Russia’s war has brought death, destruction and misery to Ukraine over the last six months. But how has the conflict changed the rest of Europe?
Austria: Keeping faith with neutrality
By David Hutt and Verena Schad
The war has sparked calls for a debate about Austria’s decades-old faith in neutrality.
The policy, which dates back to 1955 when the country was occupied by Allied forces, means Austria is not part of the NATO military alliance.
Nevertheless, in light of Russia’s invasion, some want a rethink.
“A critical debate about the pros and cons of neutrality is necessary, even though the vast majority of the population supports the almost mythical neutrality,” said Alfred Gerstl of the University of Vienna.
Chancellor Karl Nehammer has “clearly articulated his wish to not debate this sensitive issue right now,” added Gerstl.
The idea that neutrality must not be discussed is also supported by public opinion, according to a survey.
To underscore this neutral stance, Nehammer, in mid-April, became the first European leader to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin for face-to-face talks since the start of the war.
Belgium: Delaying its nuclear power phase-out
By Andrea Carlo
Belgium has delayed its shutdown of nuclear power plants over fears the Ukrainian war could cause an energy squeeze.
The country, which currently has seven reactors, had been intending to phase out its reliance on nuclear power by 2025. But rising gas prices and the risk of Russian supplies to Europe being cut off have caused a change of heart.
Belgium says it will now delay the phase-out of nuclear power by 10 years, until 2035.
Bulgaria: War sours relations with Russia
By Euronews Bulgaria
The war in Ukraine saw relations between Moscow and Bulgaria, a former Soviet ally during the communist era, deteriorate rapidly.
Not only did the pro-western coalition government of Kiril Petkov back EU sanctions against Russia, but it also refused a Moscow demand to pay for imported Russian gas in roubles.
That saw Gazprom halt gas supplies to the country, which was almost totally reliant on imported Russian energy.
In July, Petkov and his Greek counterpart opened a new gas pipeline between the two countries, pumping in energy from Azerbaijan.
A few weeks earlier, Petkov’s government fell after the Ukraine war — among other issues — exposed divisions within the ruling coalition.
Fresh elections are slated for early October.
In the meantime, there have been protests in Sofia amid fears the current caretaker government will restart talks with Gazprom to turn the Russian gas taps back on.
The war has also accentuated divisions within Bulgarian society, driven by a large prevalence of misinformation about what is happening in Ukraine.
In May, a Gallup International Balkan survey revealed that nearly a quarter of respondents (23.3%) supported Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The same poll showed that 58.8% disapprove of Russia’s invasion.
Czech Republic: Key Kyiv ally that has welcomed Ukrainian refugees
By David Hutt
More than 413,000 refugees have been registered in the Czech Republic, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
That’s around 4% of the country’s 10.7 million population. By comparison, the 1.3 million-odd Ukrainian refugees registered in Poland account for 3.3% of its population.
According to a survey published in March, 85% of Czech respondents backed their government in opening their doors to Ukrainian refugees.
Another poll last month found that 75% were in favour of taking in Ukrainians.
It is thought there is sympathy for being on the bitter end of a Russian attack. On August 21, 1968, as Czechoslovak protestors took to the streets to demand a more liberal form of leadership from their communist regime, Soviet tanks rolled in to put down the “Prague Spring”. Naturally, Czechs — and Slovaks — have sympathy for what they see as further victims of Russian aggression.
The acceptance of Ukrainian migrants has been eased by the country’s typically low unemployment rate (around 3.3% in July), said Lubomír Kopeček, a political science professor at Masaryk University.
The Czech Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs tweeted in mid-August that around 101,000 of the refugees have now found work.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has also reinforced Prague’s recent pivot to the West, such as NATO, the European Union and Washington.
It has been one of the more vocal and active defenders of Ukraine within Europe.
“The strong pro-Ukrainian stance they have taken is credible and chimes with a substantial chunk of public opinion in the Czech Republic,” said Sean Hanley, an associate professor in Central and Eastern European politics at University College London.
Denmark: War sparks historic change
By Andrea Carlo
While Sweden and Finland have grabbed the headlines by announcing they want to join NATO in response to the war in Ukraine, Denmark also made a historic decision.
While a founding member of NATO, Copenhagen has had a long-time opt-out of getting involved in the EU’s defence policies.
However, that will now all change, after a referendum in June in which 66.9% of Danes backed aligning Denmark with Brussels.
