Is Critical Western Aid to Ukraine in War With Russia in Jeopardy?

Countries across Europe have had to deal with protests fueled by struggling economies and officials in the United States are questioning support for Ukraine, but the pushback may not be enough to put an end to the crucial aid Ukraine's been receiving.

The European Union (EU) Commission proposed an $18 billion aid package for Ukraine on Wednesday, which would go into effect in 2023 and help cover Ukraine's short-term funding needs. Ukrainian authorities and the International Monetary Fund estimate Ukraine needs $3 billion to $4 billion per month, but passing the package would require a unanimous vote and Hungary isn't on board with the plan.

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said his nation has spent hundreds of millions of euros to support health, education, cultural institutions and churches in Ukraine.

"We will certainly not support any kind of joint EU borrowing in this field," Szijjártó said, according to Hungary Today. "Why? Because we have already done it once. We supported joint borrowing during the coronavirus epidemic, and that was more than enough."

Hungary has pushed back on the global response to the war in Ukraine, resisting Ukraine's bid to join NATO and was hesitant in imposing sanctions on Russia. On Wednesday, Szijjártó called the sanctions a "total failure" during an interview with Roya News, a Jordanian media outlet.

Brad Blitz, professor of international politics and policy at the UCL Institute of Education in London, told Newsweek that Orban has rejected EU's norms and courted Russian President Vladimir Putin for the past decade.

"While all European states are struggling as a result of rising inflation, and in the case of the U.K. a weak pound, there is no evidence yet of a break in the EU consensus towards Ukraine," Blitz said. "Even if defense spending may be compromised by double-digit inflation and fluctuating exchange rates, there is no suggestion that Europe's commitment to Ukraine has declined. By all accounts, the EU and its partners, including the U.K., view the Kremlin as the greatest threat to European stability and security since World War II."

On Wednesday, workers in Athens, Greece, conducted a day-long strike supported by unions including the General Confederation of Greek Worker and ADEDY. It was in response to wages not being increased to deal with surging inflation, in addition to increased living costs and energy prices that rose after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy and Putin
At left, Volodymyr Zelensky speaks while standing next to then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (not pictured) at a press conference on August 24, in Kyiv, Ukraine. At right, Vladimir Putin congratulates Interior Ministry employees and veterans on their professional holiday, in Moscow on November 10. The EU has proposed an $18 billion aid package to Ukraine to fight against Russia in 2023. Alexey Furman/Getty; Mikhail Metzel/AFP/Getty

A recent survey from French anti-poverty nongovernmental organization Secours Populaire found 68 percent of respondents in Greece said their spending power fell "a lot" since 2019, the highest percentage of all six countries surveyed.

"The workers of our country, both in the public and in the private Sector, are fighting against the accuracy that is strangling households and citizens," ADEDY said in a November 9 statement.

In September, an estimated 70,000 people protested in Prague, demanding action on elevated energy costs and to assure that direct contracts with gas suppliers, including Russia, were in place.

Countries are starting to see pushback to sanctions, according to the European Parliament and nearly half of Greeks and 43 percent of Italians are in favor of lifting sanctions.

Jaroslava Barbieri, a Russian expert at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., told Newsweek that Russian leadership is deliberately trying to use food and energy shortages as instruments of leverage to pressure western governments into reducing or completely eliminating financial support.

Russia is "betting on war fatigue," she added, as the conflict in Ukraine is approaching its ninth month. It could also signal to the Kremlin and other authoritarian governments that they could get away with future violations of international law, posing potentially higher security and economic costs.

"Caving in to the Kremlin's blackmailing would affect Western governments' credibility with respect to their commitment to upholding the international rules-based order and set a dangerous precedent," Barbieri said.

Despite struggles facing Europeans, the EU is holding firm in its resolve to help Ukraine, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. In a statement, she committed the EU's support for Ukraine for "as long as it takes" to ensure they emerge from the war a "prosperous country."

This chart, provided by Statista, shows worldwide Ukraine military aid in terms of arms and weapons transfers between January 24 and October 3. https://www.statista.com/chartoftheday/

The $18 billion proposal is in the form of highly concessional loans and would require Ukraine to repay it within 35 years. However, it would mean the European Union would have to borrow on capital markets, something Hungarian Finance Ministry Mihaley Varga said Hungary would not support. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff Gergely Gulyas noted that the country was willing to extend financial help to Ukraine but wold rather pay it bilaterally, according to Reuters.

John Ciorciari, professor and associate dean for research and policy engagement at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, told Newsweek that the EU aid process is "cumbersome." He pointed to outliers like Hungary that can hold up such assistance.

"Germany and other key players are likely loath to let other EU members off the hook by moving too easily to bilateral channels," he said. "However, if conditions continue to worsen in Ukraine, they may see little choice."

While Americans are generally supportive of continuing aid to Ukraine, a September poll from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and Data for Progress indicated people in the United States are looking for progress on putting an end to the war. More than half of respondents supported diplomatic negotiations to end the war, even if it meant Ukraine had to compromise, and 47 percent said they only supported continued military aid if it was in conjunction with diplomatic efforts to end the war.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Ukraine would no longer receive blank checks for aid if Republicans took back the House in the November elections and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene called for an end to Ukraine aid.

President Joe Biden dismissed concerns about the U.S. pulling the plug on Ukraine aid, telling reporters on Wednesday that he expects it to continue without interruption. The U.S. has sent nearly $20 billion in military and humanitarian aid since the start of the war and Ukraine has credited the global help it received as a reason it's been able to repel Russian forces. Without continued aid, experts said Russia could gain ground.

"It could likewise signal to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his inner circle that once that Western support recedes it would be time to accelerate parts of the Russian campaign that are flagging, or introduce new methods and capabilities that have not yet been utilized," Javed Ali, associate professor of practice at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, told Newsweek. "It could also shore up his eroding domestic political position where he could point to the decline of Western support as an indicator of Russian success."