Europe’s next Ukraine mission is on the home front

To overcome fatigue with the war effort, Europe's leaders need to clarify their goals. There should be broad agreement around a few core objectives, including avoiding any cease-fire that leaves Ukraine vulnerable to renewed Russian aggression.

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Editorials

August 17, 2022 - 3:12 PM

Smoke rises from a fire after detonation at a temporary ammunition storage site of a military unit near the village of Mayskoye, on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, Crimea, Russia. (Sergei Malgavko/TASS/Zuma Press)

Six months into Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, the democratic world has come together to support Ukraine’s self-defense and impose punishments on Vladimir Putin and his enablers. Yet it hasn’t stopped the bloodshed — and Putin is betting that Western unity will crumble as winter sets in and Europeans find themselves squeezed by food and energy prices. Proving him wrong will require Europe’s leaders to prepare their publics for a protracted war and increase support to those least able to shoulder its costs.

In both the U.S. and Europe, public opinion has overwhelmingly backed efforts to help Ukraine resist Putin’s aggression, but that resolve is likely to wane as the war drags on. In a poll of 10 European countries taken in May, 42% of respondents said their governments pay too much attention to Ukraine relative to their troubles; in Romania and Poland, two frontline countries, the number is more than 50%. Europeans rank the increased cost of living and energy prices at the top of their concerns around the war, alongside nuclear weapon use. In Germany, a Forsa survey in July found support for a boycott of Russian gas, a key means of squeezing the Kremlin, had shrunk to just under one-third of respondents, down from 44% six weeks earlier. 

To overcome fatigue with the war effort, Europe’s leaders need to clarify their goals in Ukraine. While the priorities of individual governments will inevitably vary, there should be broad agreement around a few core objectives: defending Ukraine’s democratically elected leadership and its self-determination; holding Russian forces accountable for war crimes; and avoiding any cease-fire that leaves Ukraine vulnerable to renewed Russian aggression. At a minimum, Europe will need to maintain current sanctions against the Kremlin and continue to provide economic assistance to Ukraine for months to come.

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