“Tonight Denmark has sent a very important signal,” said Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen shortly after the result was announced.
“To our allies in Europe and NATO, and to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. We’re showing that when Putin invades a free country and threatens stability in Europe, we others pull together.
“Denmark now can partake in the European cooperation on defence and security. And for that, I’m very, very happy.”
Estonia: Support for Ukraine sky-high… like its inflation
Estonia is Europe’s inflation hotspot – its annual rate hit 23.2% earlier this month.
But soaring prices — driven by rising energy costs due to the war — have done little to change Estonia’s position as one of the continent’s leading voices of support for Ukraine.
Tallinn has given €250 million in military assistance to Ukraine – a third of the country’s yearly defence budget.
Estonia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has taken in 50,000 Ukrainian refugees (equivalent to 4% of its population), called for more robust sanctions on Russia and recently banned Russians from entering the country.
It has also begun removing Soviet-era monuments from public spaces across the country.
Tallinn has committed to stopping Russian gas imports and, to compensate, is building a floating LNG terminal in Paldiski.
France: Striving to improve its energy independence
By Vincent Coste
As in many European countries, the energy squeeze as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having a direct impact on daily life.
France is much less dependent on Russia for its gas supply — it imported 17% of its gas needs from Russia in 2020 — but rising energy costs, including for petrol and electricity, helped push inflation to 6.1% in July, according to the French statistics institute.
In response, Paris has introduced various measures to help households, such as a “fuel discount”. This help, currently €0.18 per litre, will be increased to €0.30 per litre in September and October. It will be maintained until December when it will fall to €0.10.
The government has also maintained its “tariff shield” to limit the rise in electricity bills to 4% and to freeze gas prices at their October 2021 level. The scheme will be extended until the end of 2022. In addition, €230 million have been earmarked for low-income households that use oil for heating.
Finally, the government will renationalise EDF, the country’s largest electricity company. It aims to protect France’s energy independence, which has been undermined by the war in Ukraine.
This energy independence has been further undermined by issues with France’s nuclear power plants, which meant in the past the country has been a net exporter of electricity. But issues like corrosion meant that as of June, 27 of 56 reactors were closed. Paris has now committed to renewing its nuclear power plants.
Finland and Sweden: How the war in Ukraine saw neutrality tossed aside
By David Mac Dougall
At the start of 2022, few people would have bet cold hard cash that by autumn both Finland and Sweden would have applied for NATO membership and be coming close to the end of their accession process.
In Sweden, the ruling Social Democrats had a strong tradition of neutrality baked into their DNA, and there was no particular interest among the voting public for membership; while in Finland only one big political party had been strongly pro-NATO and the public interest in joining had languished below 30% for decades (even if the diplomatic, military and security policy establishment were champing at the bit to join at the first possible opportunity!)
All that changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Fast forward six months and the two Nordic nations, which had been closely aligned with NATO anyway – are now conducting regular military operations with NATO forces on their territory and in the skies, and will soon be covered by NATO’s Article V on collective defence against any future Russian aggression.
While Russia has said there would be unspecified “consequences” for NATO membership, their sabre rattling has so far amounted to nothing.
“Finns are now more security-oriented,” said Krista Mikkonen, Finland’s acting interior minister.
“We have always paid attention to the safety of our society and we are in fact one of the safest countries in the world. However, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has brought security into the public debate in Finland stronger than before. Finns have been sad and shocked by the attack and want to strengthen our own security as well,” she told Euronews.
In Finland, in particular, a country which shares the EU’s longest border with Russia, there has been a reluctant acceptance that while successive governments and presidents tried hard to keep open channels of communication with the Kremlin, and established strong relations on issues from maritime safety to cultural exchanges, none of it was enough to be able to trust the Russians when it comes to security.
“Security is much more than just weapons. It also includes cherishing our democratic values,” said Mikkonen.
“In many areas in Finland interaction across the eastern border has been active and grassroots level connections strong. Now there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about whether there will be any return to this in the future.”
Germany: Will rising energy costs strain solidarity with Ukraine?
By Verena Schad
No other large country in the European Union has become as dependent on Russian energy as Germany.
So the prospect of Gazprom limiting gas supplies in the coming months is causing anxiety.
Indeed amid the recent heatwave, Germans rushed to buy electric fan heaters to prepare for a possible energy crisis this winter.
The government, meanwhile, is enforcing energy savings in the public sector to fill up the gas storage tanks before winter, as well as a gas levy of 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour, on top of the already drastically increased gas tariff. So it can get really expensive for Germans, a household of four can expect to pay around €500 more per year, not including VAT.
