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13 January 2023

The first signs of Ukraine war fatigue in the West are starting to appear

Yet pressure is increasing on Germany to send Kyiv tanks.

By Wolfgang Münchau

The Washington Post reported on 11 January that for the first time a majority of Republicans supported an imminent stop to all funding to Ukraine. This does not mean that it will happen right now. But it is telling that bipartisan support for Ukraine is waning, in spite of Volodymyr Zelensky’s appearance in Congress in December.

The shift in views amongst Republicans is quite dramatic. The number of Republicans supporting military aid for Ukraine fell from 80 per cent in March to 55 per cent in November and to 48 per cent now. The Washington Post says the fall in support reflects pessimism amongst Republicans about Ukraine’s ability to win the war.

That has not happened in Europe yet, but we see Europe, as so often, on a lagged trajectory. Most of Ukraine’s financial and military support comes from the US. This is the last full year before the 2024 presidential election campaign, at which point support for Ukraine may wane further, even amongst Democrats. It’s hard to believe that Europe can fully take over from the US, both in terms of financial aid and military support.

What we are seeing therefore is a foreshadowing of the limits of Western support for Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s strategy is to keep going for as long as possible and throw all resources he has at securing the status quo, and making some small, but important advances, as is now happening in Soledar.

Ukraine fatigue has not yet set in across Europe, but then again Europe is not spending as much as the US. If Europe is asked to provide a bigger share of support, I am not certain that current political support levels would remain unaffected. It’s also unlikely that Europe can return to a period of sustained economic growth for as long as this war is raging.

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Right now, the big debate in Europe is on the supply of Leopard 2 tanks. Olaf Scholz had opposed this bitterly, fearing it would make Germany a party to the war. The German Greens are now putting pressure on him to change the position. Germany’s vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, said on 12 January that Germany should not veto Poland’s request to send a company of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Under Germany’s arms export contracts, the German government retains a veto right over any exports of German-made goods to third countries. Poland will therefore need German permission to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

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The Leopard 2 tanks are potent gear, but only a fraction of them are in working order. If European countries send the few working ones to Ukraine, they leave themselves exposed. There is a push-back against the deliveries from inside the Bundeswehr.

The three factors that will test Western support for Ukraine are:

  • the end of the bipartisan consensus in US;
  • military hardware constraints in Europe;
  • and an economic situation not conducive to open-ended fiscal support.

Like most wars, this war, too, will end in a diplomatic settlement that reflects the military situation on the ground. It’s hard to see that happening any time soon. Easier to see, however, are the limits of Western support. 

This piece originally ran on EuroIntelligence.

[See also: Valery Gerasimov may not be able to stem Russia’s losses]