/ 26 September 2023

Growing fatigue appears to mar the West’s support for Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy Visits Canada
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine's president, left, and Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. Canada pledged new measures to help Ukraine on Friday during Zelenskiy's first visit since Russia's invasion - including C$650 million ($482 million) over three years to supply Ukraine with 50 armored vehicles, including medical evacuation vehicles, to be built in southwestern Ontario. Photographer: David Kawai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s recent visit to the United States, the United Nations and Canada yielded positive results; he secured crucial military and financial support for Ukraine. Yet, amid this backdrop of cooperation and solidarity, a weariness appears to be setting in within the Western world when it comes to Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine. 

The US, long a supporter of Ukraine’s sovereignty, reaffirmed its commitment with a bolstered aid package, signalling solidarity with the embattled country. The UN, that venerable forum for international discourse, provided a stage for Zelenskiy to articulate Ukraine’s grievances and elicit global sympathy. 

Canada, too, pledged its unwavering support, demonstrating that the echoes of the Ukraine conflict resonate far beyond the European continent. But, beneath the camaraderie and support lies a subtle undercurrent of fatigue — a feeling that, while not openly acknowledged, is beginning to cast a shadow over the Western world’s response to the Ukraine crisis. It is akin to the weariness one experiences after a prolonged theatrical production, where the initial enthusiasm and passion have given way to a more subdued sentiment.

This fatigue stems from the relentless nature of the war, which has been a fixture of international headlines since Russia invaded Ukraine on 4 February 2022. The West has shouldered the burden of maintaining sanctions, providing aid, and participating in diplomatic wrangling with Russia. Moreover, the Ukraine crisis has become intertwined with a broader global landscape characterised by a multitude of crises including economic instability, climate change and the ever-present spectre of terrorism. 

As these issues clamour for attention, the focus on Ukraine may seem like an unyielding refrain, demanding resources and energy that could be directed elsewhere. The fatigue is also exacerbated by the geopolitical complexities surrounding Ukraine. The conflict is not a simple binary struggle but rather a multifaceted chessboard with various players and interests at stake. The West is acutely aware that finding a resolution that satisfies all parties is a Herculean task, and the longer the crisis endures, the more elusive a lasting solution seems. In absence of any “substantial” military successes for the Ukrainian forces on the battleground, the Ukraine conflict is likely to be soon classified as a “frozen” conflict. 

The Ukrainian military finds itself in a precarious position, facing the formidable challenge of regaining ground seized by Russian forces. From a tactical perspective, the coming weeks hold significance for the Ukrainian ground forces. The window of opportunity before the onset of rain-soaked mud could prove pivotal in military advances. 

Ukrainian troops understand that their ability to make headway in the weeks ahead is not only a matter of military strategy but also a crucial determinant in sustaining the international community’s attention and commitment. As winter sets in, the complexity of the conflict could further be compounded, making military operations more arduous and humanitarian conditions even more dire. 

As the fatigue sets in, it is crucial to remember that this weariness should not be mistaken for indifference or abandonment. Apparently, as a whole, the Western world remains committed to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, but the endurance required for this commitment is being tested. Last week, in a significant development, Poland’s prime minister made a stark announcement, declaring that his nation would cease its arms shipments to Ukraine. This pronouncement, seemingly intended to exert pressure on Kyiv, has cast a shadow of uncertainty over Poland’s role as a supplier of military equipment, further complicating an escalating trade dispute between these neighbouring states.

 Similarly, during his recent visit to Washington, Zelenskiy faced a relatively quieter reception compared with his previous sojourn last year. The political landscape in the US has undergone a subliminal shift since Zelenskiy’s address to Congress last December, a moment when he basked in resounding applause and was hailed as a war hero. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, grappling with opposition to the Ukrainian funding package from Republicans aligned with Trump, was not part of Zelenskiy’s the welcoming committee. 

Worth noting is McCarthy’s decision to decline Zelenskiy’s request for a joint session of Congress, another departure from his visit last December. McCarthy attributed this move to logistical constraints arising from short notice, suggesting a shift in the typically bipartisan stance toward Ukraine amid the ebb and flow of internal political dynamics. This episode serves as a stark reminder of the evolving and increasingly partisan nature of US foreign policy under the influence of Donald Trump. 

Dr Imran Khalid is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. He qualified as a physician from Dow Medical University in 1991 and has a master’s degree in international relations from Karachi University.