While many countries, especially the underdeveloped ones, are suffering significant damage and are having to accept the reality that they have not much say in the war that is taking place in Eastern Europe, the Western countries are also having to pay the price of the war despite their having steamed full speed ahead in supporting it.
This support has ranged from humanitarian and economic aid to fully-fledged armaments provision and training, along with receiving droves of Ukrainian asylum-seekers with open arms. However, is that support now subsiding and interest dwindling in the horrific Ukraine war?
As the conflict continues month after month, attrition has been setting in, and interest, and, more importantly, empathy and support, are eroding. One main factor behind this decline is news fatigue – the phenomenon of becoming tired of prolonged bad news. It is a common pattern that takes place after the first wave of shock that comes with a crisis.
Earlier on, the world, hypnotised by the shocking invasion of Ukraine, was fixated on what was happening. In time, however, information overload occurred. Today, the world has been worn out by the news from Ukraine: headlines are often given a half-hearted glance, and stories in the media are given even less. Even the worst of events are met with a shrug of the shoulders by some. Interest is definitely dwindling, not because the world does not care, but because it has got tired of following the news, acknowledging and accepting the existence of the ongoing war.
Steinar Ellingsen, a Norwegian journalism lecturer, told the Euronews channel recently that “there’s a pattern when the news cycle moves on after the first wave. And then, particularly the further geographically away from the conflict you are, the quicker the interest pales. With distance, time and resources and budgets drain very quickly.”
According to Statista, a German data company, after a peak of interest following the outbreak of the war, the “popularity of ‘Ukraine’ has now returned to almost pre-war levels” on the world’s search engines.
Other news has also been competing with the Ukraine war. Hurricane season came with a vengeance this year as the east coast of the US was hit by storms Fiona and Ian. Civil unrest in Iran has never been stronger. Rishi Sunak, Britain’s new prime minister, has hit the ground running after Liz Truss, the previous prime minister, lasted only 44 days. Famine and starvation are extending across Africa. These are all reasons why the world’s attention is being directed elsewhere.
Furthermore, crucial needs are at the top of the list of people’s preoccupations, including the cost of living, declines in disposable income, inflation, interest rate hikes, and fuel and food shortages. These troubles in some cases translate into an inability to have a roof over one’s head, to feed one’s family, and to commute to work. Fundamental needs can supersede interest in the situation in Ukraine.
Many major economies, such as that of the US, Canada, Britain, and Germany, are bound to suffer recession from the fallout from the Ukraine war. In fact, most economies around the world are reeling from the pressures of inflation and the high cost of food and energy, all reasons why interest in the Ukraine war is waning.
The US has provided Ukraine with more than $60 billion to date, but for many the question is how long this level of support can be sustained. According to US Democrats, if the Republicans retake control of the US House of Representatives in this month’s midterm elections, they may not keep up the same level of aid to Ukraine.
US House minority leader Kevin McCarthy has said that with a recession forecast in the US Americans are not going to write “a blank cheque” to Ukraine. “They just won’t do it… It’s not a free blank cheque,” he said.
“Throughout July, Europe’s six largest countries offered Ukraine no new bilateral military commitments,” said Politico, a US political publication based in Virginia. Christoph Trebesch, head of the team compiling its Ukraine Support Tracker, noted that “European military aid commitments for Ukraine have been on a downward trend since the end of April” and also compared the funding provided to the Eurozone crisis and the coronavirus pandemic to the Ukraine crisis.
“When you compare the speed at which the chequebook came out and the size of the money that was delivered, compared to what is on offer for Ukraine, it is tiny in comparison,” he said.
In August, Politico doubted the continuation of Europe’s military support for Ukraine in the coming months. It explained that Germany is “moving too slowly to implement much-touted tank swaps with European neighbours” and said the “major European powers are not keeping up with the military aid coming from the US… Having led the charge, big-hitting Britain and Poland may be running out of steam.”
Of course, the Ukrainians are disheartened by the changes. They had hoped governments around the world would continue to contribute more to help bring the war to an end, but this does not now seem likely.
Meanwhile, as the war drags on with no end in sight, no settlement negotiations on the horizon, and all sides engaging in escalation, the world is focusing on its own challenges and dilemmas. It is less and less likely to become involved, all the more reason for the war to come to an end as soon as possible.
* The writer is former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.