Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Without peace, this winter will be harshest for Europe

  • If only those armchair cheerleaders of Ukraine bother to read about protests across the continent, they might realise ordinary people cannot afford to pay their bills for the war

Some people like to tell me most countries support Ukraine. Actually, I am not even sure most people in European countries that have been actively arming Ukraine actually support the war. Most countries around the world have no skin in the game, other than feeling its economic fallouts. And those who do are experiencing war fatigue.

The Western mainstream news media focus on every setback and reversal for the Russians, thereby creating the illusion that Ukraine will prevail, any time now. But there is no quick victory for either side; the war will drag on. Short of a complete disaster, the only viable option is outside diplomatic intervention to mediate for a peace settlement.

If only those armchair cheerleaders of Ukraine bother to read about protests across Europe, they might realise ordinary people can’t afford to pay their bills for the war. In Germany, people from the left and right, students, parents and pensioners have been joining anti-war rallies.

Here are some choice remarks from protesters reported in the Financial Times and the Associated Press. “Germany is serving as a puppet exclusively for American interests and those of Nato,” “Ordinary Germans are paying,” and “The embargo policy against Russia has failed completely and is being directed catastrophically against ourselves.”

“We want Nato warmongers to stop creating a conflict between Germany and Russia, between Ukraine and Russia … Peace with Russia. We want normalised gas and electricity prices.”

The war in Ukraine has become a “paradise” for “warmongers, arms companies and profiteers”. Last time there were such regular and large rallies, it was against the East German communist government before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Quite simply, anti-war sentiments have merged with livelihood issues as winter approaches.

A placard reads: “Biden’s War … Ordinary Germans are paying because America wants to interfere in Russia.” Others chant: “Energy security and protection from inflation – our land first!”, “Nordstream 2, open it immediately!”, “Community not division!” and “Stop inflation, the war, and the corona madness!”.

Large anti-war protests have also started in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Most of the world press ignored them because they didn’t fit their pro-Ukrainian narrative. But in early September, about 70,000 protesters rallied in Prague to oppose Nato and their government’s involvement. In Austria, anti-war and even pro-Russian sentiments have gained political currency, as the opposition from the left and right channel economic hardships for voter support by linking them directly with Western sanctions against Russia.

Moscow thought it was going to be a walk in the park taking over Ukraine. That was its biggest mistake. The West is now making its own big mistake, thinking Ukraine’s resistance will eventually lead to a Russian military retreat and perhaps even a regime collapse in the Kremlin. But Vladimir Putin has sold the conflict not only as a war for Ukraine, something many Russians may have already lost the stomach for, but an existential fight against the West. That resonates with many Russians and, given the proxy nature of the war, not entirely untrue.

Since Washington can’t deliver a quick victory, it will have to risk that more European voters will be in open revolt against their governments, leading to the rise of more populist parties and politicians who have no faith in the pan-European project, Atlanticism and American leadership. In the years ahead, they will have no trouble making nice with Russia and China.