So when President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley at NATO headquarters in Brussels simultaneously announced another military aid from a billion dollars to Ukraine, it would be entirely appropriate to ask whether the needs and desires of Ukraine and its President Volodymyr Zelensky are perhaps approaching the point of exceeding the capacity – or especially his will – of the West to satisfy them.
The announcement could not have come at a better time, on the eve of the arrival in Kyiv by special train Thursday morning of the leaders of the three flagship nations of Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi were making their first visit to the capital since the start of the war, joining Romanian President Klaus Lohannis, who arrived separately.
Relaxed, Scholz in jeans, which he then swapped for a suit, reunited in a private wagon described by the French newspaper “Le Monde” as “very Orient Express”, collectively they could very well hold the future of the Ukraine within reach.
Shortly after arriving, Zelensky took the leaders on a walking tour of the Kyiv suburb of Irpin – Macron particularly clearly fascinated by the levels of indiscriminate destruction by Russian forces. The French president, visibly moved, added: “It is a heroic city
… marked by the stigmata of barbarism”.
At a press conference following the leaders’ meetings with Zelensky, Macron said “you can count on us”, as EU leaders affirmed their support for Ukraine’s designation as candidate for membership in the bloc.
The visit comes hours before the European Commission is due to give its opinion on Friday on whether Ukraine, and possibly also Moldova, should be considered candidate countries for European Union membership – to be ratified at a summit next week of all leading EU countries. An action still very pending.
Meanwhile, Kyiv’s rhetoric is beginning to border on desperation. Before the western European leaders arrived, Zelensky’s top military adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, told German tabloid Bild he feared they would bring with them demands for surrender.
Already, we can see some clues to this enigma around the will to persist, in the statements of Macron and his entourage. A senior Macron official went to great lengths this week on a WhatsApp chat for journalists including myself, affirming the French president‘s statements made in Romania that “the Ukrainian president will have to negotiate with Russia, and we will [also] to be around this table” was taken out of context. The aide insisted that Macron qualified this statement, adding “after Ukraine won militarily”.
Yet the French leader
has been insistent enough about not wanting to ‘humiliate’ Putin – leading to the ‘World’ headline calling Macron ‘that unloved ally of the Ukrainians’.
My question is when voters in Europe and America, faced with soaring energy costs and broader inflation driven by sanctions on Russia, might lose their appetite for a seemingly endless war, with needs only growing as both sides head into a protracted stalemate. Indeed, Zelensky has said for some time that Ukraine would not cede territory in exchange for an end to hostilities.
The fear of endless war and the costs to the West are particularly acute in France, where Macron faces a tough national election on Sunday for control of the French parliament
. Putin, of course, doesn’t have to deal with elections or worry about public opinion.
The problem is that, especially and more immediately for Europeans, the costs of this war could in the not too distant future begin to exceed the will – and therefore the ability – of Europe and America to meet them.
It is now said that some large German military equipment – from large self-propelled howitzers to multiple rocket launcher systems and air defense shields – may not ship until the fall. The “Bild” interview with Zelensky’s aide had a bold headline: “We need those weapons from Germany NOW.”
Other countries have also been slow to respond – part of Austin and Milley’s message to the 50 NATO partners and other like-minded nations in Brussels yesterday, who urged everyone to act and act quickly.
But with the latest $1 billion taking the US to $5.6 billion to war, Ukraine’s message seems to be becoming less of a message of gratitude and more of a warning. .
Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said recently that only 10% of the weapons her country needs have been delivered. And Zelensky said the Ukrainian army is outmatched 10-1 by Russian artillery.
If Europe starts to pull out, it could leave the United States as Ukraine’s only real resource. So when will American patience run out as economic costs continue to rise alongside oil prices? Russia is not the only place where sanctions are tightening. The impact of the sanctions is being felt across Europe. At the same time, the war in Ukraine slips very slightly off the radar screen, especially in the United States. For the first time since the start of the war, Ukraine is no longer among the five most wanted subjects there.
This is what makes several landmark meetings coming up this month particularly critical. On June 23-24, the European Council will meet in Brussels for a summit to assess Ukraine’s plea for formal “candidate status”, a crucial first step towards full membership of the European Union. . With the required unanimity of the 27 Heads of State and Government, there are still some skeptics for recognition, notably Denmark and Portugal.
The following week is the NATO summit in Madrid where Austin and Milley said they expect a significant commitment of resources to Ukraine from all member states. The pressure for much more than a gesture will be particularly strong following the full backing of Putin by China’s Xi Jinping on Thursday, pledging to unequivocally support Russia’s “sovereignty and security”. Expecting, no doubt, at least a dollop of reciprocity from Putin at some point if it was helpful or necessary for Xi.
Although the four EU leaders joined Zelensky on Thursday in asserting a united stance against Putin, the Ukrainian president too often appeared worried, even desperate. The leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania have hinted that they still intend to take up the challenge from Russia. But the West as a whole must survive Russia’s capacity and commitment to chaos and total victory.