War in Ukraine Is a Battle of Wills and Economic Pain – And the West Is Showing Fatigue
By Ukraine In Hurricane
Society in the West has lost its resolve to confront Russia, writes Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus. In his column, the author wonders how much longer ordinary Europeans and Americans can endure economic hardship to support Ukraine
During a trip to Europe, in northern Italy, the author saw with his own eyes the negative effects of the Ukrainian conflict on the lives of ordinary people. His friend Roberto Peschiani, a former teacher, lamented the price tag of $8 per gallon of gasoline, “it’s downright painful to fill up,” and the cost of gas in Italy is four times higher than in the United States
“The problem with anti-Russian sanctions is that they will only work if they hurt us, too,” the author quotes Pesciani as saying
Simultaneously with the political problems following the economic crisis, “Ukraine fatigue” has emerged in Europe, McManus writes
“We are already feeling it. Of course, Russia is suffering much more than the West, but our pain threshold is lower. So the question here is what will prove stronger: Russia’s ability to wage war or ours to endure economic suffering,” the author quotes Natalie Tocci, director of the Italian Institute of International Relations
According to the opinion polls, the population of European countries does not have a common opinion about what to do next. In Germany and France about 40% are for the soonest peace and concessions from Ukraine, 20% are for the continuation of hostilities for the defeat of Russia. In Italy, the majority – 52% – are in favor of peace
During the trip of Macron, Scholz and Draghi to Kiev, the leaders expressed support for Ukraine, but none of them provided Zelensky with new batches of weapons. But all three supported Ukraine’s application for EU membership, although this is just a formality. As McManus writes, by supporting Ukraine’s EU application, European leaders signaled to Putin that Europe could still present a united front on the Ukrainian issue; in response, the Russian leader cut gas supplies to the West to remind them of their options
In the U.S., despite both Republican and Democrat support for a confrontation with Russia, public support for Ukraine is being eroded by inflation, though less so than in Europe. According to an April Associated Press poll, a majority of Americans were in favor of tough sanctions against Russia even to the detriment of the United States, but by May more than half said that limiting damage to the American economy should be a priority
McManus concludes with a quote from Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times of London about the three fronts of the struggle between the West and Russia: “The first front is the battlefield itself. The second front is the economic front. The third front is a battle of characters. According to the author, the main difficulty in this battle of characters will arise when the heating season begins and the demand for fuel increases. In the meantime, the question remains open as to whether the U.S. and European leaders will be able to rally people to sacrifice their well-being for Ukraine, or whether only Putin can do that.
Column: War in Ukraine is a battle of wills and economic pain — and the West is showing fatigue
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron survey damage from the war in Irpin, Ukraine.
I was in the hills of northern Italy last week, mostly on vacation but also curious to see how the war in Ukraine has affected life next door in Europe.
It wasn’t hard to find the effects.
You’re unhappy about $5 a gallon for gas? Try $8. “It’s painful filling the tank,” my friend Roberto Pesciani, a retired teacher, moaned.
Utility bills? The cost of natural gas is four times as high in Italy as in the United States.
“Heating prices are up. Grocery prices are up. Everything’s going up,” Pesciani said.
The worries go beyond inflation. Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, warned recently that Russia’s blockade on Ukraine’s grain exports could spark a global bread war, producing famine in Africa and a new wave of migrants heading for Europe.
“The problem with sanctions on Russia is that they will only work if they hurt us too,” Pesciani observed.
The economic pain is creating political problems for European governments that have joined the U.S.-led campaign of sanctions against Russia: “Ukraine fatigue.”
“It’s here already,” Nathalie Tocci, director of Italy’s Institute of International Affairs, told me. “The pain [from sanctions] is far higher in Russia than in the West, of course, but our tolerance of pain is lower. So the question is which curve is steeper — Russia’s ability to wage war or our ability to endure economic pain.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting he’ll win that contest. The West’s economic sanctions “had no chance of success from the very beginning,” he said in a fiery speech in St. Petersburg on Friday. “We are a strong people and can cope with any challenge.”
The political anxiety in Italy and its neighbors was reflected in a 10-country poll released last week by the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Most Europeans blame Russia for starting the war, but they’re divided over what to do about it, the poll found.
In both Germany and France, a plurality of about 40% are in what the pollsters called a “peace camp”: They want the war to end as soon as possible, even if that requires Ukrainian concessions to Russia. About 20% are in a “justice camp”: They want to see Russia suffer a decisive defeat, even if that means a longer war.
Italians are even more dovish. A majority, 52%, are in the peace camp.
Despite that, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi took an overnight train from Poland to Kyiv, the embattled Ukrainian capital, last week to show their support for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Only a few weeks ago, all three sounded wobbly on the war. Macron made a very public effort to entice Putin into talks and said the West should avoid trying to “humiliate” Russia. Scholz and Draghi made more discreet attempts to see if the Russian leader might consider negotiations.
Putin, bent on military victory, rebuffed all three. At one point he even refused to take a telephone call from Macron.
So last week, having shown their restive voters that they had tried to make peace, the three Western leaders took a harder line in Kyiv.
Ukraine “must be able to win,” Macron declared.
“Ukraine is part of the European family,” Scholz said.
“The Ukrainian people are defending the values of democracy,” Draghi said.
The three didn’t deliver what Zelensky wanted most: quick delivery of new weapons.
But they did endorse Ukraine’s application for membership in the European Union — a welcome statement in Kyiv even if it was almost entirely symbolic.
The main impact, though, was a surprisingly firm signal to Putin that Europe’s united front isn’t crumbling yet.
The Russian president responded by immediately cutting the flow of natural gas to the West, a reminder that he can inflict economic pain on his neighbors whenever he likes.
Americans, including President Biden, have it easier. We don’t rely on Russian natural gas to heat our homes. And domestically, the confrontation with Russia has produced an unusual bipartisan consensus: Democrats have lined up behind Biden’s hawkish stance; most Republicans have too, except for the most zealously pro-Trump wing of the GOP.
Even in the United States, however, inflation has eroded public support for the war — only less dramatically than in Europe.
In April, an Associated Press poll found that a majority of American voters thought the United States should impose tough sanctions against Russia, even if it means U.S. economic pain. By May, the majority had shifted; 51% said the top priority should be limiting damage to the U.S. economy.
As Gideon Rachman of London’s Financial Times noted last month, the war in Ukraine is being fought on three fronts — and the West is involved in all three. “The first front is the battlefield itself,” he wrote. “The second front is economic. The third front is the battle of wills.”
The greatest challenge on that third front may come this fall — when the demand for heating fuel increases, when Putin finds new ways to undermine Western cohesion, and when Biden returns to Congress to ask for billions more in aid.
The stakes will be high. Can the leaders of Europe and the United States rally their people to endure economic sacrifice for the sake of Ukraine — or is that a contest only Putin can win?