The New York Times brought some of their people together to talk about Ukraine, and the interesting thing that came out of it for me was their consensus that the Russians are intentionally creating millions of refugees as a way to put pressure on Europe:
Lulu Garcia-Navarro: I want to turn to the refugee crisis, because as you have mentioned — all three of you — this is the third front of this war, where people are being killed and displaced by Russia in order to change the course of the war. It’s estimated that nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced by the invasion, including half of all Ukrainian children, and three and a half million of those people have left the country entirely. And we know that in recent years immigration has been a really fraught topic in Europe.
Tom, you have talked about the pressure this influx of refugees will put on European countries and how it might be part of Putin’s strategy to fracture NATO’s response to the invasion. Do you think that Europe can continue to absorb these numbers? The United States has said that they are going to be admitting 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, but that’s a drop in the bucket.
Thomas L. Friedman: It’s a real problem. We live in an age where it’s just harder and harder to be a country, to hold together as a country. And we see the stresses and strains on weak and frail states now and in places like the Middle East. I point to Lebanon, which has received a huge influx of refugees from the Syrian war, which the Russians were also involved in. These kinds of pressures on countries at a time of climate change, at a time of economic stress, they make it very hard just to be a country in general. Then add on that suddenly the pressure of having to absorb not 100,000 but several million refugees all at once, many of them women, children and elderly — not working males, because they’ve stayed behind in Ukraine. And you have just enormous pressure.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro: At the same time, though, there is massive public support of Ukrainian refugees right now. Farah, what was the sense you got from your recent trip to Poland about the continuing appetite to support them? Do you sense that there’s a sell-by date?
Farah Stockman: I saw a huge outpouring that was in many ways unexpected. A lot of Ukrainians living in Poland have experienced discrimination. They tend to work low-wage jobs. And they said Polish people tended to look down on them.
But all of a sudden, as soon as Russia invades, they were welcomed. And they were seeing Ukrainian flags flying from the Warsaw city hall. C.E.O.s and software developers were taking off work and going to the border and offering people rides and putting people up in their homes. So there has been this extraordinary outpouring, partly out of gratitude. I think Polish people know what it’s like to be invaded by Russians. And they were happy that the Ukrainians were putting up such a fight.
But I do think there could be a sell-by date. The mayor of Warsaw told me that he’d been getting calls from people who said, I put these Ukrainians up for a couple of days. Where should I take them now? What should I do with them now? So it’s going to require a huge effort. And in Poland, it’s very polarized there, just like it is here. The city of Warsaw is liberal, and the government itself has historically been very anti-immigrant and more far right.
So it’s going to be a challenge for Poland to navigate this. Right now they’re holding it together and putting on a united front to face the crisis. But a year from now, or two years from now, I wonder what it’s going to look like.