Diplomacy Watch: Divisions Flare in the West as Winter Looms

As energy prices rise and temperatures drop, the European public is feeling squeezed by the Ukraine war’s secondary effects.

Posted on 12/3/22
By Connor Echols | Via Responsible Statecraft
(Photo by Anton Romanko, CC licennse via Flickr)
In recent weeks, Russia has unleashed a barrage of missiles in Ukraine, striking key infrastructure across the country. The goal of the campaign seems straightforward from Moscow’s perspective: If Ukrainians lose heat and electricity during the harsh winter months, they’ll be more open to ending the war.

That brutal logic has played out in a similar way outside Ukraine. Countries from the Global South have suffered dramatically from the secondary effects of the war, which include a worsening of the global food crisis and a large jump in the prices of many staple goods. This is perhaps why poorer countries have already shown a much greater willingness to countenance an imperfect end to the conflict than their European and American counterparts have.

But, with winter looming and energy prices on the rise, nature appears poised to trump politics. According to an analysis by the Economist, a 10 percent increase in energy costs leads to a 0.6 percent jump in deaths in Europe. “Hence the energy crunch this year could cause over 100,000 extra deaths of elderly people across Europe,” the Economist writes.

This is no doubt part of why officials from the European Union have started to lash out at the United States in recent weeks. As Politico notes, EU leaders believe that Washington is profiting from the war while shouldering relatively little of its ill effects.

“The fact is, if you look at it soberly, the country that is most profiting from this war is the U.S. because they are selling more gas and at higher prices, and because they are selling more weapons,” said one European leader who spoke with Politico, adding that “America needs to realize that public opinion [on the war] is shifting in many EU countries.”

So far, this change in public views has had little effect on European leaders, who continue to hold strong (at least in public) to the stance that Ukraine alone must decide when to start negotiating with Russia. But, as Anatol Lieven of the Quincy Institute recently argued, this view was much easier to defend in the early days of the war, when “it seemed that the existence of Ukraine as an independent state was imperiled.”

“[B]ut after a string of Ukrainian successes, and the restriction of Russian forces to limited areas of eastern and southern Ukraine, cracks in European solidarity and willingness to make sacrifices for Ukrainian victory are inevitably beginning to appear,” Lieven wrote.

This change has reportedly influenced the thinking of French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Washington this week. Prior to Macron’s Wednesday meeting with President Joe Biden, the Financial Times reported that the French leader planned to “appeal to Joe Biden to take greater account of the damage done to Europe’s economy by the war in Ukraine in his policy decisions.”

Whether that message came through at the meeting remains to be seen. But FT’s story noted another interesting wrinkle: According to one U.S. official, “Macron’s efforts to keep a diplomatic channel open to Russian president Vladimir Putin as well as his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, are seen as helpful by Washington.”

This may help explain why Macron doubled down on his calls for diplomacy during his trip to Washington. In an interview with ABC, the French leader said that Putin “made a mistake” by invading Ukraine but argued that negotiations are still a possibility.

“Can’t we go back to the table and discuss something?” he asked. “I think it is still possible.”

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— Russia announced Wednesday that it will unilaterally postpone scheduled talks with the United States over the New START Treaty, the only major nuclear arms control agreement between the two countries, according to the Washington Post. In an explanation for the decision, a spokesperson for Moscow’s foreign ministry accused Washington of “helping the Kyiv regime to kill our military and civilians in the Russian regions, providing for this increasingly destructive means of armed struggle, and sending American instructors, advisers and mercenaries to Ukraine.” Though the treaty remains in force until 2026, it’s been three years since Moscow and Washington have conducted inspections aimed at ensuring that the other side is adhering to its obligations.

— The Kremlin’s ambassador to the Vatican expressed “indignation” Tuesday over a recent comment from Pope Francis in which the pontiff suggested that the “cruelest” Russian soldiers “are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryats and so on,” according to AP News. The pope’s statement risks damaging his role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, which has helped facilitate several prisoner swaps in recent months.

— On at least one occasion since the war began, the United States has used a “deconfliction” hotline with Russia to express concerns about Moscow’s attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, according to Reuters. The details of the call are unclear, but it is notable as a rare example of high-level military contacts between the two countries.

— A top Russian diplomat suggested Tuesday that the United States and Russia are close to reaching a deal on a prisoner swap that would bring home U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, according to AP News. “Regrettably, there have been a few occasions when it seemed that a decision in favor of it was about to be made, but it never happened,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. The official lamented that communications between Moscow and Washington have been at a low in recent months, adding that a deal “would undoubtedly send a positive signal that not everything is so utterly hopeless in Russian-U.S. relations.”

This article first appeared in the Responsible Statecraft. Click here to go to the original.

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