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27 September, 2022
 
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Ukraine: Will Europe be able to remain united against Putin?

'How long will Europe remain united against Putin when its countries are called upon to face energy shortages, lost jobs and the reality of hosting millions of refugees?'

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

by George Skafidas

As the war in Ukraine now enters its sixth week of operations in conditions of undiminished intensity, with threats escalating, cracks widening and bombs raining down, it is clear that the crisis will be a marathon and the ongoing struggle an endurance struggle for all those directly and indirectly involved.

The Americans on the other hand (but also Canada, Japan, Australia, etc.) seem to have some more room for maneuver as they are not affected as much as the EU by the sanctions imposed on Russia.

Putin's side does not seem willing to back down at this time. On the contrary, it is intensifying pressure not only militarily inside Ukraine but also across the Ukrainian border, against the West, while the Ukrainians on the other hand are resisting and the West is pushing from a distance.

The Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, sent the message a few days ago, that the sanctions against Russia are here to stay.

In such a context, however, if we accept that the race is a marathon, and given that sanctions do not only hurt the side that suffers them but also the side that imposes them, the question now is which of the two sides will back down first, the West or Russia, with the footnote of course that the West is not a country like Russia but a set of countries whose interests sometimes converge and sometimes diverge.

The Ukrainians are willing to make some compromises, accepting a future regime of partially demilitarized "neutrality" for their country, which will be accompanied by new security guarantees. In the same context, they have sent the message that they would be willing to discuss a peace formula that would temporarily leave out the Crimean, Donetsk and Lugansk pending issues for future settlement. Beyond that, however, any room for compromise for Kyiv is narrowing, and the ball returns to the Russian court.

The Americans on the other hand (but also Canada, Japan, Australia, etc.) seem to have some more room for maneuver as they are not affected as much as the European Union by the sanctions imposed on Russia.

In a globalized world, everyone is affected by everything. But the costs are not the same for everyone in every international crisis.

The Americans would like to see the Europeans intensify their sanctions against Moscow even more. Back in the Old Continent, however, there are concerns.

Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former adviser to George W. Bush in the White House, touches on a rather sensitive issue when he asks, "How long will the West stay united against Putin?" And not just the West in general but Europe in particular.

"How long will Europe remain united against Putin when its countries are called upon to face energy shortages, lost jobs and the reality of hosting millions of refugees?" Gerson wrote in an article for the Washington Post. "How will the British react when they see, say, the cost of energy rising by 50% or more?"  The Washington Post columnist even estimates that the "German supporters of appeasement" who are now silent, will at some point break their "temporary" silence and return to their old arguments, depending of course on other developments.

"Bringing their people together to accept the temporary financial burdens needed to tackle Putin is now the main challenge for European leaders and the US president. "It will not be easy, but it will certainly be easier than following Zelensky's example," Gerson said.

"Putin united the West, but now the difficulties are coming", wrote Messrs. Thomas de Maiziere (German, former Secretary of Defense and Interior) and Wes Mitchell (American, former top State Department official) a few days ago in an article they co-authored and published in Foreign Policy magazine.  The article was similar in spirit and anything but accidental.

"The biggest threat to this new unity of the West, apart from Russian tanks or even nuclear weapons, is the reluctance to make the real sacrifices that will be required for the sake of security," de Maiziere and Mitchell said, seeing and highlighting a "threat" different from the others. A threat that will intensify as the war in Ukraine continues, preparing the ground for potential intra-Western rifts and deviations.

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