Ukraine’s European allies are letting it down

Analysis by Luke McGee, CNN

CNN  — 

Before the war between Israel and Hamas took over virtually all of the international community’s attention, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the most pressing crisis diplomats were seeking to solve.

In Brussels, this week had been slated as a big moment for the Europification of Ukraine, as EU member states meet for their final council summit of the year to green light both more funding for Kyiv and, finally, the opening of negotiations for Ukrainian membership of the bloc.

All of that has been thrown into question by one member state: Hungary.

Hungary’s populist PM Viktor Orban has been Western Europe’s number one problem child for some time. Even before the war in Ukraine, Hungary had form for holding the rest of the EU to ransom. Most of the big decisions made by Brussels require unanimous approval from all 27 member states. This means that every member state effectively has a veto it can use to block core EU policy, like sending billions of euros to a war-torn country or letting a country into the club.

In theory, this veto should only be used if a member state has an actual objection to flagship EU policy, but it has increasingly become used as a tool for political leaders to get things they want in other areas. In the case of Orban, it’s usually to secure the release of central EU funds that are being withheld from Hungary by Brussels for its various indiscretions – like undercutting the rule of law or playing fast and loose with EU fundamental rights for LGBT+ citizens.

That appears to be the case this week, as EU diplomats and officials spent the early part of the week negotiating the release of billions of euros that had been frozen because of corruption and rule of law concerns.

It’s likely that this issue will be resolved to some extent and that the EU will be able to end the week with a press conference celebrating its continued support for Ukraine and its path to join the bloc.

But for some Ukrainian and Western officials working closely with Kyiv, the episode is just the latest bit of evidence that the thing they feared most is finally happening: Ukraine fatigue.

A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CNN that because in the eyes of Ukraine joining the EU is directly tied to NATO membership, any hesitation from its European allies are “bad signals that will encourage Russia to plow on.”

A senior NATO official working directly with Ukraine told CNN that this is part of of a longer-term trend toward the worst outcome: the West losing focus on Ukraine.

For more evidence of this you only have to look at the debates happening in Washington right now regarding funding for Ukraine. You only have to imagine how those debates will evolve in the looming presidential election year. In the world of zero-sum political gains, what is bad for Ukraine is good for Russia and Russian officials know it.

By the end of the week, the EU will no doubt have something positive to say about Ukraine. Money will be sent, talks about accession will continue. And of course the EU would counter claims of Ukraine fatigue by telling you exactly how much money and aid they have sent Kyiv.

But it’s hard to escape the feeling that Ukraine’s Western allies – even in Europe – are losing interest in what was once their top priority. And if even the Europeans are losing interest in a land war on their own continent, what is the rest of the world supposed to think?

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