Economic Toll of Russia’s War in Ukraine Tests Western Solidarity

LONDON – The West unites against Russia’s war in Ukraine faster and more firmly than almost anyone expected. But as the fighting subsides into a protracted conflict that could raged for months or even years, it is testing the resolve of Western countries, with European and American officials questioning whether the increased economic damage will erode their solidarity over time.

So far, the fissures have been mostly superficial: Hungary refuses to sign an embargo on Russian oil, hampering the European Union’s attempt to impose a continent-wide ban; resilience in Paris with the Biden administration’s active goal of militarily weakening the President of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin; President Biden is rumored to blame high food and gas prices for Putin’s price hike.

Alongside those tensions, there are even more signs of unity: Finland and Sweden on Wednesday moved closer to joining NATO, with Britain providing both countries with security guarantees to combat threat from Russia. In Washington, the House of Representatives voted 368 to 57 on Tuesday in favor of nearly 40 billion dollars in aid package for Ukraine.

Yet Russian tanks rolled on the Ukrainian border just 76 days ago, a blink in history’s forever war map. As the war continues, the effect of stratification on supply chains, energy pipelines and agricultural harvests will be felt more acutely at gas pumps and on supermarket shelves.

Mr. Putin, some experts say, is calculating that the West will tire of it before Russia mounts a protracted twilight struggle for Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, especially if the cost comes for support. Continuing Western support is soaring inflation, energy disruptions, depleted public finances, and a tired population.

The Biden administration’s director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines, crystallized those doubts on Tuesday, warning senators that Putin was preparing for a long siege and “ha can count on the resolve of the United States and the EU weakened by food shortages, inflation and energy shortages worsening”.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden travel to a farm in Kankakee, make the case that Mr. Putin’s war is the cause of food shortages and a tight cost of living for American families, a tacit sign of his steadfast support for Ukraine – a policy that has won bipartisan support in Washington – could deliver. a political cost.

Mr. Putin faces his own domestic pressures, which is evident in the adjusted tone he emphasizes. in a speech in Moscow’s Red Square on Monday, neither calling for mass mobilization nor threatening to escalate the conflict. But he also made it clear that there was no end to what he called Russia’s misguided campaign to rid its neighbor of “torturers, death squads and Nazis”.

On Ukrainian ground, the fighting showed signs of turning into a protracted battle. A day after Ukraine counterattacked Russian forces that had not yet come under attack from a cluster of towns northeast of Kharkiv, the regional governor said on Wednesday that Ukraine’s efforts had pushed Moscow’s forces “even” even farther” from the city, giving them “even less opportunity to open fire on the regional center.”

Ukraine’s apparent success in repelling Russian troops outside Kharkiv – the country’s second largest city, about 20 kilometers from the Russian border – appears to have contributed to a reduction in shelling there over the days. recently, even as Russia advances along parts of the front line in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

It’s worth noting that Ukraine could even find itself in the midst of a tense war going on, nearly three months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion. Analysts point out that a protracted war will drain the resources of the Russian military, which has already suffered heavy losses in manpower and machinery. As a result, some argue that the West should take advantage by tightening economic barriers to Moscow.

“I worry about Western fatigue,” says Michael A. McFaula former US ambassador to Russia, “that’s why the leaders of the free world should do more now to promote an end to the war.”

The United States and the European Union should impose the full range of crippling sanctions immediately, he said, rather than rolling them out in increments as so far. Western countries, he said, have come close to such an integrated strategy with military aid, which has helped the Ukrainians hold back the Russians.

But the pause in negotiations over a European oil embargo shows the limits of that approach to Russian energy supplies. Ambassador of the European Union hold another meeting to no avail in Brussels on Wednesday, failed to break through fierce resistance by a single member of the bloc, Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has warm relations with Putin and is at odds with Brussels, threw hopes of a show of solidarity into discord as he blocked the latest measure, arguing that the ban for Russian oil would be equivalent to an “atom bomb” for the Hungarian economy.

Mr. Orban continued to protest, even after concessions that would give Hungary more time to wean Russia and aggressively lobby other leaders. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, flew to Budapest to try to shake him while President Emmanuel Macron phoned him.

“We will only support this proposal if Brussels proposes a solution to the problem that Brussels has created,” said Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, adding that modernizing the energy sector of Hungary would cost “many billions of euros”.

In Washington, Mr. Biden has had less difficulty providing military assistance and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The House vote in favor of a massive aid package showed how the brutality of the war overcame both right-wing and left-wing resistance to US involvement in military conflicts. like abroad.

However, rising food and fuel prices, exacerbated by the war, represent a real threat to Mr. Biden. Food prices rose 0.9 percent in April from the previous month, according to data released on Wednesday. Finance Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the administration was “deeply concerned about the global food supply,” adding that 275 million people around the world are facing hunger.

Mr. Biden told farmers in Illinois: “Putin’s war has cut off vital food sources. “Our farmers are helping on both fronts, lowering food prices at home and expanding production and supply to the world in need.”

It remains to be seen whether the United States can increase agricultural output enough to ease the shortage. But the visit to a farm comes as Mr Biden, under pressure for the fastest inflation rate in 40 years, has tried to reassure Americans that the White House is taking price increases seriously.

While Mr. Putin faces far greater pressures – from increased war casualties to economic pain from sanctions – he is exploiting nationalist sentiments, which some politicians have not been able to do. Analytical note will help him maintain power.

The Kremlin signaled on Wednesday that it could annex the strategically important Kherson, southern Ukraine regionas the occupation authorities said they would prepare a formal request for Mr. Putin to take over their region to Russia.

“They are motivated by strong nationalism, because they are willing to suffer extraordinary economic damage,” said Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist at Stanford University. However, he added, the Western muscular response could be “a confidence-changing moment for democracies.”

For some Europeans, the United States may have gone too far. French diplomats with ties to Mr Macron describe the burgeoning US policy as essentially arming Ukraine and maintaining sanctions on Russia indefinitely. They said France wanted to push ahead with negotiations with Putin because there was no other way to achieve the long-term security of Europe.

Other analysts argue that the threats to Western unity are exaggerated. The entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO not only shows that the alliance is drawing closer, but also that its focus is shifting eastward.

Even before invading Ukraine, Putin warned those countries that they would face “retaliation” if they joined NATO. During a visit to Stockholm, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that the joint security declaration Britain had signed with Sweden – under which both countries pledge to support each other should they face a military or catastrophic threat. natural disaster – will counter that threat.

“Sovereign nations must be free to make those decisions without fear or influence or threat of retaliation,” said Mr Johnson, along with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden. The declaration “will allow us to share more intelligence, advance military exercises and further our joint development of technology,” he said.

Despite Germany’s objections to cutting off Russian gas, it seems difficult to reverse course from its pledge to increase military spending. On Wednesday, Germany began training the first Ukrainian crews in the use of self-propelled artillery in western Germany. The German military plans to provide seven types of heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Eliot A. Cohen, a political scientist who served in the State Department during the George W. Bush era, said: “The Russians have always created images and news that have helped with the unification of the West. “If Ukraine continues to be successful, I think everyone will be cheering them on.”

Report contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels, Roger Cohen from Paris, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Cora Engelbrecht from London, Ana Swanson and Alan Rappeport from Washington, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.

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