Fractures in Ukrainian Support?
Terry H. Schwadron
June 1, 2022
Four months since Russian troops invaded the Ukraine, there are broad hints emerging about the strains of supporting a long-running proxy war on the battlefield and in international resolve.
It’s our job to take notice since Ukraine and we have made this conflict a defense of democracy itself as well as an international rebuke of militarily invading another nation. Our specific job here is to hold our U.S. officials to what they say they want our policies to represent.
We need to ask: Is support for Ukraine’s resistance weakening?
For each new step towards an economic squeeze on Russia, there are reports about fraying political support among the Western allies, including a significant frittering among our own Senate Republicans about writing blank checks for Ukrainian weaponry.
The European Union decided this week to ban the vast majority of imports of Russian oil by the end of the year, a major anti-Russia statement that will test resolve with higher fuel costs at the price of denuding Russia of oil income. But, to get there, the deal reveals “the limitations of European unity and nod to headaches for the bloc further down the road,” as CNN reported. Among other things, the EU exempted oil delivered by pipeline to Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, prompting Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban to make public statements that could have been approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On the battlefield, Ukraine was suffering significant losses in battles for control of its eastern provinces — the areas that Russia has claimed most as its own property.
And in the U.S., there were flaps over White House decisions to provide a ton of weapons approved in last week’s $40 billion aid package that President Joe Biden insists will not include missiles capable of reaching into Russia (though allowing missiles within Ukraine). Significantly, a block of 11 Senate Republicans opposed more unsupervised weapons aid right now for Ukraine, raising questions of future military support.
The surprises all along have been the strength of Ukraine’s military resistance, the logistical and military weaknesses of Russia’s forces and Biden’s ability to hold and direct an international alliance to defend Ukraine. The effort in the United States and in Europe has been across internal political lines even in an election year.
Yet, we can hear the stirrings of concern about any eventual outcome of the fighting. Even the tone of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s rallying cries for more weaponry has altered somewhat to acknowledge that there may have to be a bigger push for negotiations with Russia.
As a New York Times editorial noted, “A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia, in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal. Though Russia’s planning and fighting have been surprisingly sloppy, Russia remains too strong, and Mr. Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down.”
With the United States and NATO already deeply involved militarily and economically, “Unrealistic expectations could draw them ever deeper into a costly, drawn-out war,” the Times said. “Russia, however battered and inept, is still capable of inflicting untold destruction on Ukraine and is still a nuclear superpower with an aggrieved, volatile despot who has shown little inclination toward a negotiated settlement.”
The editorial raised the prospects anew that Ukrainians may be forced to make painful decisions about ceding territory to Russia to end the war and allow millions of refugees from having fled.
The reports of a slow, steady Russian military advance through those contested eastern regions are increasing, along with image of civilian casualties and devastation.
So, too, are reports of dissension from within Russia about Putin’s decisions to continue to press for his vision of a restored Russian empire, control of Ukraine’s ports, and confrontation with the West.
Too often, the headlines and images blur, seeming repetitive, and testing the world’s waning patience. The pattern is that Russian artillery and bombs level a city or town, their tanks advance, and Ukrainian forces move in behind to retake land. Still, Russia has more troops, and is digging in now.
For Ukraine, this is a matter of survival; there are no questions, really, beyond pleading for bigger and better weaponry. For Russia, there is a refusal to rethink why this invasion came about altogether, and whether it remains will remain a good idea with mounting deaths of its troops and a tightening economic noose.
For the West, which seems content to let Ukrainians do the fighting and dying, the question is also one of resolve. For Sweden and Finland, despite specific Russian threats, to put themselves up at this moment to join NATO, is a sign that this alliance is strengthening. For Italy, Germany and Turkey, NATO members all, to limit support for Ukrainian’s resistance, tells a different simultaneous story.
Our White House seems more willing to accept the idea of a long struggle than do an increasingly vocal number of MAGA candidates for election, and that duality is mirrored in European countries. We have reopened our embassy in Kiev, we have appointed a formal ambassador, we are continuing to shell out money and heavier weapons. Still, you can hear more questions being raised.
It is not up to the United States to settle this war. That is a decision only the Ukrainians can make. But it is up to the United States to decide that it stands for international rule and against authoritarianism; it is up to the United States to stand up to Russian aggression, particularly if no U.S. troops are on the battlefield.