The harmful effects of the panic over Ukraine
Ukraine’s current authorities face perhaps the most stressful week in office since 2019, when they came to power. There is no doubt that Russia’s possible full-scale invasion of Ukraine would be the most substantial military operation in Europe since 1945.
Western diplomats are urging their citizens to leave Ukraine amid security concerns that Russia is preparing a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, Kyiv’s authorities, including Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has encouraged citizens not to panic and trust the Ukrainian army. However, from the observer’s level, it is evident that concerning tendencies, including the evacuation of many western embassies, may send the wrong signals to Ukrainians, including information that an invasion is inevitable. While diplomacy is still being pursued, no one knows for sure if it is enough to persuade Vladimir Putin, even if he would face severe costs should he attack.
Certainly, it seems that in this case the West has learned from its own mistakes of 2014. This time it will not overlook Russia’s aggression. Ukraine has already received a significant amount of military assistance in the recent weeks and the West appears more united than ever. There is no European or world leader who has expressed doubts that Moscow artificially inspired it. At the same time, Kyiv has hosted an unprecedented number of foreign leaders last month, which once again proves that Ukraine is not be alone.
Ukraine is a large country in Europe – with 40 million talented people, most of whom see their future in the European Union and NATO. In fact, Ukrainians sometimes joke that it was Putin who has made Ukraine more pro-western than any NATO or EU campaign. Yet, after last week’s information from Washington that an invasion can come “any day now”, it is the Ukrainians who are paying the price. The panic has had severe consequences – including western airline companies cancelling flights, businesses relocating and investments being cut off.
At the same time, Ukrainians are keeping their spirits high by sending each other messages of support and organising rallies with the general theme: “Ukrainians will resist”. The Ukrainian armed forces are the primary institution people trust the most among in the country and it is now showing. In addition, international military and technical aid play an important role for the army to demonstrate to the people that while the diplomats may be leaving, the partnership still matters for western leaders.
During this crisis, which is sometimes incorrectly called the “Ukraine crisis” by the media, there is no doubt regarding the pro-European future for the developing democracy. This is a major shift when compared to the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan in Ukraine. Even the so-called pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine understand they will not benefit from Russia’s full-blown war and potential invasion of Kyiv. Most political parties in the parliament have indicated they are ready to relocate additional funds from the budget to support the army. And there is no one who would welcome Putin to Kyiv as a conqueror. It must be stated that this escalation is not only about Ukraine. Unfortunately, the EU and the US have come to understand that quite late, and perhaps only after the series of diplomatic negotiations in January, which, in the end, led to no real change.
In recent weeks, when the White House first started to use the words: “an attack is imminent”, it revealed a certain misunderstanding in US-Ukraine relations. Some of this was due to translation issues, as there’s no direct interpretation of the word “imminent” in Ukrainian which Politico has reported. Zelenskyy called on Biden’s team to stop declaring that the war is inevitable, pointing that an attack could happen regardless of what the West did. That is why he urged the West not to spread panic, as it is too costly for the economy.
Later, the Biden staff stopped using these words to not send the wrong messages; though it could be said that those insufficient misunderstandings in the face of the real enemy would not matter much in the long term. Moreover, the US continues to send flights with military aid to Ukraine, and Kyiv has already received more than 15 of them. In addition, Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba remains in close contact with his US counterpart Antony Blinken. At the same time, Zelenskyy and Biden do not seem to have serious issues in their tête-à-tête communication after this misinterpretation. The threat is real and it is an expected manner of a younger leader of a less developed state communicating with a more experienced counterpart of a powerful country.
Certainly, Ukraine continues to deal with the issue after last week’s announcement that “war will come any day now”. As noted above, this is having a significant impact on economic development. And the timing could not have been worse. Building an attractive investment climate is an essential policy for Zelenskyy and his team. Recently Ukraine launched the Diia city initiative, naming it as a new international hub for IT businesses. This is why he was concerned about the West promoting “a threat is imminent” narrative. Even without the capturing of Ukrainian lands or even the borders being crossed, such rhetoric seriously affects the economy.
For the moment, Ukraine’s current political establishment remains calm, at least publicly. And urges its people to do so as well.
Vladyslav Faraponov is an analyst and journalist at the Kyiv-based Internews-Ukraine and UkraineWorld.
Dear Readers - New Eastern Europe is a not-for-profit publication that has been publishing online and in print since 2011. Our mission is to shape the debate, enhance understanding, and further the dialogue surrounding issues facing the states that were once a part of the Soviet Union or under its influence. But we can only achieve this mission with the support of our donors. If you appreciate our work please consider making a donation.