National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

When the war in Ukraine began on February 24, there was an immediate sense that it would get bigger, Putin would get angrier, and the West would be increasingly drawn into the conflict.  All of these occurred and kept the world transfixed.

Yet, in the last four months, we’ve witnessed political chaos in the UK, heartbreaking shootings in America, a Monkeypox outbreak in Africa, a leadership review in Alberta and a recently concluded Ontario election.  These have pulled our attention from the Ukraine-Russia conflict, even as the consequences become direr in that devastated land.  The results of our lack of awareness are readily apparent.

It’s rare to see Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the news, whereas he once dominated our screens numerous times each day and night.  The Western world was his stage, and he performed in this tragic play with power and distinction.  The trouble is, we aren’t watching as we used to.

It’s clear that the external alliance of countries supporting Ukraine still holds, even risking sending more powerful weapons systems.  However, newscasts are covering more domestic pressures at home, like rising fuel costs, growing inflation, high food prices, soaring rents and home prices, and the sense that Western economies are entering a dark period.  People worldwide still care for the Ukrainian people but are more frequently looking over their collective shoulder to see storm clouds brewing.

Inflation hasn’t been this high in 40 years, and economists worldwide are warning of an imminent recession in the coming months.  The war is now costing billions of dollars, money that domestic audiences might prefer to be allocated to mounting costs at home.

When Henry Kissinger urged Ukraine to cede over some territory to secure settlement, Ukrainians seethed at the suggestion. Still, four or five months from now, such a conclusion might be acceptable to Zelenskyy’s Western partners.  And it’s possible that populations, perhaps in the grips of a recession, would press their leaders to encourage such a compromise.

Should this, or something like it, occur, Putin will view it as a positive sign for his efforts if he is still waging war at that time.  His plan was always to wait out what he regarded as the fleeting empathetic sentimentalism of democracies.  Ironically, he might have to face his own nightmares as his people continue to reel under the comprehensive sanctions imposed on Russia by the rest of the world.

President Joe Biden submitted an op-ed to the New York Times last weekend, cryptically noting that “freedom is not free,” meaning it’s expensive.  He understands well enough that a time is coming when the economic pressures of home begin to transcend the West’s support of Ukraine.  Zelenskyy gets it too, observing in a CBS interview that people “shouldn’t forget about Ukraine.  We have the same values, we have the same colour of blood, we are fighting for freedom, and we will win.”

This could become wishful thinking if the West doesn’t start healing what ails it.  Populations in every country increasingly feel abandoned by the politics and their elites.  Their efforts of pressing for reforms at home will eventually overpower their sincere desire to protect Ukraine.  The answer to helping a noble ally is not to just provide it with military might but by enhancing the power and principle of our democracies before they become too weak to take on any real challenges and forget our friends in the process.

Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 35 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.
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