Amidst Growing War Fatigue, Politics Crucial For Ukraine’s Future

The Russia-Ukraine war has led to large-scale loss of life and the displacement of more than 6.2 million Ukrainian refugees as of July, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R). Recent political developments suggest shifts in international support and co-operation, which may shape the possibility of achieving a sustainable peace.

The end of September saw Robert Fico win Slovakia’s parliamentary election, Reuters reports, after a campaign which promised to end military aid to Ukraine and push for peace talks – a position similar to that taken by Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, and reflective of a growing worldwide fatigue with the war. The B.B.C. reports that Slovakia and Hungary both may veto E.U. support for Ukraine, whilst support for Ukraine was excluded from a recent budget deal in the U.S. – a significant backtrack from Ukraine’s biggest supporter.

Mujtaba Rahman of Eurasia Group believes that Slovakia and Hungary will ultimately join the European consensus, Reuters reports, but that U.S. politics in the upcoming election may significantly impact support for Ukraine. Biden has pledged an additional U.S.$24 billion in aid to Ukraine in the near future, but there is concern over whether domestic political pressures will prevent this. Similarly, both Reuters and the B.B.C. report that the run-up to Poland’s election featured internal pressures related to support for Ukraine.

The European Political Community, meeting in Granada on October 5th, reassured Ukraine of its support. British Defence Minister Grant Shapps stated that U.S. and Polish support will remain. However, E.U. Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell admitted that Europe would not have the capacity to compensate should U.S. support be reduced, says the B.B.C.

There is concern that these policy position may encourage Russia, which seems to believe that the U.S. budget setback is temporary, but that fatigue will grow and encourage more nations to lose interest in supporting Ukraine. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told the House Magazine in September that “we have got to deal with” international fatigue with the war, whilst President Zelenskiy said at the start of October that Ukraine’s resolve against Russia will not be weakened, regardless of declining support.

Two full years after the war began, peace feels distant. 59 people were killed in a Russian missile strike on the Ukrainian village of Hroza on October 5th – one of the highest civilian death tolls of any Russian attack, reports Reuters. The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (O.H.C.H.R) reported 111 verified civilian deaths and 443 civilian injuries in Ukraine between September 1st and 24th, bringing the total Ukrainian civilian casualties since the Russian invasion past 27,000, with 9,701 of these deaths occurring between September 24th and early October. Meanwhile, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has found extensive evidence of war crimes committed by Russian forces, the O.H.C.H.R. reports.

International geopolitics are highly instrumental in the war. President Zelenskiy told E.U. foreign ministers on October 2nd that co-operation with the E.U. is essential for Ukrainian victory, and on the 5th he re-emphasized the need for continued and increased European support, stating that a Russian victory may encourage further Russian attacks on other countries. Chief Borrell promised increased support to Ukraine, says Reuters, and Zelenskiy is reported in the Guardian to have said that membership talks between Ukraine and the E.U. may begin this year.

The United States Institute of Peace (U.S.I.P.) suggests that membership in the E.U. and N.A.T.O. may provide the economic, political, and strategic security Ukraine requires to achieve peace. With commitments made to Ukraine becoming a N.A.T.O. member at this year’s summit, the U.S.I.P. argues that the next nine to 10 months until the 2024 summit could be vital for achieving peace. This period is made even more important by the possibility of E.U. membership talks.

In the next few months, we may see significant changes in international support and geopolitics related to the Russia-Ukraine war. Putin announced in December that he will again run in Russia’s upcoming March presidential election. Meanwhile, the U.S. is at a critical year in its own election cycle, and Ukraine is seeking to cement support from the E.U. and N.A.T.O. Nothing is predictable in war, but the next few months may illuminate potential paths to a sustainable peace.