As two years have passed since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Europe faces difficult questions.




CNN

As the world prepares to mark the second anniversary of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine this week, Europe should be asking itself some searching questions about the war that has unexpectedly erupted on its borders – and what will happen over the next 12 years. How will the months reach?

Chief among these questions is: How long can it practically sustain such financial support for Ukraine?

The idea isn't new, but the official has been gaining traction in some corners privately. It also reflects several current grim truths.

The war has been at a standstill for some time, while last week, Ukraine was forced to withdraw from the key town of Avdiivka after months of fierce fighting, its worst defeat since the fall of Bakhmut in May.

The desperate need for money from the United States has stalled, having passed the Senate but awaiting approval by the House. As the alliance between the European Union (EU) and NATO begins, nearly every major decision is blocked and threatened with a veto.

No serious Western voice wants to abandon Kiev, but it's undeniable that fatigue is growing as the bill mounts.

(Valentine Ogerenko/Reuters)

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

Since the start of the crisis, the European Union and its regional allies have spent more than $100 billion on Ukraine's defense efforts, according to the Cal Institute's Ukraine Support Tracker.

Earlier this month, EU leaders agreed on a $54 billion package for Ukraine between now and 2027. Cal Institute has spent $66 billion with another $60 billion in the pipeline.

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

With no end in sight to the conflict, and competition for political attention in the Middle East — as well as domestic concerns over cost-of-living crises fueled by worldwide inflation — spending heavily on Ukraine could be politically more difficult. Is. The belly of governments

Political pressure on spending will become more pronounced after European parliamentary elections in June, as well as national elections in a number of countries, including Britain, a key ally of Ukraine.

European officials need only look at the difficulty US President Joe Biden is having with his Ukraine package to see the real-world impact of financing a costly war abroad when it comes directly into domestic politics.

(Stephen Russo/AFP/Getty Images)

Zelensky was on a visit to Britain, where he gave parliament a helmet of one of Ukraine's most successful pilots with the words “We have freedom, give us wings to protect it”.

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

Trump has not spelled out exactly what his Ukraine policy will be, other than claiming he can end the war in 24 hours. The former president is known for his anti-NATO rhetoric, general disdain for European institutions and outlandish praise for Putin.

While no one knows what another Trump presidency might mean materially, it's plausible to imagine a worst-case scenario for Ukraine, where it loses ground momentum while the new occupant of the White House takes it. Decided that America has already spent enough.

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

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

That's why it's so important, officials say, that whatever happens in America, Europeans hold their noses and keep spending, no matter how hard it is.

In the run-up to the US presidential election, the question will inevitably be asked: What would happen to European security without the US? And while it is true that Ukraine's security is directly related to broader European security, the immediate question of how to support Kiev is far from Europe's long-term goal of greater security independence from DC. is different.

Thomas Peter/Reuters

After the Russian attack in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk.

Will Europe continue to fund Ukraine if the US withdraws funding?

Most authorities say it can. It will be difficult, sure, but possible. “The EU is very good at raising funds and there are tools that it hasn't used yet,” a NATO official told CNN.

In the next 12 months, Brussels should start considering using money locked in frozen Russian assets to help fund Ukraine, the official said. “Although this money cannot legally be used to buy weapons, it can be used to cover compensation costs, free up money for weapons from the EU and national budgets,” he said. Is.”

Diplomatic voices with an eye on the world outside Europe raise an eyebrow at this. Some worry that setting a precedent for using frozen assets to fund foreign wars could give countries like China the green light to do the same in their own internal regional battles. Beijing introduced a new law last year that makes it easier to operate as foreign assets inside China.

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

The answer will be negative. Europe does not yet have the manufacturing capacity to serve Ukraine independently in the next 12 months.

However, Western diplomats are optimistic that arming Ukraine fits perfectly with a much-needed European drive to reduce its dependence on the United States.

Pressure is mounting on the US military over the bill to support Ukraine.

Officials point to a recent deal brokered by NATO, where European countries have pledged to buy 1,000 missiles from American firms that will be built in a new German factory.

Almost everyone agrees that Europe needs to buy more weapons and have a security policy that is less dependent on the United States. Achieving this does not come at the cost of America, and dangling the carrot of lucrative contracts for American companies is one way to ensure a win for everyone.

Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a calamity that has cost unnecessary lives. If this is to have any positive results, they include Europe finally being fit to defend itself, and cooperating with its old ally.

And for what it's worth, most Western officials believe that if Europe can spend the next year getting itself fit to fight, it will be far easier to contain a future President Trump.

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