by Raffaele Crocco
The front begins to creak. Not the military one, which seems motionless, in a stalemate reminiscent of the trenches of the First World War. It is the front of Ukraine’s European allies that is showing signs of impatience. This long war, which began with the Russian invasion in February 2022, is also wearing down the countries of the European Union. Billions of euros are pouring into the Ukrainian meat grinder and some governments want to pull out.
The most obvious case is that of Hungary, already under fire for resuming contacts, albeit informal, with Moscow. Now, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is declaring that “Ukraine’s accession to the EU does not coincide with Hungary’s national interests.” It is predictable that there will be no agreement, and then European unity will be shattered.” A real bomb has been dropped on the Union ahead of the summit on 14 and 15 December, which is to discuss the start of negotiations on Kyiv’s accession to the EU.
Many observers argue that Orban is using this card to force Brussels to release the 13 billion euros earmarked for Hungary and frozen because of the “level of the Hungarian rule of law”, which is considered far from European standards. But it is also true that other countries are uneasy. Northern European states are demanding a 20% cut in the Commission’s proposed 66 billion euro fund to finance Kyiv. Slovakia has announced the suspension of military supplies. On the border between Poland and Ukraine, Polish lorry drivers and farmers have been protesting for months against Ukrainian products entering their domestic market.
These are signals that are beginning to cause concern. Unsurprisingly, the President of the European Commission has intervened, saying that European countries cannot abandon ship now. “In these extraordinary times,” she said, “what we are doing is not enough. We must do more, both to meet Ukraine’s needs and to ensure our deterrence and defence.”
It is a statement that also reflects an awareness that the war will not end soon. NATO makes it clear that it is unlikely that the Ukrainian armed forces will be able to expel the Russian occupiers by the end of 2024. The war is in a long stalemate, but it remains a real bloodbath. Clashes are concentrated on the northeastern and southern flanks of the front, but Kyiv was also the target of an unprecedented attack a few days ago. Earlier in the week, bad weather had grounded flights. Now Russian forces have resumed bombing and doubled their sorties.
Military observers also say the Russians are massing armoured vehicles along the front line. Despite the many losses, they want to increase the pressure. A situation that has alarmed the Ukrainian President Zelensky, who, after visiting the north-eastern and southern fronts, has called for the “urgent intensification of the construction of new fortifications to counter Russian offensives.” The aim is to prepare for a difficult winter in military terms, when Moscow’s troops are likely to be busy regaining the initiative. At the same time, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that Moscow had “built up a large missile reserve for the winter.”
For the Ukrainian people, the prospect is of another harsh winter under bombs, with energy cut off, no heating in homes and little general aid. The harsh preview of all this came earlier this week with the Arctic storm that hit Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, at least 500,000 people were left without electricity, and snow, rain and flooding killed 10 people and injured another 23.
It is a dramatic situation with seemingly no way out. The option of negotiation remains out of the window, practically unworkable in the absence of credible negotiators for the parties on the international stage. For the time being, only endless confrontation remains on the table, determined by opposing wills: on the one hand, the Ukrainians, determined to resist and expel the invader; on the other, Putin, always convinced that he can win this archaic and absurd war.