Ukraine’s Western backers have of late expressed more and more skepticism over the future success of the war effort against Russia. This doubt grew louder and more public starting two weeks ago, when Czech President Petr Pavel said in an interview with Polish media that the window is closing on a major new Ukrainian counteroffensive. He then acknowledged that his country may not be able to maintain current levels of assistance to Kiev.
“The window of opportunity is open this year. After next winter, it will be extremely difficult to maintain the current level of assistance,” Pavel was quoted as saying. “War fatigue is not only the exhaustion of human resources and equipment, the destruction of infrastructure in Ukraine, but also fatigue in the countries that provide aid.”
This week another small central European country has echoed the same. Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová said at a foreign policy event that Slovakia is “morally and financially exhausted” after more than a year of support given to Ukraine, and as war refugees pour in.
She also observed that the influx of Ukrainian war refugees into her country threatens to harm the economy and her own citizens’ standard of living. Stressing there are limits to Slovakia’s support for Ukraine, she suggested the populace may now see that limit as having been reached or surpassed, and this is leaving the country vulnerable.
“Although the majority of our residents remain willing to accept Ukrainian refugees, the majority feel that their standard of living is falling with the arrival of refugees, despite the data clearly pointing to the successful integration of refugees into the labor market,” Čaputová said.
Slovakia in particular has been sacrificing much of its own military hardware for Ukraine, this month pledging to hand the bulk of its tiny air force over. “The first four of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets that Slovakia decided to give Ukraine have been safely handed over to the Ukrainian air force, the Slovak Defense Ministry said on Thursday,” Reuters reported last week. The country is seeking upgraded replacement aircraft and parts from the United States.
The small central European country has also absorbed tens of thousands of refugees:
However, public attitudes differ, with a poll by Globsec think-tank showing in December that 39% of Slovaks thought NATO and the United States were responsible for the war in Ukraine. Support for NATO is lower in Slovakia than in most other member states, the military alliance’s research shows.
Interestingly, Ukraine’s president Zelensky himself admitted that if his military didn’t start securing victories, support from the West will slide amid the general fatigue of war. Zelensky while speaking to the Associated Press early this week described that loss of Bakhmut will mean that Putin will smell weakness. According to the Ukrainian leader’s words:
Speaking with The Associated Press, Zelenskyy said that if Bakhmut were to fall, Putin could “sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran,” as leverage to push for a ceasefire deal that would see Ukraine agree to give up territory.
“If he will feel some blood — smell that we are weak — he will push, push, push,” Zelensky continued. “Our society will feel tired” if the Russians gain victory in Bakhmut, he said. “Our society will push me to have compromise with them.” Implicit in these words are perhaps a first-time admission that significant sectors of the Ukrainian population are ready for compromise and peaceful negotiations to end the war.
And tellingly, CBS commentary on the AP interview included the following observation: “He appeared acutely aware of the risk that his country could see its vital support from the U.S. and Europe start to slip away as the 13-month war grinds on.”
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