A year on, no end in sight for Ukraine war

A year on, no end in sight for Ukraine war
After a year of fighting, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has pushed both sides to extremes, as continued NATO intervention and heightened polarisation promise a dangerous escalation with the threat of a global war looming, writes Emad Moussa.
6 min read
02 Mar, 2023
The Ukrainian flag flutters between buildings destroyed in bombardment, in the Ukrainian town of Borodianka, in the Kyiv region on 17 April 2022. [Getty]

On 24 February 2022, Russia sent thousands of its troops and equipment into Ukraine in a full-scale invasion of the country.

The battlefield quickly became embroiled in a much larger fight between NATO allies in the West and Moscow, resulting in many setbacks for Russia, but also plunging Europe into a severe energy crisis and triggering global inflation.

A year on, the Ukraine war stands apart as one of extremes and counter-extremes when it comes to excessive spending, polarisation of public opinion, and zero-sum perceptions.

All of these are ominously building up toward dangerous escalation.

"Public opinion sensationalisation in the past year has helped simplify the war narratives to mean ideal victims versus unredeemable aggressors"

Record support

The extent of military support to Ukraine over the past year may well be comparable to, if not exceed, Washington’s support of Britain and Europe’s allies during World War II.

The West did not send troops into Ukraine to fight Russia, as they did against Nazi Germany, but they have provided Ukrainians with extensive assets and a chance to fight back against the Russian invasion.

Fox News has estimated that, based on Ukrainian sources, between January and November of last year, the US sent $196 billion in military, financial and humanitarian aid to Kyiv.

This amounts to nearly 26% of the US 2022 defence budget. Germany sent $172 billion, while the rest of the world, mostly Western countries, sent about $75 billion more in aid and weapons.

Even by more conservative estimates, the bill remains exorbitant, potentially enough to transform and re-equip the Ukrainian armed forces several times over. In the US especially, excessive spending on Ukraine is now triggering internal debates, with more Republicans saying the US is doing “too much” for Kyiv.

In the US, support for Ukraine is wavering among Republicans: the percentage who said Washington should provide military aid to Ukraine dropped from 80% in March to 55% in November.

This comes amid internal crises, growing doubts about Ukraine’s ability to win the war, and the fear of a direct US confrontation with Moscow if the Biden administration agrees to Zelensky’s demands for F-16s and long-range missiles.

Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv last week was more than a show of US support for Ukraine. It was also a defiant step against the Republican calls to reduce Washington’s involvement in the war.

Extreme public opinion

For the leader of the world’s most powerful nation to be present at the ‘frontline’ was meant to further sensationalise Western public opinion, partly to ensure continued support for more weapons and aid to Kyiv.

Public opinion sensationalisation in the past year has helped simplify the war narratives to mean ideal victims versus unredeemable aggressors. Everything about Ukraine was idealised, heroised, humanised, and made relatable to Western values. Everything about Russia, or anyone who discussed the war as a broader geopolitical dilemma, was demonised and ostracised.

It was therefore expected for many Europeans to open their arms to Ukrainian refugees, support sending weapons and volunteers to Ukraine, and cheer for any anti-Russia measures. The support for many became a nationalist identity and a measure of Western values. After all, Russia’s invasion was also viewed (and popularised) as an attack on democracy and liberalism.

That said, the sensationalisation of public opinion may have also created in some Western societies a false sense of universal alignment with the Western posture on Ukraine. The reality, however, is different.

"In the Middle East, the general attitude towards Ukraine is not strictly defined as mere anti-Ukraine or pro-Russia sentiments, but rather filtered through grievances against Western double standards in the region"

According to researchers from the University of Cambridge, one of the extreme repercussions of the Ukraine war is the increase in global polarisation. 75% of the 1.2 billion people who live in the world’s liberal democracies hold a negative view of Russia. Positivity toward Russia even in formerly sympathetic European countries such as Greece, Hungary, and Italy has plummeted since the war.

Yet, among the 6.3 billion who live in the world’s remaining 136 countries, the majority feel positively toward Moscow. These countries stretch from East Asia through the Middle East and out towards West Africa, almost mirroring the trend that was prevalent during the Cold War.

The reasons are either related to neutrality, with many believing that Ukraine is a ‘European problem,’ or a rejection of Western ‘liberalism,’ a prospect that Putin used to garner support outside Europe.

In the Middle East, the general attitude towards Ukraine is not strictly defined as mere anti-Ukraine or pro-Russia sentiments, but rather filtered through grievances against Western double standards in the region.

Glorifying Ukrainian resistance while condemning Palestinian one is a marker. Another is the history of NATO and US bloody interventions in the region, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that many have pointed out are not dissimilar to what Russia is currently doing in Ukraine.

Ominous extremes

The policy of extremes after a year of fighting has borne some fruits. Russia’s ‘special operation’ failed to secure a quick victory and suffered painful setbacks. It enhanced European collective identity and cooperation, triggered Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership, pushed Germany to reconsider its defence policy, and revived US commitment to the transatlantic alliance.

Each one of these gains, however, came with a price. The post-Cold War relations with Moscow were shattered, the US meddling in European affairs increased, and the EU’s ‘strategic autonomy’ talks came to a halt. The conflict plunged Europe into an energy crisis, pushed inflation to record levels, weakened the UN’s standing, and deepened South-North polarisation.

Western sanctions on Moscow proved somewhat ineffective and the efforts to isolate Russia failed. Countries that initially vowed to join the Western block to denounce Russia, including many MENA countries, have moved into a more neutral position in the past months. Despite declared neutrality, India and China have provided Moscow with logistical, economic, and diplomatic support.

Backed militarily by China, North Korea, and Iran, Moscow’s operation in Ukraine is becoming part of an emerging Eastern alliance countering the Western block. The alliance will benefit Russia in its massive attack anticipated in the Spring.

This is helped by reports that NATO is struggling to keep up with Ukraine’s munition needs, with some NATO members saying they cannot sustain the same level of support to Ukraine forever.

Meanwhile, responding to Biden’s pledge to continue support for Ukraine, Putin declared the suspension of Russia’s participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), followed by plans to deploy the Sarmat silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). This suggests Moscow is again yielding the nuclear card to deter the West from providing Ukraine with more weaponry.

A year on, the Ukraine war exceeded most of its initially set red lines. The policy of extremes has generated counter-extremes, and both have created an increasingly dangerous situation, with the diplomatic path moving further away each day.

It may be time to confront the most important unpopular question: is the current course of action worth the risk of dragging the world into a global conflict, or worse, a nuclear exchange with unimaginable consequences?

Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.