Why West must try harder on case for Ukraine
What is clear from the YouGov poll published in Arab News today is that NATO and European powers have to work harder in various areas of the world, including the Middle East, to explain their actions and put their case. Many respondents felt noncommittal but craved an end to the conflict as soon as possible.
Ignoring the region as the EU and the US have done on so many issues recently is so short-sighted. The poll shows why a skeptical audience in the Middle East does not understand the Western position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Trust in Western powers has not exactly been high in the Middle East. This is understandable given the colonial and imperial records of powers such as Britain, France and latterly the US. Everyone in the region knows about the betrayals of Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration. Everyone knows how the poorly conceived US and UK war on Iraq in 2003 turned out, a disaster Iraq has yet to recover from. Russia does not have quite the same legacy to contend with.
In contrast, if you go to eastern European and Baltic states who lived under the yolk of the Soviet Union, you find an entirely different picture. They feel threatened, as clearly now do Finland and Sweden who are on the path to joining NATO. The Russian invasion has united NATO powers and Europe at a time when divisions had been rampant.
The poll highlights the perception that this is a European war and not something of direct concern to the region. It has extremely serious knock-on effects, but it is not a conflict to take sides on. Most countries want to see this ended and to maintain relations with both Russia and the US.
Mediating an outcome to this disastrous war has proved tough for European powers. They know this has upended the post-Second World War security architecture. The challenge is how to end this swiftly but to ensure that this is permanent, not just a cease-fire, where war can begin again at some point in the future. European powers do not want to live in the shadow of Russian threats and aggression. Russian leaders clearly do not want to feel threatened by NATO.
READ THE REPORT HERE
The challenge is how to provide an exit for Putin from Ukraine. Russian forces have not fared well and the “three day war” has continued for three months and counting, with Russia being forced back both from the edge of Kyiv and also Kharkiv.
Ukrainian forces could actually win, but that also poses a problem in how dangerous the wounded Russian bear would be. Is it wise to humiliate Russia? Aiming for an all-out victory could end up as an all-out loss.
Many have criticized the likes of President Macron of France for continuing a dialogue with President Putin. They cannot see the point. They may be right in that the Russian president seems very determined and unlikely to just withdraw. Many argue that the likes of Macron and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany may privately believe that Ukraine should lose some territory for the sake of a broader peace, something Ukrainians would oppose. Scholz has called for “a cease-fire in Ukraine as quickly as possible.” However, the recently elected German chancellor has faced major criticisms within the German parliament over dragging his feet on Ukraine. Italian leaders have also been reluctant to be as forthright as some of their NATO partners. Hungary under President Orban is barely in the European camp on this, and is blocking any further sanctions on Russia even though this has caused major ructions with is neighbors, especially Poland.
The counter argument to this is powerful. Russia occupied and annexed Crimea in 2014 and started a war in eastern Ukraine. It reinvaded Ukraine in 2022, had invaded Georgia in the past and pummelled Chechnya. How does one ensure that Russia would be content with just some additional territory in Ukraine and stop? Would this also not reward aggression? What sort of security guarantees would be sufficient for vulnerable states and indeed Ukraine itself?
Russia is on the back foot militarily so is this the time perhaps to push for a deal? It may have to be bold but would have to include the withdrawal of Russian forces to the pre-Feb. 24 front lines minimum. Russia will want to see lifting of sanctions and guarantees for ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
It will not be easy. Trust is non-existent. Neutral brokers trusted by all parties are not readily available. China could play a role but is closer to Russia. Israel and Turkey tried to mediate but failed. Without a viable political process then things could deteriorate rapidly. The fear is that by the time of any future poll of Arab opinion, the crisis will have engulfed the Middle East, just as it has Europe, as this conflict goes truly global.