Dec 24, 2022 - World

Support for Ukraine has shattered experts' predictions — and Putin's

President Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron (center) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the G20 in Indonesia in November. Photo: Aditya Pradana Putra/Antara/Pool via Getty Images

Ten months after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the West remains united in its staggering support for Ukraine.

The big picture: Neither the sheer scale of the global response, nor the West's ability to maintain it, seemed inevitable — or even likely — when the invasion began. But the support for Ukraine has changed the course of that war and sent a signal that the West may be more united overall than some experts believed.

What they're saying: "If anybody had told you in January that Europe as a whole, led by Germany, would be doing everything they can to cut fossil fuel dependence on Russia, you'd have said they were crazy," said Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO. "And yet, that's what they're doing."

Arms shipments to Ukraine over the year are without precedent, at least since World War II — and they're still increasing.

  • Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington was largely a lovefest. And when Biden was asked about Western unity fraying in 2023, he replied he was "not at all worried."

Flashback: The West responded to the 2014 annexation of Crimea with sanctions. But their effects were manageable for the Kremlin. Germany — which relied on Moscow for more than 50% of its gas — maintained close economic links with Russia.

  • And right up until Putin made his move in February, many of NATO's biggest powers cast doubt on U.S. intelligence about a looming invasion.

But once the invasion came, the response was far swifter and stronger than even most in the alliance would have predicted.

  • "The countries that had been most wary of offending Putin, basically, were shocked into responding in the way they did," Daalder said. "And that includes, first and foremost, Germany.”

The Kremlin's plans were predicated on taking Kyiv quickly, and essentially forcing the West to accept its victory as a fait accompli, said Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Endowment.

  • Ukraine's success in rebuffing that advance and retaking territory encouraged its Western backers to send a growing array of weapons. Evidence of Russian atrocities in cities like Bucha increased the momentum behind sanctions.
  • Putin now seems to be wagering that he can wait out the West — particularly if his strikes on cities push ever more refugees to Europe, and the lack of Russian gas deepens Europe’s energy crisis, Gabuev says.

What's next: European officials say there’s no chance of unwinding the sanctions with the war still raging, or shifting back to Russian gas.

  • There are real questions about the sustainability of arms shipments, due in large part to the skepticism of some House Republicans. But the taps won’t turn off any time soon, thanks to the $47 billion in aid to Ukraine included in the omnibus bill.

Reality check: That’s not to say the allies are perfectly aligned across the board.

The bottom line: “The framework within which those discussions take place is, 'We can't afford to be split on this,’” Daalder said.

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