maintain its military support, which so far amounts to more than €5 billion (£4.3 billion) .

“One thing is clear: for us Europeans, Russia’s war against Ukraine is an existential threat and we must react accordingly,” he said. But he admitted he was “concerned” about Congress’s decision to block further aid.

The counterargument put forward by diplomats is that Ukraine’s fate is not only at stake on the battlefield. They say countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are starting to pay attention to this argument.

Previously, some of these countries viewed the fighting as a European regional war that had little to do with them. But Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain initiative and its attacks on Ukrainian grain silos have made it easier for Ukraine and the West to argue that the South has a stake in the fight.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters: “There is much more at stake in Ukraine than just Ukraine. It’s about the stability and predictability of the world. »

Ukraine is therefore playing a long game. Key figures in the government have long anticipated that Western support could weaken over time. They prepared for the vagaries of transatlantic electoral cycles.

And they know that the real test of Western unity could come later, at two key moments. First, if Donald Trump is re-elected president next year and reduces U.S. support, then Ukraine will face an important decision about how long it can continue to fight.

Second, if there is some sort of end to the conflict, allies might struggle to unite around the compromises that might be necessary to reach a political settlement.

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