Is the World Weary of War in Ukraine?
Western countries are attempting to move beyond their early wartime postures without seeking an end to the war itself.
The ships laden with grain recently leaving the ports of Ukraine might be taken to suggest that those who doubted it was possible for Ukraine and Russia to negotiate had been wrong. But with the exception of a brief meeting between U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, there have been no recent diplomatic attempts to negotiate an end to the war.
Instead, the U.S. has consistently discouraged negotiations. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Zelensky not to negotiate with Russia. In his dying days as prime minister, he repeated that call on August 24, saying that now was not the time to promote a “flimsy plan for negotiation” with Russia.
An August 22 article in the Financial Times leads with the misleading headline, “Russia rules out peace deal to end Ukraine war.” But the Russian representative to the U.N. said, not that Russia was ruling out negotiations, but that negotiations had been ruled out by an absence of diplomacy in the West. “We do not have any contacts with the western delegations,” Gennady Gatilov said. “Unfortunately, we simply do not talk to each other.” Because the U.N. has become mired in “politicisation,” he said, “Now, I do not see any possibility for diplomatic contacts.” Gatilov was not ruling out peace talks. He was expressing regret that they had been ruled out, complaining that “the U.N. should be playing a bigger role in attempts to end the conflict.”
Gatilov blamed the West, charging the U.S. and its NATO allies with pressuring Ukraine to abandon negotiations—a charge that echoes Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s complaint that positive talks in Istanbul were stymied because “following the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, it was the impression that…there are those within the NATO member states that want the war to continue.”
Though it seems world leaders are not trying to end the war, there is some evidence that the world is beginning to weary of it.
According to data collected by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, shipments of military aid to Ukraine from European countries have been trending down since April. In July, Europe’s six largest countries made no new military commitments for the first time since the war started. The data includes arms shipments from the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland. The Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker reported that “the flow of new international support for Ukraine has dried up in July. No large EU country like Germany, France or Italy, has made significant new pledges.”
But while Europe’s arms shipments to Ukraine are down, its trade with Russia is up. It has been no secret that Russia’s oil exports have lost little to the U.S.-led sanctions. China’s and India’s increases in Russian oil imports alone have balanced losses to Western sanctions. China has increased imports of Russian oil by 55 percent, and Russia is now the second largest exporter of oil to India. Even Saudi Arabia has more than doubled its imports of Russian oil, while Russian oil now accounts for almost half of Turkey’s energy requirements.
A better kept secret is that the same countries that are decreasing their arms exports to Ukraine are increasing their goods exports to Russia. According to analysis of the 39 countries that accounted for 72 percent of Russian imports prior to the war, as the sanctions kicked in, exports to Russia dropped by 57 percent. In April—the same month arms exports started trending down—exports of goods started trending up. By June, exports were nearly back to pre-war levels, climbing back up by 47 percent. And here’s the secret: most of that increase in exports to Russia was attributable to countries, including European countries, who signed up for sanctions.
And that trade trend is continuing. Chinese exports to Russia in July went up by 35 percent over June, lifting them above pre-war levels. Turkey is exporting more to Russia—40 percent more—than before the war.
And Turkey is doing more than sending goods to Russia, strengthening bonds not only in trade but even in tourism. This month, Erdogan and Putin met, agreeing to increase energy, economic, and other ties. At present, Russia is helping Turkey build its first nuclear power plant.
The world’s weariness is showing, not only in military commitment and trade, but in diplomacy too. After the initial wave of U.N. condemnations of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the tide has turned to a trickle. Western diplomats have lost their momentum in pushing against Russia.
It is not just that “it has become harder to find meaningful ways to penalize Russia," as Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the independent International Crisis Group put it. It is also that “Western countries are shying away from some specific moves, fearing tepid support,” as Reuters recently reported. Recent moves have found “rising vote abstentions” and “growing unwillingness to publicly oppose Moscow, diplomats and observers said.”
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In June, the E.U. contemplated naming a U.N. expert to investigate human rights violations in Russia but abandoned the plan over concerns that nearly half of the U.N. Human Rights Commission would oppose it. Even April’s successful General Assembly vote to kick Russia out of the Human Rights Council saw 47 percent of voting countries either vote against the motion or abstain. With some countries not voting, only 48 percent of all member countries voted for the motion against Russia.
A senior Asian diplomat told Reuters that “there is no appetite for further action unless red lines are crossed.” A senior African diplomat expressed frustration that “a conflict like this is in essence being encouraged to continue indefinitely” by the West supplying arms to Ukraine but no talks to end the fighting.
The West is not trying to stop the war, but it may be growing weary of it.