How skepticism about US aid to Ukraine plays into Putin’s hands

Even the slightest sign of softening American resolve could comfort Putin as the Kremlin strongman prepares to inflict a painful winter on Ukrainian civilians and Europeans dependent on Russian gas.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has complained about the cost of supporting a government locked in a battle with his hero, Putin, leading to his first impeachment using coercive military aid. outline
It is clear that the bipartisan consensus on helping Ukraine still exists in Washington. But rumors that Biden’s hard line on Russia may not always have unanimous support come at a particularly delicate time as the West seeks to shrug off Russia’s latest nuclear rhetoric, warning that Kiev could use a dirty bomb. The claims have led to high-level talks between US and Russian military leaders and are widely seen as an attempt to create a false flag operation that could be used either as a scare tactic or perhaps as an excuse for Moscow to use weapons. of mass destruction.

Seeking to highlight US and Western commitment to Ukraine amid political debate, Biden issued a fresh warning on Tuesday against the use of lower-yield nuclear weapons on the Ukrainian battlefield.

“Let me say this: Russia would be making an incredibly grave mistake to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” Biden told reporters after being asked if Russia was preparing to use a dirty bomb. “I still can’t guarantee you it’s a false flag operation, I don’t know, but it would be a serious, serious mistake.”

The president’s comments were a reminder that Washington’s maneuvering around aid to Ukraine is taking place in a critical context, with anxiety still high over a possible escalation of war that could spill over into direct fighting between the US and Russia and plunge the world into disaster. Path to full nuclear escalation.

This is why the signs of a weakening political settlement in the United States and some allied nations are so significant. They could convince Putin that a winter war of attrition could sooner or later cause Western fatigue and thus weaken Ukraine’s fighting capacity.

Questions to ask

However, some of the questions raised by those cautious about the US position are relevant and relevant. A foreign policy operation that aligns the United States against a former Cold War foe and nuclear rival must be continually evaluated and justified by the president, taking into account the costs and risks.

The lack of a diplomatic path to the conflict — Biden has mused several times privately that he doesn’t know what Putin’s “outside speed” might be — is something to discuss and potentially test in relations with Moscow. And at a time of severe inflation and economic hardship in the United States, it is up to the administration and its supporters to show the American taxpayer why a war on the edge of Europe is absorbing billions in public money, even if not as much. Ukraine now has the “blank check” that McCarthy referred to.

Liberal Democrats urge Biden to change Ukraine strategy

The danger, however, is that such discussions play into Putin’s hands, who in 2016 demonstrated his ability to exploit and widen US political disruptions with his election meddling scheme and his hold on Trump, even if he won. reported the US intelligence agencies in a joint press conference.

Sooner or later, the political debate in Washington over how long the U.S. should stay involved in arming Ukraine — and how much it would cost — will run into critical questions that could decide the war and motivate Putin’s frequent escalation. of nuclear rhetoric that raises the stakes.

Is the West as dedicated as Putin, whose political survival may depend on winning, or at least losing, to prevail in Ukraine? And is he really ready to enter a dangerous cycle of escalation that could risk wider nuclear war?

Political drama on both sides of the aisle

Along with these questions was the drama of a letter signed by 30 progressives on Tuesday. Most members did not agree to release the letter this week, with some saying they would not sign it now because of the severity of the war in recent days. Outrage over the letter led MP Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congress Progressive Caucus, to withdraw the letter, saying it was written months ago and released without staff verification.

The episode did not threaten to expose vulnerable lawmakers two weeks before an election in which Democrats increasingly fear they will lose the House. In a future Congress, McCarthy could be given cover to argue that opposition to Biden’s multibillion-dollar arms package is not just a Republican concern.

And while the letter was removed, some of his feelings could boil over again.

The letter said lawmakers were under no illusions about how difficult it would be for Russia to get involved, given its “outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine.” But he added: “If there is a way to end the war while keeping Ukraine free and independent, it is America’s responsibility to pursue all diplomatic avenues to support that solution acceptable to the Ukrainian people.”

The problem, however, is that Russia’s conditions for any peace deal include blocking its own battlefield gains. Now that he has illegally annexed several regions of Ukraine, any conditions Putin would impose would be impossible for Kyiv to agree to. And if such positions were reversed, it would give the Russian leader the defeat he wants to avoid. So while the idea of ​​talking might seem appealing, it’s not clear how the U.S. can change the calculus on both sides. And Biden has repeatedly insisted that he will not negotiate on the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as Putin would like.

A progressive Democrat, Rep. Ro Khanna of California, told CNN’s Bianna Golodryga that he did not support the decision to withdraw the letter.

“I think the letter was good sense,” Khanna said. “I support the idea of ​​arming Ukraine and continuing to provide arms and funding to Ukraine, but I also believe, as the president has said, that we are at risk of nuclear war.”

“Don’t you think our counterpart should be talking to Russia? Of course, they should be sure it won’t escalate.”

At this stage there is also a risk that diplomacy will reward Putin for his human carnage in Ukraine.

“There is a moral and strategic risk in sitting down with Putin too soon. There is a risk of legitimizing his crimes and handing over parts of Ukraine to Russia in a deal Putin won’t even honor,” wrote Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut. tweet on tuesday

“Sometimes a bully needs to be shown the limits of his power before diplomacy can work.”

One thing the drama of the Democratic letter about Ukraine did was to show that while support for Ukraine is bipartisan, there is also anxiety about the war, although the skeptics have so far been a smaller group.

What a Republican house could mean for Ukraine

The presence of one more House in Trump’s ideological image after the midterm elections and more GOP senators who share his “America First” worldview will worry the administration.

“I think people are going to sit in the recession and not write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy said in an interview with Punchbowl News last week, which was picked up by Democrats.

But that did not necessarily mean that the California legislature had made the decision to cut aid. He may have been creating some political room for himself in the knowledge of the sensitivity of the issue in his pro-Trump party. In theory, a McCarthy speaker would pass the Ukraine funding bill using Republican and Democratic votes.

Watch as funding support for Ukraine erodes among Republicans

But whether his own position would give him a chance at a GOP conference is another matter. That comes as there is growing talk in Washington that Democrats could try to pass a monstrous bill through the legislative lame-duck Congress after a term they will still control, even if the GOP wins, to push Ukraine into next year’s fighting.

McCarthy is not the only Republican to sound skeptical remarks. Republican Senate candidate JD Vance of Ohio said he didn’t care about what happened to Ukraine before the invasion and that the US should be concerned about the influx along its southern border. (His comment has been used by his Democratic opponent, Rep. Tim Ryan, who is seeking to gain traction among the state’s significant Ukrainian exile community.) Vance is one of a new breed of potential GOP senators who may be more skeptical of helping Ukraine than the old guard of senior leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and black South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Sentiments similar to Vance’s are often heard in the conservative media. But such views typically ignore the broader implications of the war in Ukraine. The conflict is very important because it represents more than just a territorial dispute on the far side of Europe. It is a fight for democracy itself. If Ukraine falls, Russia will establish the principle that a large authoritarian nation can wipe its smaller neighbor off the map.

This would have serious consequences in other conflicts — for example, amid growing concerns over Taiwan, China trying to forcefully retake the democratic island. And a Russian victory in Ukraine could directly threaten America’s NATO allies and bring the US closer to direct conflict with Russia.