Two years on from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Europe faces tough questions



CNN

When the world is ready to mark Second anniversary With Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine this week, Europe should be asking some searching questions about the war that unexpectedly broke out on its borders and how it will approach it over the next 12 months.

The most important of those questions is debatable: how long it can practically sustain such drains Financial aid to Ukraine?

That sentiment is not new, but resonates privately in some corners of power. It also represents many things Current bitter truths.

The war has been at a standstill for some time, while last week, Ukraine was forced to withdraw from the main city of Avdiivka after months of heavy fighting. Bad failure Since the fall of Buckmut in May.

Although passed in the Senate, much-needed money is stuck in the US awaiting approval by the House. Unity between the European Union (EU) and NATO is threatened by a veto, with nearly every major decision blocked.

No serious Western voices want to abandon Kiev, but that is undeniable That sets in fatigue As the bills grow.

(Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen — the EU is Ukraine's main ally, providing billions in funding.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the EU and its regional allies have committed more than $100 billion to Ukraine's security efforts. According to the Kiel Institute's Ukraine Support Tracker.

Earlier this month, EU leaders agreed on a $54 billion package for Ukraine between now and 2027. The United Kingdom, a key security player in the region, has pledged. More than $15 billion to Ukraine from 2022. For the environment, according to the Keel Institute, the U.S. has spent $66 billion, with another $60 billion in the pipeline.

While the West's support for Ukraine since 2022 has surprised many in the diplomatic world, fatigue sets in the longer the war drags on.

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With no end to the conflict in sight, and competition for political attention in the Middle East — as well as domestic concerns over inflation-led cost-of-living crises around the world — it will become politically difficult to spend large sums of money in Ukraine. Stomach to governments.

With European Parliament elections in June and national referendums in several countries, including Ukraine's main ally the UK, political pressure on spending will be more visible.

European officials need only look at the difficulty US President Joe Biden is having to see the real-world impact of funding a costly foreign war as he comes into direct contact with domestic politics with his own Ukraine package.

(Stephen Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images)

Zelensky visited England, where he presented parliament with the helmet of one of the most successful Ukrainian pilots inscribed with the words “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it.”

Adding to these dire distractions is the prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House next year.

Trump has not made clear what his Ukraine policy is, aside from his claim that the war could be ended within 24 hours. The former president's anti-NATO rhetoric, general disdain for European institutions and odd admiration for Putin are well known.

While no one knows what another Trump presidency could mean, it's plausible to imagine a worst-case scenario for Ukraine, where the new occupant of the White House decides the U.S. has already spent enough and it loses momentum on the ground.

It's a dangerous prospect for European officials, who already believe Putin is waiting to dig up the West.

This is where the next 12 months become crucial for Ukraine's European allies. It is clearly in the interest of continental Europe that Putin has not won this battle – and few would disagree with that sentiment.

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So no matter what happens in America, officials say, Europeans will hold their noses and keep spending, no matter how hard it seems.

Ahead of the US presidential election, the question of what would happen to European security without the US will inevitably be asked. While it is true that Ukrainian security is directly tied to broader European security, the immediate question of how to support Kyiv is subtly different from Europe's long-term goal of greater security independence from the DC.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

The aftermath of the Russian attack on Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Can Europe Continue Funding Ukraine If America Cuts Aid?

Most authorities argue that it can. It will be difficult, of course, but possible. “The EU is very good at fundraising and there are tools that it has not used yet,” a NATO official told CNN.

In the next 12 months, Brussels must begin using money tied up in frozen Russian assets to finance Ukraine, the official said. “Although the money cannot legally be used to buy weapons, it can be used to cover reparations costs and free up money for weapons from EU and national budgets,” they said.

Diplomatic voices monitoring the world beyond Europe raise their eyebrows at this. Some fear that setting a precedent for using frozen assets to raise money for foreign wars could give countries like China the green light to do the same in its domestic wars. Beijing A new law was introduced Last year it made it easier to do the same with foreign assets inside China.

The thorny issue is whether or not Europe can supply Kyiv with the weapons it needs to win the war without US support.

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The answer to that would be no. Europe now lacks the productive capacity to serve Ukraine independently over the next 12 months.

Still, Western diplomats say arming Ukraine fits perfectly with a much-needed European push to reduce its reliance on the United States.

U.S. military pressure to support Ukraine

Officials point to a recent deal brokered by NATO in which European countries have pledged to buy 1,000 missiles from American companies to be built at a new German factory.

Almost everyone agrees that Europe should buy more weapons and have a defense policy that does not rely on the United States. Achieving that won't come at the expense of America, and dangling the carrot of lucrative deals for American companies is one way to ensure everyone wins.

Putin's unprovoked aggression in Ukraine was a travesty that cost needless lives. If any positives are to come from it, it must include Europe finally becoming capable of defending itself and cooperating with its old ally.

For what it's worth, most Western officials believe it will be much easier to keep future President Trump ahead if Europe spends the next year fighting itself.

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