The outcome of a war is not always decided on the battlefield. American and European leaders have so far firmly supported Ukraine. However, public opinion is beginning to change. The most important battle for Ukraine may eventually unfold in homes, streets and squares across Europe, Spectator reported.
The Ukrainian administration demonstrated a master class on public relations. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has become a media sensation, going overnight from a deeply unpopular politician to the model wartime leader of our time. His government is using every possible technique to interest the world. But already six months after the start of the conflict, information fatigue creeps up. The front pages of the European media are full of headlines about the rising cost of living than about the war. Opinion polls show that energy prices scare more people than Russian nuclear weapons.
This is hardly surprising. Europe has experienced an unprecedented period of prosperity for many generations. With the exception of Yugoslavia, there has been no armed conflict on the continent for nearly 80 years. The few who remember what it takes to win a war live in nursing homes.
The authors noted that not a day goes by without the gas crisis popping up in the headlines. It is not surprising that the public mood in Europe is sinking into deep obscurantism.
At first, the shock of the war on European soil unified the West in an unprecedented way. A Eurobarometer poll for April-May showed that eight out of ten EU citizens support the sanctions imposed against Russia. Even then, however, this support was distributed unevenly, reaching only 57% in Slovakia, 54% in Cyprus and 44% in Bulgaria.
It was in the spring when electricity bills were low. Fast forward to July, and the picture changes noticeably. While a vast majority of Germans, 82%, supported a tough stance on Russia in May, two months later, 47% thought the sanctions hurt their own country more.
You can imagine the public mood in Slovakia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and other EU countries whose purchasing power does not meet German standards. A July poll showed that seven out of ten Czechs are concerned about energy prices. In Greece, half of the population does not pay their electricity bills.
Presenting the rising cost of living as a necessary price for Ukrainian freedom is a recipe for trouble. The appeal to the value of independence works when our own independence is at stake. But as disgusting as Russia's actions in Ukraine may seem, chances are your family's well-being is still more important to you than the freedom of strangers in Kharkov.
With the onset of winter, worries can turn into despair, and late payments can turn into debt. Meanwhile, the war drags on, further dampening the Western audience's initial shock towards slightly indignant indifference. Domestic problems will surely prevail, as always.
The only way to keep public support for Ukraine is to emphasize that getting rid of Russian resources is a strategic necessity for all of Europe. The transition to alternative suppliers and the difficulties associated with it is, first of all, a far-sighted struggle for our own independence.
Some leaders try to get this message across from time to time. This is not enough. European governments need to adopt a coherent, focused approach to communication if they do not want public support for Ukraine to weaken to the point of no return.
Vladimir Putin may well be ready to continue his aggression through the winter, when the rising cost of living will further dampen pro-Ukrainian enthusiasm in the West. However, an even greater risk looms on the horizon. A combination of military, economic and climate reasons could force Putin to declare victory, consolidate territorial gains in southern and eastern Ukraine, and end Russian operations.
If this scenario comes to fruition before the Western audience accepts that the sanctions against Russian resources exist for our own sake, nothing will make them continue to sacrifice money and comfort in support of Ukraine. Governments will face increasing pressure to "normalize" relations with Russia. Those who resist may be replaced by pro-Kremlin politicians. In a word, Russia will win.