As the war reaches its six-month anniversary, are we getting tired of the news as other issues vie for our attention? And what could this mean?
The campaign has been catastrophic from the very start. Even Russians are feeling the fatigue as they are turning their televisions off, bored of the non-stop propaganda. Meanwhile, the vast array of Polish volunteers who came to the aid of fleeing Ukrainian refugees are flagging.
Analysts and politicians themselves have warned about suffering from fatigue in light of the Russia-Ukraine war. With the fickle fragility of the rolling news cycles and the public’s collective attention span, it is easy to weary of the influx of news coming from the region. It is also a challenge in terms of priorities.
Most of us in the West are embarking on a rather difficult journey into the realms of a cost-of-living crisis, a context that lends little generosity to international aid and arms expenditure to a conflict far, far away.
It is easy to lose sight of what is at stake. Though Russia, particularly in its previous incarnation as the Soviet Union, is often portrayed as the West’s cartoonish bogeyman, it really is a dangerous entity that justifies our concern. We only have to look at its nefarious political activities on both sides of the pond, from unwelcome meddling in the 2016 US presidential election to sticking its dirty hands into the Brexit melting pot in the same year.
Putin may invade Ukraine with out-of-date tanks, but he invades the US and UK with hi-tech virtual armies of chaos-inducing bots.
We must ask why
When Russia, or any nation, gets involved in any process or other country, it is always worth asking why. With Brexit, why? With Trump, why? Hungary and Serbia, why? The answers are easy but should really leave the observer desiring to side with whomever Russia is against.
Putin and Russia clearly want to place themselves in the global landscape (or battlefield, as they see it) into a position of power in order to exert that power to its own ends. Of course, this is something one could equally say about the US or any other nation. Except, the US (at least largely still) has aspirations of liberty: a free press and media, human rights, freedom of speech, and so on. If Russia wants to destabilize the US, and even more so its neighbor the EU, then we should want to support its adversaries. Especially when we are also its adversaries.
If Putin wants Trump and Brexit, we should look at both with very cynical eyes.
I remember arguing with my own father about Brexit. An ardent Brexiteer, my father took pains to attack my Remainer position. But one warning (which has come to fruition) that I gave him in return was, “Look at who else wants Brexit: Putin and Trump. You have to ask yourself why that would be, and why you would want to be on their side.” Of course, this was water off a duck’s back.
People don’t change political minds on the basis of rational argument, after all.
The demise of the EU
The demise of the EU is a utopian dream of authoritarian leaders such as Putin and Trump, but particularly Putin. The EU stands as one of the most immediate and constant threats to
Soviet Russian power. Putin has long been obsessed with weakening the unity and strength of the trading and political bloc to further his own designs of power and influence. The US, though historically the major adversary of Russia, does not entail the geographic or pragmatic immediacy or challenge that Europe does.
Brexit must have prompted champagne and caviar in the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Putin’s influence on Hungarian authoritarian Viktor Orban, and in the Balkan states such as Serbia, have been examples of Russian success.
Ukraine was the painful next step and the ultimate testing ground for Putin’s plans for geopolitical domination. If Russia prevails, the world becomes greatly destabilized as it will split into Russia and China against the West, leaving smaller nations to pick sides.
We cannot let this happen.
And the rise of China
China watches on, blindly picking at its popcorn, careful not to take its eyes off the bellicose spectacle playing out in Ukraine. The huge powerhouse is on the brink of its own economic challenges and potential recession. China is not so ideologically entwined with Russia as to outright support the invasion but knows that the US has its own geopolitical distaste for it: China has been fast adopting its position of nouveau bogeyman.
If Russia wins, China will feel emboldened to claim it was always supporting Putin, clapping itself on the back supplying assistance and a market for its otherwise sanctioned commodities (along with India, and anyone else willing to turn a blind eye to the actual source of the tankers of oil they are buying). A new global alliance will be formed with China, Russia, and perhaps even India forming an indomitable bloc.