These extra costs could possibly strain solidarity for Ukraine in the long run. Critics and conspiracy theorists have already taken up positions to once again agitate against the state. Images of a “winter of rage” with unprecedented popular uprisings are being painted, especially on social media.
But Professor Uwe Demele, from the Eberswalde University of Applied Sciences, said such a doomsday scenario was wide of the mark.
“Losses such as a high gas price will probably be accepted as long as they don’t threaten their existence,” he told Euronews.
Away from the energy prices, another big topic in Germany is the supply of arms to Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz was criticised throughout Europe for his hesitation in sending heavy weapons to help Kyiv.
The war also saw Germany commit to spending €100bn on modernising its army, a big deal in a country where pacifist sentiment is strong in light of Nazi atrocities during World War II.
Hungary: Did the war help Orban secure a fourth term?
By Josh Askew
In April, a little more than a month after Russia’s invasion, Viktor Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party won a record, fourth consecutive election.
One of Orbán’s main claims in the run-up to the vote was that he alone would keep Hungary out of the war, while the opposition would drag the former communist country into a bloody protracted conflict with Russia.
“The war in Ukraine provided Prime Minister Orbán with a much-appreciated opportunity to step up as the leader who protects the nation from a looming war,” Dojcsak Dalma, senior strategy expert at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, told Euronews. “This image helped him to get his fourth consecutive election victory.”
Citing the state of emergency caused by the Ukraine war, Orbán signed off on a special legal order in May, which allowed the government to suspend certain acts of parliament and rule by decree.
According to Dalma, this legislation enables the “government to practically rule and decide about any issue without any effective oversight”, with parliamentary approval no longer needed.
“The extraordinary legal order has been and still is a tool for the government to secure its own goals and not to protect the people of Hungary,” she added.
Hungarian officials have said the law is necessary to speed up decision-making and protect peace and security amid an unprecedented crisis sparked by the war.
Under Orbán, Hungary has pursued a policy of what it calls strict neutrality towards Ukraine, which some pundits have said is pro-Russian.
Though the Hungarian leader called for a ceasefire in Ukraine, he has also refused to allow weapons transfers across the Hungary-Ukraine border, mocked Volodymyr Zelenskyy and lobbied against EU sanctions on Russia.
“The Hungarian government, alone among EU countries, is … trying to please Putin,” Hungarian MEP Anna Donáth told Euronews.
She claims Hungary is motivated by a desire for “cheap Russian gas”.
“In a neighbouring country, there is a war – the end of which no one can yet see,” the Hungarian government told Euronews in an emailed statement. “This war presents an ongoing threat to Hungary, putting our physical security at risk and endangering the energy supply and financial security of families and the economy as a whole.
“The world stands on the brink of an economic crisis. Hungary must stay out of this war and must protect the financial security of families. For this, the government needs room for manoeuvre and the ability to take immediate action.”
Italy: Will the election change the country’s support for Ukraine?
By Andrea Carlo
Italy has joined Europe in giving its backing to Ukraine. Italians have welcomed Ukrainians into their country and their homes — approximately 160,000, the second highest number in Western Europe after Germany — and the national government is thought to have provided Kyiv with more than €150 million of heavy weaponry.
Nevertheless, there are signs that the country’s support for Ukraine may be beginning to waver, as inflation, rising energy prices and an overall sense of war fatigue starts to kick in for a significant portion of the Italian public.
To begin with, Italy’s relationship with Russia over the past few decades has been complex. Under controversial former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure in the 2000s, Moscow-Rome relations warmed up, and the country has ended up receiving approximately 40% of its energy imports from Russia.
While all leading Italian political parties denounced Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, pro-Russian sympathies have proliferated among several parties, especially on the right. In 2015, populist Northern League leader Matteo Salvini opposed sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Crimea.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, several prominent pundits expressed attitudes that have been characterised as being “soft” or even apologetic of Russia. An example comes from Professor Alessandro Orsini, who thought that the west should allow Russia to win the war to avoid a potential nuclear catastrophe.
The Italian general public was also broadly critical of any kind of NATO interventionism in Ukraine — roughly 83% — and were divided over the provision of arms to the invaded country.
Back in March, a group of workers at Pisa’s Galileo Galilei airport tried to block an aeroplane loaded with arms headed to Ukraine.
