Vladimir Putin has enough resources to “play the long game” and can afford to wait for Western voters to turn to politicians supporting more populist and nationalist ideas, according to an expert.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe and the US have sent military aid to Ukraine and enforced several rounds of economic sanctions against Moscow over the past several months.
But, almost 600 days into the conflict, shares of the public across the Western world are beginning to experience war and economic fatigue, boosted by a raised cost of living caused by the sanctions and war, according to an expert.
In the long run, this may translate to countries taking a more inward look and looking more coldly at Ukrainians’ efforts to liberate their country from Russian troops.
Michael Rossi, lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, suggested this would play into the hands of Putin.
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He told Express.co.uk: “The longer [the war and sanctions] drag on and the more this is seen as a proxy war, people like [Slovakia’s former Prime Minister] Robert Fico, [Hungary’s Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán and [former leader of France’s National Rally] Marine Le Pen are going to grow and they’re going to grow in electoral support, not because people support their ideologies, but because it’s just the support for the opposition.”
The expert also explained: “Russia plays the long game, this is how they do it all the time. They have the resources, the money and the diplomatic wherewithal to withstand [war and sanctions]. And yes, this is a way of eventually letting Europe just kind of implode from within.”
Among the countries with a large percentage of people thinking Russia is not guilty of starting the war in Ukraine is Slovakia, where on September 30 citizens are heading to the ballot.
Among the Prime Minister hopefuls is Robert Fico, who in recent months voiced messages likely to have pleased Putin.
The Slovak politician, who was ousted as Prime Minister in 2018, has embraced a more populist stance this year to attempt a return to power.
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Among his pledges made ahead of the September 30 elections in Slovakia, Mr Fico said he would stop providing military aid to war-torn Ukraine and spoke against sanctions targeting Russia.
Speaking about the possible election of Mr Fico, Mr Rossi continued: “When we get governments like that it certainly helps Russia out, although doesn’t help them out tremendously. I mean, Slovakia kind of moving in the other direction doesn’t really do anything in the long run.
“Russia definitely relies more on friendly relations with bigger countries like Turkey and India and China, but yes, this is a way of eroding support within.”
Mr Rossi stressed Mr Fico’s pro-Russian stance would certainly be curbed even if he was elected, given he would likely need to create a government coalition with at least two other parties in order to be able to reach the majority in Parliament.
Nevertheless, a victory of Mr Fico’s Smer party could be a first signal of a shift in the Western’s view of the Ukraine war, the expert said.
He said: “This may, and I emphasise may, be a harbinger for what’s to come in other countries, like Germany or France.”
Mr Rossi noted the National Front spoke against Russian sanctions, claiming these measures were “sanctions on the French”.
In Germany, where Chancellor and SPD member Olaf Scholz has so far failed to conquer the support of the public, Mr Rossi said voters may vote for a change.
He said: “Will that translate into votes for Alternative for Deutschland? Will that translate into the Christian Democratic Union becoming more populist in character to make up, to account for the support AFD gets? This is unknown, but voter anger does shift whenever economic conditions become worse.”
Ahead of next year’s presidential elections in the US, analysts are also discussing whether a return of Donald Trump to the White House could translate into more subdued support for Ukraine from the States.
Mr Rossi stressed the importance of not confusing the public’s anger at economic measures backfiring for support to Putin and Russia.
He explained: “Now, the big issue is, does that translate into being pro-Russia? Or does that translate simply into being anti-sanction?
“Because if it’s the second, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the public is now pro-Putin, it doesn’t mean that they’re pro-Russia”.
Rather, Mr Rossi added, it could show fatigue in light of what some see as a proxy war between the US and Russia and an expression of tiredness of “getting stuck in the middle” through economic sanctions.
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