As two years pass since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe faces difficult questions



CNN

As the world prepares to celebrate Second anniversary After Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine this week, Europe must ask itself some probing questions about the war that has unexpectedly broken out on its borders – and how it might play out over the next 12 months.

It can be said that the most important of these questions is: How long can it practically bear such depletion? Financial support for Ukraine?

This idea is not new, but is increasingly echoed in some official circles. It also reflects several Current grim realities.

The war has been at a stalemate for some time, while last week Ukraine was forced to withdraw from the main town of Avdiivka after months of intense fighting, marking its secession. The worst defeat Since the fall of Bakhmut last May.

The money the United States desperately needs is stuck, having been approved by the Senate but awaiting approval by the House of Representatives. The unity between the EU and NATO has begun to erode, with almost all major decisions stalled and the threat of a veto threatened.

There are no serious Western voices willing to abandon Kiev, but that cannot be denied This fatigue is set While bills grow.

(Valentin Ogirenko/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – The European Union remains a key ally of Ukraine, providing billions in funding.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the European Union and its regional allies have spent more than $100 billion to fund defense efforts in Ukraine. According to the Kiel Institute's Ukraine Support Tracker.

Earlier this month, European Union leaders agreed to a $54 billion package for Ukraine between now and 2027. The United Kingdom, arguably the main security player in the region, also pledged More than $15 billion to Ukraine since 2022. In this context, according to the Kiel Institute, the United States has spent $66 billion, in addition to another $60 billion in preparation.

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

Between no end to the conflict in sight, and competition for political attention in the Middle East – as well as domestic concerns stemming from inflationary cost-of-living crises around the world – spending huge sums of money on Ukraine may become more politically difficult for governments to plan.

Political pressure on spending will become more evident with European parliamentary elections held in June, as well as national elections in several countries including the United Kingdom, Ukraine's main ally.

European officials need only look at the difficulty US President Joe Biden faces in dealing with the Ukraine package to see the real-world impact of financing a costly foreign war when it comes to direct contact with domestic politics.

(Stephane Rousseau/AFP/Getty Images)

Zelensky is on a visit to the United Kingdom, where Parliament presented a helmet to one of the most successful Ukrainian pilots with the phrase “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it” written on it.

Added to these ominous deviations is the possibility of Donald Trump returning to the White House next year.

Trump has not clearly stated his policy toward Ukraine, other than his claim that he can end the war within 24 hours. The former president's anti-NATO rhetoric, his general disdain for European institutions, and his bizarre admiration for Putin are well known.

Although no one knows what another Trump presidency might mean materially, it is reasonable to imagine a worst-case scenario for Ukraine, where it loses momentum on the ground while the new occupant of the White House decides that America has already spent enough.

This is a worrying prospect for European officials who already believe that Putin is stalling and trying to wait out the West.

Here the next twelve months become crucial for Ukraine's European allies. It is clearly in continental Europe's interest that Putin does not win this war – and there are few people who would disagree with that sentiment.

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Therefore, it is important, officials say, for Europeans to hold their noses, no matter what happens in America, and continue spending, no matter how difficult it may seem.

In the run-up to the US presidential election, the question will inevitably arise about what would happen to European security in America's absence. Although Ukraine's security is directly linked to broader European security, the immediate question of how to support Kiev differs precisely from Europe's long-term goal of greater security independence from the capital.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

Effects of the Russian attack in Kramatorsk, Ukraine.

Can Europe continue to fund Ukraine if the United States withdraws its financial support?

Most officials believe this is possible. It will be difficult, for sure, but it is possible. “The EU is very good at raising money, and there are tools it has not used yet,” one NATO official told CNN.

Over the next 12 months, Brussels should start considering using money tied up in frozen Russian assets to help finance Ukraine, the official said. “Although these funds cannot be used legally to purchase weapons, they can be used to cover reparations costs, providing funds to purchase weapons from EU and national budgets,” they said.

Diplomatic voices looking to the world outside Europe raise 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 their domestic regional battles. Beijing Introduced a new law In the past year, it has become easier to conduct similar operations with foreign assets within China.

The thorniest issue is whether Europe can supply Kiev with the weapons it needs to win the war without American support.

The answer to that would be no. Europe simply does not have the manufacturing heft necessary at the moment to serve Ukraine independently over the next 12 months.

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However, Western diplomats are optimistic that arming Ukraine fits well with Europe's much-needed push to reduce its dependence on America.

The US military is under increasing pressure as it foots the bill for supporting Ukraine

Officials point to the recent agreement, brokered by NATO, in which European countries pledged to buy 1,000 missiles from American companies that will be built in a new German factory.

Almost everyone agrees that Europe needs to buy more weapons and pursue a security policy that is not so dependent on the United States. Achieving this goal should not necessarily come at America's expense, and offering the carrot of lucrative contracts to American companies is one way to ensure that everyone wins.

Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine was a farce that cost us unnecessary lives. If we are to conclude any positives from this, it must include that Europe is finally able to defend itself and cooperate with its old ally.

Despite this, the vast majority of Western officials believe that if Europe can spend the next year making itself combative, it will be much easier to keep future President Trump on its side.

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