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  Opinion   Columnists  13 Oct 2023  Indranil Banerjie | Ukraine fast losing friends as no end to war is visible

Indranil Banerjie | Ukraine fast losing friends as no end to war is visible

The writer is an independent security and political risk consultant.
Published : Oct 14, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Oct 14, 2023, 12:05 am IST

The unexpected war in Israel is an added complications that could distract the Western powers.

File photo of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Ukrainian Presidential Press/AFP)
 File photo of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Ukrainian Presidential Press/AFP)

Over 19 months into the war with Russia, Ukraine for the first time is sensing a weakening in support from its staunchest friends: the United States and Europe.

The unexpected war in Israel is an added complications that could distract the Western powers. The waning Western resolve could be a momentary sigh of fatigue, but if it signals a turning point then not just Ukraine but the rest of the world should be prepared for profound geopolitical repercussions.

A distinct dip in pro-Ukraine sentiments has been visible recently. A couple of weeks ago, in an unprecedented move, Republican Congressmen ousted House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy. A major issue in his removal was the funding for the Ukraine war, which is dragging on indefinitely and consuming billions of American taxpayer dollars.

The New York Times reports there has been a “sharp decline” in congressional support for continuing military aid to Ukraine: “Hardline Republican critics have long espoused isolationist views about Ukraine’s war effort, arguing that sending tens of billions of dollars to Kyiv risks dragging the United States into a head-on conflict with Russia and siphons money away from domestic challenges.” It wrote that this “right-wing message is gaining momentum among Republicans”.

A week earlier, a majority of Republicans had voted against a bill seeking $300 million to train and equip Ukrainian fighters. This was eventually passed, but the message was clear. The Republican representative from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, quoting a recent CNN poll that showed most Americans opposed continued financial support for Ukraine’s war effort, told NYT this “is a very unpopular issue: not with just Republican voters, but also with Americans”.

Stephen Wertheim, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote recently: “The Republican revolt comes as Ukraine’s counter-offensive, launched this summer, has garnered lacklustre results. Russia actually gained more territory in this calendar year than Ukraine has, despite the immense quantity of weaponry the US and Europe have supplied to Ukrainian forces. Together, these two developments mark a new phase of the war that calls for new thinking.”

Mr Wertheim feels Kyiv’s objective of restoring Ukraine’s 1991 borders is not feasible, as this would not only require it to retake large swathes of territory under Russian control but would also require the capture of Crimea, which is critical for Russia’s military strategy as it houses a key naval base.

A growing minority within the American strategic community seems to believe it’s time for President Joe Biden to push for a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine war and to press Europe to bear more of the financial burden of the war effort.

In Europe too, for the first time, there is discord over support for the Ukraine war. The most dismaying was Slovakia’s move to stop military aid to Ukraine after last week’s victory of an anti-Ukrainian far-right party. Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova turned down the caretaker government’s proposal for further military aid to Ukraine, saying it doesn’t have the authority to do so. Another report suggests in Germany too, a far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), which opposes aid to Ukraine, has seen its support growing.

Meanwhile, Poland’s dispute with Ukraine over grain exports is another complication. “We no longer transfer weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland,” Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki recently declared, shocking Western leaders. This is a serious setback as Poland is Ukraine’s sixth largest military aid donor.

Russian leaders are of course delighted. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, commenting on the turmoil after Mr McCarthy’s ouster, said it was a sign of things to come: “Fatigue over this conflict -- fatigue from the completely absurd sponsorship of the Kyiv regime -- will grow.”

Russia hopes the West will eventually give up on Ukraine, especially because of the damage to their economies caused by high fuel prices, shrinking markets, ballooning Chinese imports and inflation. But the real significance of the Ukraine war is that it’s the first time since World War II that a European country was attacked. In all these decades, it’s the West that has taken conflict to other nations like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc. The destruction of recalcitrant Middle East powers was one task among many; other Western objectives include the neutering of nuclear Russia and the containment of China.

Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Western powers have been on the ascendance and have kept enlarging their sphere of military-political influence. The Western advancement into Ukraine and its imminent absorption into Nato was the proximate cause for the war.

The conflict thus had implications far beyond Ukraine itself: it was a confrontation between the West’s expanding might and a relatively weak defensive power that is Russia. The Ukraine war is the first check the West has had to face in its inexorable global expansion.

There are many non-Western powers that secretly but hugely resent the West’s growing hegemony, including its overwhelming say in global economic matters.

They are watching the Ukraine conflict; while they might not support Russia’s blatant aggression which is causing untold civilian misery, they well understand the larger dynamics behind it, and seek to derive benefit from it.

Europe, on the other hand, has effectively shut the gates to its Eurasian east, cutting off economic, especially energy ties. As a result, Russia now has opened up exclusively to the “Global South”, including key countries such as China, India and Brazil, the “emerging” bigwigs who also happen to be the major players in the Brics grouping.

The fact that the Western powers could be checked if not defeated in Ukraine is a geopolitical pivot. Strategists in Washington, Berlin, London and elsewhere know this only too well. The Republican success in removing Speaker McCarthy thus assumes global import. The Western powers will now try their utmost to ensure that the opposition to funding the Ukraine conflict does not grow.

Meanwhile, the drawn-out conflict will only drag down the West, especially Europe. The Germans have a term called “Kreig-staat”, or war state. This term fits the West quite well for it has been engaged directly or indirectly in warfare for decades now, starting from Iraq and continuing to Afghanistan and beyond.

Trillions of dollars have been expended on warfare. The impact of this is being felt for the first time on socio-economic conditions within Western nations.

Russia too is a war state. Thus, no matter how the battlelines in Ukraine swing, this war promises to suck the wealth, and the power, of all the states involved.

That is a portent of profound global shifts.

Tags: russia-ukraine crisis, ukrainian president volodymyr zelenskyy, kevin mccarthy