How a Russian-Ukrainian Stalemate Will Affect the Refugee Situation

  • National Newswatch

Polling in the United Kingdom at the end of May revealed that support for Ukrainian refugees was already waning.  Two months earlier (March), three-quarters of respondents supported the settlement of Ukrainians in Britain, and 42% were calling for them to be settled in the tens of thousands.So, it was a bit of surprise when the same polling firm asked again recently and discovered that the numbers were dropping.  There are signs of this occurring in other countries, though the majority continue to show support for accepting those fleeing Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. Canada is one of those nations, though concerns that rising inflation, accommodation costs, and higher high food prices are slowly drowning global issues under the wave of domestic burdens.A subtle irony is growing amid these critical events that could prompt a more significant decline in refugee support.Projections are increasing that several Ukrainian counter-offensives are leading to an overall stalemate, thereby lengthening the conflict and causing the refugee problem to fade as an issue over time.  It's a valid concern.  The capacity to destroy or hinder Russian supply lines in Crimea is only strengthening this view, such as in a recent Economist editorial:“Spectacular strikes like the ones Ukraine has been conducting in Crimea this month, well beyond the range of its known weapons, show clearly that it is still outfoxing its adversary and maintaining the initiative. … The methodical destruction of Russian military power will eventually pave the way for the territorial gains Ukraine craves.”It has been an excruciatingly violent six-month campaign. Still, the influx of Western support permits the Ukrainian military to take it to the enemy in ways nobody expected two months ago.  Rather than leading to outright victory for Ukraine, however, it could result in a stalemate that will challenge everyone's patience – and memory.Ukraine's various political and cultural divisions have given way to a more united front formed because of the aggressive behemoth to the east.  The country's political components largely remained firm, providing a stability that wouldn't have held if leaders had fled.  Where Putin once boasted of a swift victory, he is now increasingly speaking of a conflict of attrition.  It makes sense since he is now confronted with aging military equipment, demoralized troops and their commanders, and continued condemnation from the West.  His murderous campaign now must be elongated more than he had imagined, leaving one Kremlin official to observe: “At this stage, I'm not sure if anyone knows what the endgame is.”As all eyes turn to the Ukrainian south and the effects of the country's pushback,  observers now speculate about a conflict in which neither side is strong enough to vanquish the other.  Europe, a continent used to military incursions on its perimeter, is now enduring its most significant conflict since World War Two, and it's had profound effects across the region and around the world.One of those consequences has been the mobilization of millions of refugees and the movement of the West opening its arms to receive them.  But that was in the emotional rush of the early days of the war.  If things have now reached a stalemate, can the tremendous humanitarian movement keep its focus and, more importantly, retain the support of Western people and their governments?  This is becoming an increasingly important question.Last week, a young Ukrainian refugee family visited the London Food Bank in southwestern Ontario, seeking assistance.  It was granted immediately, but an enduring narrative emerged when the food bank volunteer assisting them identified himself as a Bosnian refugee who had arrived in Canada in the early-1990s.  A former refugee helping a current refugee was an abiding story of great humanity but also a reminder that our humanitarianism is about to be tested at new levels the more extended conflicts are permitted to endure.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.