It's About Time

  • National Newswatch

The images emerging from Ukraine in these last few days have been fierce.  We had been told by those familiar with the region and Russia's recent conflict in Crimea to expect it. Still, we hoped that with all our words, speeches, posts, boycotts, global gatherings, and military assistance, we could push back when it mattered, to good effect.Now we know that we were perhaps more naïve than we thought.  Our fear of some nuclear option was both real and realistic, but now we see what the result of our hesitancy has done, and we're frustrated.  Now, we are talking about genocide, war crimes, and outright evil.   This sinister turn of events hasn't played itself out yet, and we cringe at what might come next.Vladimir Putin has consistently said that fighting the West was a sensible option since things get white hot for a time and then fade as the next emergency comes along that captures the attention of democracies.  Despite the humiliation he is presently facing, the chances are good that he still feels the same way.He might have a point, as even seasoned observers in the West have noted.   Back in 2019, the New York Times pointed out that the “global attention span is narrowing, and trends or concerns don't last as long.  The empirical data found periods where topics sharply capture widespread and promptly lose it just as quickly.”Our fractured attention is due to information overload, lack of participation in institutions that play the long game, and material distractions.  For the good people of Ukraine, this is something to worry about.  Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy knows that while time might be on his side regarding the military struggle with Russia, the West might increasingly abandon Ukraine.  For this reason, he capitalizes on every opportunity to speak to other countries through their favoured mediums: social media, parliaments, traditional news, and the printed page.There is no reason to believe that Western leaders aren't fully engaged in Ukraine's turmoil.  Yet the longer it endures, the more expensive the conflict becomes, and inflation's rise is partly linked to this European war.  Every political leader is aware that the same public calling for support of the Ukrainian people could at the same time complain about the price of gasoline and the ravages of an expensive economy.   French President Emmanuel Macron is about to run in an election, and the voters' fickleness will be on his mind.   He'll face citizens who want to support Ukraine while enjoying reduced inflation.  It doesn't work that way; he knows it and will have to make choices.  Germany must face its own choice between supporting Ukraine and facing an energy catastrophe should Putin cut off his natural gas supply.In many regards, the support for Ukraine is unprecedented, as are the depth and breadth of the sanctions applied against Russia.  But in America, the EU, and Britain, the pro-Ukraine tsunami of support has begun to wane.   It didn't help that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that the war would cause severe disruption to the global economy that could endure for years.This precarious moment in time is about to get messier.    There are far-right parties in Europe and America. Like the recently victorious Viktor Orban in Hungary, they favour Putin's “strong man” bravado and seek stronger bonds with the man the rest of the world is calling a war criminal.And what if Putin succeeds in blocking food, agricultural products, and energy resources to the rest of the world, especially Europe?  This could have devastating consequences, not just on entire populations but on the supposed renewed alliance forged between Western nations.  Let's say this war goes on into the fall, as many predict.  While we presently express optimism at Ukraine's ability to take the battle to the Russians, what happens when it goes on long enough that the economies like Canada's are threatened by recession and the high cost of food?  Inflation will linger, and food banks will be swamped.  Will we still have the vigour and sacrificial spirit to voice on every social media platform that “We're With Ukraine”?Zelenskyy knows he is running out of time in capturing Western support and says so in a recent interview with the Economist when he cast doubt on the tenacity of some democratic leaders.  This is democracy we're talking about here, and sometimes some of the fundamental problems of self-governance are the voters themselves.  Soon enough, new crises will emerge, and our collective attention will be diverted.The real problem with this, the greatest war in Europe since 1939-1945, is its size.  It's enormous, and the fallout will be massive.  But it will go on and on, to the point that we'll all be paying for it out of our pockets.  It's a matter of time, and it's not on our side.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.