As of June, roughly half of Italians oppose sending arms to Ukraine.
With the upcoming snap elections — which came after the collapse of Mario Draghi’s technocratic coalition government that supported the EU line on the war — likely to usher in a right-wing government headed by nationalist Giorgia Meloni, certain analysts wonder whether the country could see a change of direction in its attitude towards Russia.
Lithuania: ‘You can see Ukrainian flags on every corner’
By David Mac Dougall
The Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine didn’t come as much of a surprise to Lithuania, the Baltic state which shares a border with Russia through its exclave in Kaliningrad. Politicians in the capital Vilnius have been raising the alarm within the EU for years.
“Lithuania was always among those who tried to call attention to what was happening in Russia. It didn’t start yesterday or on 24th February,” said Linas Linkevičius, Lithuania’s former foreign minister, and former defence minister. The problems began, he told Euronews, when Russia instigated a war in the South Caucus region.
“When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it was not a surprise for us,” he stated.
Linkevičius said that life in Lithuania goes on life goes on as usual, but people are not as relaxed as before – although “empathy and support for the people of Ukraine is very high. You can see Ukrainian flags on every corner”.
Lithuanians have also found a novel, practical way to support the war effort by raising millions of euros to buy a Bayraktar drone to send to the Ukrainian military.
One particular area of concern however is Lithuania’s long border with Belarus, which Linkevičius said is “losing sovereignty before our eyes.”
“It’s 30km from our capital to the border, and the border is 280km long. It’s the EU’s external border with a country that is not independent, but which is a training field for Russia for a long time, and a platform for launching attacks against Ukraine.”
Moldova: Bidding for EU membership and fearing it will be next
by Madalin Necsutu
Just a week after Russia invaded Ukraine, Moldova formally applied to join the EU, hastening its planned pro-Western course in light of events.
Brussels later made Moldova a candidate for EU membership, the first milestone on a long road to joining the 27-member bloc.
But it wasn’t just the country’s strategic direction that changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The war in Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the Moldovan economy,” Igor Munteanu, political analyst and former Moldovan ambassador in Washington, told Euronews.
“Due to this war, the price of energy, various products and access to basic services skyrocketed.”
Inflation in Moldova rose from 18.52% in February to 33.55% this month, hitting pockets hard in what was already Europe’s poorest state.
It’s being driven by higher gas prices.
The country is heavily reliant on supplies from Russia and prices have soared by 47% in August, sparking ex-president Igor Dodon to call for snap elections.
On top of this, Moldova — like other countries neighbouring Ukraine — saw an influx of refugees following the outbreak of the war. More than half a million Ukrainians have crossed the border, with around 70,000 still living in the country.
Moldova’s prime minister, Natalia Gavrilita, said earlier this year that “coping with this influx is one of the biggest challenges any Moldovan government has faced over the last three decades”.
Also with the war close to its border, Moldova, formerly part of the Soviet Union, feared it is next in Moscow’s crosshairs.
But it’s not just its proximity to Ukraine that is driving this anxiety.
For more than 30 years, Moldova has had about 1,500 to 2,000 Russian soldiers on its territory following a war in the breakaway region of Transnistria, which proclaimed itself a separate Soviet republic amid expectations that Chisinau might declare its independence in 1990.
Amid the 1991 coup d’état attempt in Moscow and Moldova’s split from the remnants of the USSR, Transnistrian separatists backed by Russia waged an insurrection-turned-full-fledged war until a ceasefire was struck in 1992, which has held until this day.
The cessation of hostilities came with an arrangement to host Russian “peacekeepers” in the strip of land sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine.
Poland: ‘I told you so’
By Josh Askew, Michal Kranz and Andrea Carlo
Poland, which borders Ukraine, was on the frontline of the initial refugee exodus. As of August, 1.3 million Ukrainians have fled over to their neighbour, according to the UN’s refugee agency.
While much of the focus was initially on the situation at the Ukrainian-Polish border, large Ukrainian populations have now settled in towns and cities across Poland.
There was a huge, unprecedented mobilisation to help the refugees, with public and private initiatives providing food, medical aid and housing to the new arrivals.
Still, there has been some kickback. Faced with a mounting cost of living crisis and immense pressure on local resources, a minority of Poles have complained that the government is favouring Ukrainians over its own people.
A survey by the Market and Social Research Institute showed that 90% of Poles questioned supported Ukrainian refugees, with the two neighbouring Slavic states sharing linguistic and cultural affinities.
