Since the beginning of the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany has often been criticized, especially by members of the European Union in Eastern Europe, for being too cautious. They have berated the German government, in particular for being slow in supplying arms.

To be fair, Berlin has sent a number of weapons, including self-propelled howitzers and multiple rocket launchers, that have proven their worth in combat against Russian forces. And the German government is quite outspoken about sanctions against Russia. It stopped the lucrative Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which supplied Russian gas to the country even before the Russian invasion began.

Yet there are now some signs that German society is beginning to tire of the war in Ukraine. An October poll shows that 40 percent of Germans believe in whole or in part that NATO provoked Russia to invade Ukraine. That number rises to a whopping 59 percent in counties that were once part of communist East Germany.

About a third of respondents share the view that Ukraine has historically been part of Russia and about the same number accept the conspiracy theory that the US had set up secret laboratories on Ukrainian territory to develop biological weapons.

What matters in this study is the trend. Compared to a poll conducted by the same organization, CeMAS, in April, the share of respondents with Russia-friendly or Russia-compatible views has increased.

That the Kremlin’s propaganda is catching on in Germany is hardly news. The anti-Americanism of the far left and far right, together with the pacifism embedded in Berlin’s political culture, provides fertile ground for Russian narratives. But Germany is not alone in this, as evidence shows.

In Italy, public support for sending arms to Ukraine hovers around 41 percent, compared to 57 percent in Germany and 62 percent in France. Skepticism reigns in Slovakia, Bulgaria – whose parliament has nonetheless decided to send military supplies to Kiev – and Hungary, the only EU holdout at the moment. In Greece, 28 percent blame NATO for the conflict and in Bulgaria 44 percent.

The war – and in particular its impact on energy inflation – has also caused discontent. On October 29, a large rally was held in Prague against the pro-EU government’s policy of supporting Ukraine. On November 5, tens of thousands marched in Rome to call for peace and to halt arms shipments to Kiev. Germany has also seen demonstrations and strikes against the war and the rising cost of living.

This is exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy is aimed at. By prolonging the war in a variety of ways – from mass mobilization to brutal attacks on civilian infrastructure across Ukraine – he is counting on Western unity to unravel as it goes.

He has also tried to put economic pressure on the EU by cutting off gas supplies just before the European winter sets in. EU countries have managed to fill warehouses for use during the heating season, and the price of natural gas has fallen after summer peaks, which could mitigate the effect of Russian energy blackmail.

Still, a recession is on the horizon, and EU governments could once again face strong challenges from populists. The recent elections in Italy and Sweden, in which far-right parties made significant gains, are a warning sign.

Populists can scapegoat Ukrainian refugees, including the more than 1 million currently residing in Germany. If Berlin reverses and cuts support for Kiev, others in the EU will soon follow. After suffering humiliating setbacks on the battlefield, Putin is hedging his bets on victory on the political front in Europe.

For now, such a victory is not very likely. Public opinion in Germany still supports Ukraine.

A September poll conducted by public broadcaster ZDF found that 74 percent of Germans are in favor of supporting Ukraine, despite high energy bills, which have since fallen. In another poll from October, some 86 percent of citizens see Russia as a “global threat factor”. That probably won’t change in the future.

Germany’s long-term strategy also reflects strong support for an anti-Russia front. Berlin has unveiled an ambitious program to boost defense spending and overhaul its foreign and security policy.

With the German government Setting up a 100 billion euro ($102 billion) fund to modernize the military, Russia faces a much more powerful EU west of its border. And as arms deliveries to Ukraine show, some of the new kit that Berlin acquires could end up on the battlefield in the regions of Donbas or Zaporizhia.

On the diplomatic front, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has not rushed to support calls for peace talks between Ukraine and Russia. In fact, he is working to convince China, India and other powers to distance themselves from Putin.

Scholz received some criticism for paying a visit to Beijing, but the journey seems to be paying off. The last communique adopted at the recent G20 summit in Indonesia points in that direction. Leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected “the era of war” and condemned threats to use nuclear weapons, a not-so-subtle disapproval of Putin.

But if there is one Western actor that could change the course of the war in Ukraine, it is not Germany but the United States. US support has been essential in helping Kiev resist aggression and liberate about half of the land Russia occupied at the start of its invasion. The unclear midterm elections won’t significantly change US policy, but there’s a big question about it Donald Trump.

Putin’s best hope is to continue the war, wreaking havoc and causing immense human suffering in Ukraine, pending a change in the White House in two years. Trump’s comeback in Washington would be a far greater prize for the Kremlin than a change of mind in Berlin.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.



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