Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is warning that declining support for Ukraine’s war against Russia could have dire consequences for the rest of Europe, according to a report from The Economist. Though most of the embattled president’s interview with the British news outlet focused on Ukraine’s counteroffensive, Zelensky also issued a warning—or perhaps a direct threat—about the reactions of Ukrainian refugees if the West withholds military and financial aid.
In an interview with The Economist published on Sunday, Zelensky began by discussing his reluctant preparations for a lengthy conflict given that the war has already lasted far longer than either the Russians or the Ukrainians expected at the time of the February 2022 invasion. “I have to be ready, my team has to be ready for the long war, and emotionally I am ready,” he said. Much of the interview paraphrases Zelensky’s words given his difficulty speaking non-native English, but the purpose of his words is made clear.
Given the duration of the conflict and the ever-lengthening odds of a complete victory for Ukraine, Zelensky addressed a changing mood he has detected among his Western supporters. “I have this intuition, reading, hearing and seeing their eyes [when they say] ‘we’ll be always with you,’” he said. “But I see that he or she is not here, not with us.”
Despite Zelensky’s intuition, support among Western governments remains strong, particularly in the United States, which has sent more than $43 billion in economic, military, and humanitarian aid since the war began. Although public sentiment has shifted dramatically against further support, the Biden administration greenlit a $175 million shipment of weapons and ammunition last week and is seeking approval for another $20.6 billion aid package.
Zelensky further expressed confidence that the outcome of the 2024 election in the United States will work in his favor regardless of the winner. If President Joe Biden remains in power, he is expected to continue the war effort to avoid “Afghanistan Part II.” If former President Trump regains the office, he will likely not submit to Russia since “that isn’t what strong Americans do.”
However, as the general public on which he once relied begins calling for an end to the war, Zelensky is reportedly growing uncertain about the future. Morale among the Ukrainian forces is flagging as the counteroffensive struggles to retake captured territory. If the West cuts off support, the fighting spirit might fail entirely…but Zelensky warns that Ukraine would not suffer alone.
In what many have interpreted as an actual threat against his supporters, Zelensky implied that the roughly four million Ukrainian refugees scattered across Europe might take their anger out on their host countries. According to The Economist:
It would create risks for the West in its own backyard. There is no way of predicting how the millions of Ukrainian refugees in European countries would react to their country being abandoned. Ukrainians have generally “behaved well” and are “very grateful” to those who sheltered them. They will not forget that generosity. But it would not be a “good story” for Europe if it were to “drive these people into a corner.”
The latest European Union data suggests that Poland and Germany each have one million Ukrainians taking shelter within their borders, and an additional 210,000 reside in the United Kingdom. A German migration study from earlier this year found that up to 44% of those migrants would prefer to stay in Germany forever rather than returning home at the end of the war. Were those refugees to begin lashing out against the communities around them, the potential damage wrought across Europe would indeed be a cause for concern.
“Is Zelensky suggesting that Ukrainian refugees in other countries could be activated like terrorist splinter cells if we stop funding [Biden’s] proxy war with Russia?” asked one-time Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. “This reads like a threat. How else are we supposed to interpret this?”
Is Zelensky suggesting that Ukrainian refugees in other countries could be activated LIKE terrorist splinter cells if we stop funding @JoeBiden's proxy war with Russia?
This reads like a threat.
How else are we supposed to interpret this? pic.twitter.com/JuFoQhkzIN
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) September 13, 2023
Although Zelensky gave no further indication that this could come to pass, he once again doubled down on his black-and-white stance regarding the war: “If you are not with Ukraine, you are with Russia, and if you are not with Russia, you are with Ukraine. And if partners do not help us, it means they will help Russia to win. That is it.”