The long-term impact of this refugee influx on Poland remains to be seen.
“Whether [it] has a lasting, long-term impact depends on the course of the war and how many of these refugees decide to settle in Poland or return home,” said Prof Aleks Szczerbiak, a Polish politics expert at the University of Sussex.
Poland has also seen its regional standing soar.
The Ukraine war “provided Warsaw with an opportunity to raise its diplomatic and military profile as a key regional player,” said Prof Szczerbiak.
“Its critical geographical location, together with the fact that it is NATO’s largest defence spender in the region, means that Poland has become pivotal to the alliance’s security relationship with Moscow.”
Romania: Queuing to help Ukrainian refugees
By Euronews Romania
Romania — much like Poland, Ukraine’s neighbour to the north-west — has extended its helping hand to fleeing refugees.
In the early days of Russia’s invasion, there were queues at either side of the Siret border crossing: Ukrainians trying to get out of their country and into Romania and Romanians heading to the frontier to make offers of help to their neighbours.
More than two million Ukrainians have crossed into Romania; 87,000 Ukrainians have chosen to stay, 39,000 of them children, say authorities.
Thousands of Romanian volunteers have helped refugees with free food, shelter and transport, some also found them jobs.
The authorities, meanwhile, allowed them to have free healthcare and schooling for their children.
Beyond Romania’s humanitarian response, the country has also seen an impact in terms of security. In the build-up to the war, NATO strengthened its eastern flank by sending 1,000 troops to a base on Romania’s Black Sea coast.
That has since swelled to 5,500 troops, including 4,000 US soldiers and 800 from France.
Serbia: Stuck between a rock and a hard place?
by Nenad Jaćimović, Euronews Serbia
Russia’s war in Ukraine has put pressure on Belgrade’s strategy of having good relations with Moscow and Beijing while at the same time pursuing European Union membership.
Serbia is one of a handful of countries in Europe — such as Bosnia and Belarus — refusing to join Western sanctions against Russia, although it has backed UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the invasion.
Senior EU diplomats, European leaders and MEPs have all urged Belgrade to back the sanctions.
But there has also been pressure from Moscow playing on the pro-Russian and anti-NATO sentiment among the Serbian population. A survey in March found only 21% of respondents believed Serbia should side with Russia over the war; a poll in April found 76% opposing putting sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Good relations with Moscow have allowed Serbia — which is 100% dependable on Russian gas — to secure supplies on favourable terms.
Belgrade says this will ensure safe supply during the winter months and ease economic pressure in a country where inflation reached 12.6% in July.
Vuk Vuksanović, from the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, believes pressure on Belgrade has eased a little.
“Whether these pressures will return, it largely depends on whether the West will notice some worrying trends related to the presence of the Russian factor in Serbia, but it can also depend a lot on Russia, because the latter sometimes also uses certain forms of pressure on Vučić and his government to warn him not to try to get too close to the West,” Vuksanović told Euronews Serbia.
Vuksanović said keeping good relations with Russia has had a very bad impact on relations with neighbours in the region.
This includes Kosovo, a former province of Serbia that declared independence in 2008 but which Belgrade has been refusing to recognise since.
Its Prime Minister Albin Kurti called Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić “little Putin” in the past and recently claimed Belgrade, backed by Russia, will attack Kosovo.
Vučić has repeatedly dismissed these allegations. In a recent interview with the New York Times, he said: “Kurti wants to be a ‘little Zelenskyy’ fighting ‘little Putin’. This is his narrative — that Vučić is a terrible nationalist who wants to fight against everybody.”
“It is not true at all,” added Vucic.
Slovakia: War sparks crackdown on disinformation
By David Hutt
Slovakia, which shares a border with Ukraine, has been a key supporter of Kyiv since Russia’s invasion in late February.
Bratislava has already donated an air defence system to Ukraine and there is a debate raging in the country about whether it should sell its fleet of fighter jets to Kyiv.
Jaroslav Nad’, Slovakia’s defence minister, wants to hand over the country’s MIG-29s in the autumn for €300 million.
A recent survey in Slovakia showed just half of the respondents thought that was a good idea.
Nad’ put the low approval for this policy down to the success of Russian propaganda.
Earlier in the war, Slovakia’s coalition government passed a law that allows the authorities to block disinformation websites temporarily.
But the crackdown isn’t widespread. Pro-Russian politicians still publicly accuse NATO of being responsible for the war. Conspiracy theories still circulate. Public opinion hasn’t snapped too hard against Putin.
