The administration’s approval of $675 million in military aid to Ukraine is good news, as is President Biden’s request to Congress for $11.7 billion in further assistance. However divided America’s politics might be at the moment, a decisive Ukrainian victory is in the interest of both parties — and it just might be within reach.
Missing this opportunity could be disastrous. Ukraine’s current predicament is characterized by a tension between two conflicting imperatives: a military-tactical one and a political one. On the battlefield, the counteroffensive in the south, aimed at retaking Kherson, is moving forward successfully. Similarly in the north, outside Kharkiv, Ukrainian forces have been slowly chipping away at the Russian forces.
Not being in a position to retake its territory in a sweeping Blitzkrieg, Ukrainian command is acting patiently. Rather than obsessing about territorial gains, it has gradually degraded Russian capabilities and supply lines. It is thus far from obvious that the coming cold weather will favor Russian defenses — the Russians are fighting in unfriendly territory, and their own logistics would have been disastrous even without Ukraine’s concerted efforts at disruption.
Much like bankruptcy, a Russian defeat is likely to come about very slowly and then all at once. Give it a few more weeks, or months, and Russian positions are bound to become unsustainable, forcing a withdrawal — or perhaps a mass mobilization in Russia, which would carry dramatic political risks for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
The problem, however, is that the Ukrainians do not necessarily have months to pursue this tactic, which relies on Western support of their military and economy, as well as on the continuing pressure of sanctions against Russia. As Putin is squeezing Europe’s energy supply, it seems only a matter of time until political forces calling for appeasement start gaining momentum on the continent.
In Germany, a typical household is expected to pay more than $500 extra in gas bills per year following the recent price hikes, prompting the government to adopt unprecedented relief measures, including price caps. In the United Kingdom, the new prime minister, Liz Truss, announced a cap on annual energy bills for a typical household at GBP2,500 — close to $3,000.
Whether such measures will be effective in easing the pain is debatable. What is not debatable is that Europe is headed for a harsh winter. Nobody knows what a dose of real economic hardship and cold will do to the Europeans’ resolve to confront Putin, but it is a good bet that it won’t help, particularly in countries where Ukrainian suffering is seen as a distant and abstract concern.
In Germany, a parliamentarian from the Putin-friendly Alternative for Germany (AfD) party publicly wished for as cold a winter as possible, knowing well that the backlash would be good for AfD’s political prospects. Even in the Czech Republic, a country with direct experience of Russian aggression and a government fully committed to supporting Ukraine, pro-Putin and anti-NATO groups managed to bring as many as 70,000 people to the streets of Prague to protest high energy prices over the weekend.
Of course, the energy crisis is largely of Europeans’ own making, resulting from years of misguided energy policies that have tied the continent to Russian sources. Yet the blame game does not help the Ukrainian case. Rather, US leadership does. Given the fragility of the transatlantic alliance’s commitment to confronting Putin and the hard budgetary constraints that Western European nations are running into, it’s wise to frontload as much US military assistance to Ukraine as possible so that the country’s military can build on the current momentum and achieve significant victories — say, retake Kherson — before the looming fracture of Western allies becomes paralyzing.
With the midterm elections just weeks away, Biden’s request for more money does put congressional Republicans in a bind. But opposing additional aid to Ukraine at a time the resources might well achieve Putin’s total defeat in Ukraine — and possibly the end of his brutal regime in Russia — is bound to inflict far graver damage to the GOP’s political standing than taking one for the (national) team. A responsible party, seeking a mandate to govern America, should not have any hesitation about the right choice.
Dalibor Rohac is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise. Twitter: @DaliborRohac.