More than a year after the start of the Russian operation in Ukraine, the end of winter and the drying up of fertile lands in the south and east of the country, and at a time when Kiev is preparing to launch a counterattack on Russian forces, an important question arises before the Western allies:
Is Ukraine worth for the West that’s much to keep on the support?
And if so, why?
The Russian writer residing in Germany, Leonid Bershdsky, says in an analysis published by Bloomberg that popular support in various Western countries for the continued supply of weapons to Ukraine is declining.
In the United States, the percentage of citizens who believe that what the US administration is offering to Ukraine is more than it should be is increasing.
In Germany, a clear majority believes that diplomatic efforts to settle the Ukrainian crisis are insufficient.
While Western political and security institutions, with few exceptions, especially Hungary, agree on the necessity of defeating Russia to protect the world liberal order, prevent the expansion of Russian aggression, and teach the world’s tyrannical rulers a lesson so that they don’t try to follow in the footsteps of Russian President Vladimir Putin, there are millions of citizens outside these institutions.
Don’t be moved by these arguments.
For many living in Germany, France or Japan, the liberal world order is abstract at best, an attempt to put a nice, positive spin on American world domination.
In all these countries, and in the United States, citizens do not imagine that Russia can attack their cities as it is doing in Ukrainian cities now.
Even solidarity with the Ukrainian people, who are being brutally attacked and forced to flee their country, is no longer a universally attractive issue.
Ukraine is a notoriously corrupt state, and the latest scandal involving Ukraine’s largest charity in Estonia showed how easily aid can be diverted.
Also, many Europeans who volunteer to help Ukrainian refugees in their countries believe that this assistance is better than sending weapons or drones to the Ukrainian forces.
And when governments call on Western citizens to support Ukraine, they rely heavily on the moral and emotional dimension: most people agree that waging war for conquest is wrong, that torture is abhorrent, and that peaceful peoples must be protected.
But such sentiments of solidarity could fade, especially in the face of rising global inflation resulting from Russia’s war against Ukraine, sanctions imposed on Moscow, and growing fears of a nuclear confrontation with a president like Putin.
So if governments want popular support for Ukraine to continue, they need to make arguments based on the immediate self-interest of their dispersed and distrusted electorate.
That is why governments and their supporters talk about the small price paid to support Ukraine compared to the benefits of standing up to Putin’s ambitions.
As Ukrainian journalist Vitaly Sizov says, the current level of Western support for Ukraine is a small price to pay to stop an aggressive and unpredictable Russia without NATO needing to send its soldiers into the battlefield.
The total support provided by the United States to Ukraine so far amounted to $76.8 billion, which is no more than 1.2% of the total US government spending last year.
The US military aid to Ukraine, which amounted to $46.6 billion, is equivalent to only 5.3% of the US military spending over the past year.
More than that, Rafael Cohen and Gian Gentel of the US RAND Corporation say that most of the US military aid to Ukraine came from existing and stored weapons, some of which are outdated, which means that when Congress votes to provide military aid to Ukraine, it allows the US government to modernize its military arsenal.
In Europe, the military aid provided by the countries of the continent to Ukraine, amounting to $23.5 billion stimulated the military industries, which provide 3.8 million direct jobs, and pay more than 140 billion Euros in annual wages.
The Russian war in Ukraine also gave Eastern European countries that belonged to the former Soviet Union the opportunity to get rid of their old military stocks, and contracted with German, British and French companies to supply them with new weapons and ammunition.
European governments also say that if the war and the sanctions imposed by Europe on Russia because of it led to economic losses, especially for European exporters, as it contributed to the European Union recording a record trade deficit last year, then this scenario helped Europe find more alternative export markets now as well event in the energy market.
In addition, there is the migrant crisis in Europe, which a Russian victory in the war could exacerbate.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to an influx of millions of Ukrainian refugees to the rest of Europe in a way that didn’t happen even with the flood of migration that reached it in the early years of the civil war in Syria.
According to United Nations estimates, about 8.2 million Ukrainians fled to Europe because of the war, while 5.2 million illegal immigrants arrived from countries in the Middle East and Africa until the end of 2016.
But European governments say that if Ukraine emerges victorious from the war, most Ukrainians will return to their homes and won’t remain in Europe except for a small number of people who are needed by the labor market and have integrated in the countries to which they have taken refuge.
But if Russia wins, millions of Ukrainians will remain in European countries, despite the pressure they represent on the living standards of citizens.
Finally, if Western governments fail to make more self-serving arguments to ensure that arms and aid continue to be sent to Ukraine, the Ukrainians won’t last long, especially if their expected counterattack on Russian forces fails.
Since the end of the war is now unlikely, Western politicians must make sure that their voters do not realize that these politicians insisted from the beginning on continuing costly mistakes in dealing with the Ukrainian war.