But, then again, the US spends more on defense than the next 70 nations combined. We don’t want to get to that position of playing chicken in an East-West axis. Rather, let’s allow the US and other supportive nations to plow their defense budgets into supplying and training Ukraine.
Credit where credit is due, Biden’s administration has put its money where its mouth is and continues to do so. But as the cost-of-living crisis bites, how long can this go on before taxpayers—voters—and Republican politicians balk at the idea? At the moment, the Republicans are broadly showing bipartisan support for the government’s alliance with Ukraine and resultant contributions. It appears that the people at the top (both in the armed forces and connected communities of analysts and experts, as well as the lawmakers) understand what is at stake. Their job is to carry the electorate with them through troubled domestic times.
Feeling the fatigue?
Ukrainians themselves recognize the challenge of keeping the war—their plight—in the global media spotlight, as Euronews reports, looking at how Ukrainians in Lyon, France, are working hard to keep the conflict front and center stage:
‘Put pressure on their governments! Ask to call Russia a terrorist state! Donate! They do not want to donate to our army, as they feel it is supporting the military action. But these are people like us dying, it’s all the same. Then there are humanitarian causes for civilians…’ says Diana Dimitrova. ‘We need help, we need people to donate to Ukraine. Otherwise, this ‘Russian world’ could come to any place. We shouldn’t underestimate Russia, what they are doing is impacting everybody. Look at the prices, for example, don’t forget they have nuclear arms. Ukraine is fighting not only for its freedom but for the freedom of others too,’ she adds.
Some Ukrainian activists in the States fear that fatigue is setting in. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
“My husband came home from work, and somebody had asked him, ‘Is the war over?’ Because he hadn’t heard anything about it,” said Olha Dishchuk, a Huntingdon Valley nurse who volunteers in Ukrainian causes. “That really hurt.”
A conflict that many expected to end quickly — a lightning victory by powerful Russian forces, then, no, a steely Ukraine rally to expel the invaders — has devolved into a bloody slog. Coverage has slipped to the inside pages of newspapers and off the top stories of TV broadcasts.
In Philadelphia, the rallies that drew hundreds of people to City Hall and Independence Mall in the early weeks of the fighting have mostly stopped.
“I think the US is now more concentrated on the problems at home,” said Olha Khomyak, a New York immigration attorney who also aids clients in Philadelphia. “The war is being normalized.”
Even Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky feels the strain of making the world pay attention, generating star-power news coverage this month when he welcomed Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain to Kyiv.
“For us, such visits of famous people are extremely valuable,” he said in an internet post.
Running contrary to this, the good news is that, while Biden has pushed through a further $3bn of military aid to Ukraine on their Independence Day, American opinion appears to be bucking predictions of fatigue. This is at least as according to the recent Chicago Council Survey showing that “a majority of Americans are willing to support Ukraine ‘as long as it takes’— even if it means paying higher gas and food prices.” In fact, 38% of respondents still support sending U.S. troops to the frontline! Other findings include:
- Majorities continue to support US economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia (80%), accepting Ukrainian refugees into the United States (76%), providing additional arms and military supplies to the Ukrainian government (72%), and giving economic assistance to Ukraine (71%).
- By a six-to-four ratio, Americans say the United States should support Ukraine for as long as it takes, even if American households will have to pay higher gas and food prices in consequence. However, there are significant partisan differences.
- Nearly two-thirds think the invasion sets a precedent that other countries can launch wars for territorial gain (64%).
- An even larger majority believes the Russian invasion will encourage China to invade Taiwan (76%).
All of this is against the backdrop of complex European politics, not least with Germany, Italy, and France dealing with very demanding domestic issues, further complicated by an issue the United States does not directly have: a reliance on Russian hydrocarbons.
In the global marketplace of energy and commodities, the stakes to these wargames are really very high. Energy underwrites life and production, and so does grain. Ukraine is one of the breadbaskets of the world, and Russia the drug baron who controls much of the world’s self-harming addiction to fossil fuels. It couldn’t give a withered fig about climate change because as the frozen tundra melts, Russia becomes an even bigger breadbasket with which it can exert even more power and influence.