Slovenia: One of the first to show Ukraine support
Slovenia’s then-prime minister Janez Jansa was at the forefront of European efforts to show support to Ukraine.
Alongside his counterparts from Poland and the Czech Republic, he was among the first foreign leaders to visit Kyiv after Russia’s invasion. He met with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and received praise for taking the risk of visiting a European capital during wartime.
Speaking to Euronews’ Anelise Borges on 14 April, Jansa — who was ousted following an election a fortnight later — called for more military support for Ukraine and said if the country had crumbled in the early days of the invasion then Georgia and Moldova would have been next.
He also suggested that Russia had filled the vacuum of a reluctance to enlarge the European Union.
“It’s clearly a difficult issue [enlargement] for some member states but the vast majority support a fast track approach [for allowing Ukraine to join the EU] because we sensed we were very weak when we lacked the strategic answers to the strategic questions and now it’s obvious that if the European Union is not enlarging somebody else does and this does not bring more peace and more security.”
Spain: War causes splits in the coalition government
By Andrea Carlo and Amaranta Zermeno
It is in times of crisis that political fault lines are most commonly exposed, and, in the case of Spain’s coalition government, the war in Ukraine has been no exception.
The current administration, led by the centre-left prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, includes three other partners: the hard-left United We Can (Unidas Podemos, UP), the socialist Catalonian In Common We Can (En Comú Podem, ECP), and the nationalist Galicia in Common (Galicia en Común, GeC).
In the weeks prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tensions were already coming to the surface, as the coalition saw itself divided over the question of NATO involvement.
While Sánchez supported the alliance’s efforts and agreed to send fighter jets and ships to Eastern Europe in the hopes of deterring Russia – which, ironically, saw him aligned to the centre-right opposition party – equality minister Irene Montero, from Unidas Podemos, criticised such plans and saw them as leading to further escalation.
Since the conflict commenced, such divisions have not been resolved.
In July, Madrid committed to increasing its military spending as part of a NATO goal of committing 2% of GDP to defence.
The government approved a one-off expenditure of almost €1 billion that will go to cover unexpected expenses produced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s very simple to understand: what is spent on tanks, is not spent on hospitals,” said Podemos spokesman Pablo Echenique, responding to his party’s position on the increased defence spending.
Sweden: [see Finland]
United Kingdom: First and fastest to come to Ukraine’s aid
By David Mac Dougall
For a country that recently voted to be on the outside of the European Union looking in, Britain has ironically positioned itself at the centre of Europe’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They were among the first, and fastest, to offer robust military support — including hosting a programme to train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers — while the British public responded with thousands of tons of humanitarian aid and offers to host Ukrainian families, even if the government made it tough to get a visa.
But it’s Britain’s lame duck Prime Minister who has seized the political opportunities afforded him by the conflict, to wrap himself in a Churchillian greatcoat of wartime respectability after a series of damaging domestic scandals.
“Johnson’s support for Ukraine has been both emphatic and self-interested, and there is no doubt it is part of his premiership he would most like to be remembered for,” said Esther Webber, senior UK correspondent for Politico.
Johnson’s support for Ukraine is fuelled partly by apparent genuine feeling for the cause, and partly through his personal friendship with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
And it doesn’t hurt that it has also given him a useful opportunity to focus on the world stage at a time when he faced significant difficulties at home.
“At times his attachment to Ukraine has allowed him to rise above the domestic fray, with his supporters arguing the UK needed his leadership on this important global issue, but was ultimately not enough to save him from resigning.”
Johnson’s focus on Ukraine and Russia, and the need for top-level cooperation with European and US allies, have helped achieve a partial reset of relations.
“However mutual suspicion endures in almost every other part of the UK’s interactions with the EU post-Brexit,” notes Politico’s Esther Webber.
Johnson’s apparent successor as UK prime minister, Liz Truss, has also taken a hard line against the Kremlin, although she had an ill-fated trip to Moscow pre-invasion where she invoked her own wartime prime-ministerial heroine Margaret Thatcher, posing in Red Square in a fur coat and hat on a mild spring day.
But she will likely inherit the keys to Number 10 Downing Street with a slate of domestic political problems: from sliding poll numbers to the cost of living crisis; rising energy bills and environmental problems with sewage on Britain’s beaches: so Ukraine might not be at the top of her priorities list in the months ahead.
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