Even as Challenges Mount, Europeans Stick by Ukraine

ROME — The high cost of living is fueling strikes, protests and mass unrest. Discussions about nuclear weapons have raised concerns and prompted some to call for faster talks. And Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is attracting politicians, including many from populist parties of the right and left who have flirted with him in the past.

But even as Mr Putin has bet on European fatigue and impatience to split the alliance and strain its weakest members, more than eight months into Russia’s war on Ukraine, the scale of the challenges is understated. Leaders have effectively used it to harden the masses. The spine and Europe are firmly held.

Many analysts believe the commitment will hold. As long as America holds the line.But gains in Tuesday’s midterm elections by Republicans, some of whom have questioned the cost of the war, could change those expectations.

Despite some kicking and screaming, governments across the ideological spectrum and on the continent — in Western and Eastern Europe, in the Baltics and along the Mediterranean — continue to support Ukraine and maintain tough sanctions on Russia.

Although recent elections have shown a slight decline in popular support for Ukraine across Europe, support remains strong, and the leaders of the continent’s three largest countries, Germany, France and Italy, are under external and internal pressure to cave in for the foreseeable future. seem unfazed by it, as they have all had elections recently. Most of those pushing for an immediate peace or a re-embrace of Mr. Putin have now split into political opposition.

“Of course we want peace, it’s everyone’s goal, but it’s impossible to achieve that goal, without peace, without justice,” Italy’s new foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, said in a brief interview in his office on Wednesday. “.

“If you want peace,” he added, “you need to strengthen Ukraine.”

How long such resolve will last is a long question, especially with the uneasy feeling that the war will drag on into the winter, and possibly beyond, exposing Europeans to a new world of security risks and economic uncertainty. will push

But many Europeans are up for the challenge.

“Putin is a dictator. He is attacking the whole European Union. I find it unbearable,” said Tristan Malinas, 28, a roofing student on a midweek break in Paris. Watching his 3-year-old daughter ride the antique carousel. “The EU was built for peace. He is trying to destroy it.”

Like him, many French have embraced President Emmanuel Macron’s presentation of the war as an existential war, a direct threat to the peace and democracies that have been carefully constructed since World War II. And strengthened by the formation of NATO and the European Union. Many also fear that Russia’s goals will expand and bring war closer to their doorstep.

“In France, there is a strong concern that if we don’t stop Putin here, he will continue – next will be Poland or the Baltic countries. He will eventually destabilize the whole of Europe,” said one of France’s leading pollsters. said Jerome Fourquet, whose firm, IFOP, still showed about 70 percent support for sanctions against Russia and for Ukraine in general.

Few French Russians believe the argument that the war was pushed by NATO and the US, he added. “There is no debate for the majority of the French people,” he said. “It is clear that Ukraine is the victim and Russia is the aggressor.”

Although France has seen widespread strikes in recent weeks over the rising cost of living due to the war, many French appear ready to pay the price for their commitment. It has helped that the government, like Germany, has spent heavily to cushion the effects of inflation and high energy prices.

An unseasonably warm autumn with record-breaking temperatures in October has also helped buy time – as Europe saves on gas in the summer, lowering prices and historically Europe’s best for this winter. Reservoir allowed to fill.

A new survey by polling foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung, a platform for European public opinion, found that 57 percent of Europeans, Below 60 percent In the summer and 64 percent in March, still support sending weapons to Ukraine.

“The French don’t have the right to just say they’re tired of the war,” said Florence Habbe, 50, as she played with her two sons in Paris’ Bastille district.

Rising gas prices have put an end to family weekend trips to the country home. But that seems a small price to pay compared to what is happening on the battlefields of Ukraine.

But there are still signs that European resolve may yet soften amid fears of economic damage and widespread war or the use of nuclear weapons.

Calls for peace have been a prominent feature of far-right protests over high energy prices and inflation in Germany, where 60 percent of the population believe more diplomatic action is needed.

Even the moderate leader of the eastern state of Saxony, Michael Kreitsmer of former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, has called for dialogue and reconciliation.

Some elements of Chancellor Olaf Schulz’s Social Democratic Party are also showing signs of a rapprochement with Russia.

Ralf Mitzenich, head of the party’s parliamentary group, accused the foreign minister of not doing more to find a diplomatic solution, arguing that a “balance” was needed between Ukraine’s right to self-defense and the need for diplomacy. .

That feeling is simmering around Europe, though for now, it’s contained in the opposition.

George Katrougalos, the former Greek foreign minister of the country’s main opposition Syriza party, said in a recent interview that there are now two camps in Europe. “The camp of justice and the camp of peace.”

“The justice camp says, now, no matter what, Russia must be punished and we cannot end the war, at least not until Russia is completely defeated.” “I don’t believe it’s possible for nuclear power. So I’m supporting another idea. The idea of ​​peace.”

But Greece’s government has been staunch in its support for Ukraine, as has Italy’s new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. In an interview before taking office last month, she said she would “absolutely” continue sending offensive weapons to Ukraine.

But Silvio Berlusconi, Ms Maloney’s coalition partner, was quoted this past week as saying the peace process hinged on Ukraine understanding that at a certain point, “it can no longer be trusted with weapons and aid.”

Mr. Tajani, a member of Mr. Berlusconi’s party, said that what mattered was not what Mr. Berlusconi said in private, but how he voted in public, and that he consistently supported Ukraine. .

“It is important for a politician, what we do,” Mr. Tajani said, in an apparent show of institutional and internal party strength, adding, “My position is very clear.”

He said the government would “follow European decisions” when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine. That small shipment of Italian arms, while unnecessary on the battlefield, has become a political issue in a country with the lowest support in Europe for arms shipments, less than 40 percent, according to eupinions. .

A large peace rally in Rome on Saturday included the center-left establishment as well as populists opposed to arming Ukraine and a number of pacifist and Roman Catholic groups.

They were prominent. Giuseppe Contethe former prime minister and now leader of the populist Five Star Movement, who has blamed NATO and the EU for continuing the war to rebuild his party from the left.

While Mr. Conte has maintained a pacifist stance for months, the participation of the center-left Democratic Party, a staunch supporter of Ukraine under the previous government, surprised many.

“It’s nauseating,” said Nathalie Tucci, director of the Institute for International Affairs in Rome, who saw the move as an open political game to woo Five Star voters rather than a change of heart on Ukraine.

Democratic Party lawmaker Marco Farfro said the party decided to take part to demand the withdrawal of Russian forces and to show support for Ukraine, which he suggested, though would not say explicitly. That his party would continue to vote for surrender.

He said that if any new request comes in the parliament, we will discuss it.

But with the specter of nuclear annihilation in the air, Mr Farfro said he joined the march “to put pressure on the international community and Europe in particular” to negotiate a ceasefire.

Analysts, with Ms Maloney and other major European leaders in no danger of an upcoming election, saw their support for Ukraine as concrete, protest or no protest.

“It all really starts and ends in America,” Ms Tucci said. “I think as long as America is in the position that it is, I’m not worried at all.”

Jason Horowitz Reported from Rome, and Catherine Porter From Paris Gaia Pianigiani Contributing reporting from Florence, Italy. Erica Solomon From Berlin, and Tom Novin From Paris

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