Russian President Vladimir Putin is finding aid and comfort in Congress. (Photo: Getty)
Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s is counting on a wild card in its invasion of Ukraine –Republican sympathizers in Congress. Is this treason?
The war may rage in Ukraine, but it’s not the only front. Russia has been waging an intense global disinformation campaign to foster doubts about popular support for the war in the West.
In short, Putin is thinking globally, hoping to force a negotiated settlement to to salvage something out of his brutal invasion and the huge cost it’s exacted in Russian men and material.
So far, the collective West has been slow to react, in part, because hard-right politicians in the United States and Europe are falling in line with — and in some cases leading –the propaganda campaign.
In one of the latest manifestations of the campaign, reports surfaced in Germany last week that the United States and Germany were holding secret talks. The goal allegedly is to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into negotiations by threatening to cut military aid.
Both governments denied the claim, and Zelenskyy quickly reiterated no negotiations would take place while Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil. But among the idea’s biggest proponents — beside Putin — are hard-right Republicans in Congress.
Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo) have been behind an effort to unilaterally stop all U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. A Gaetz budget amendment in September drew 93 Republican votes, up from 70 over the summer.
A clear majority –126 Republicans and all 213 Democrats — rejected the measure, but Ukraine opponents won at least one concession. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a proponent of aid, nonetheless, agreed to consider Ukraine funding in a solo bill.
The United States has sent more than $40 billion in aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invaded in February a year ago. But Congress is dragging its feet on $61 billion in additional aid, after Republicans stripped it from the stopgap funding measure.
The Pentagon said is still had $1.6 billion remaining of $25.9 billion previously approved to replenish military stocks, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
The European Union is still wrestling over a separate $50 billion package, mainly because Putin ally Viktor Orban in Hungary opposes the aid.
Republcans are largely building their case around a theme pushed by Russian propaganda — U.S. isolationism.
Ex-President Donald Trump, the likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has been a leading proponent of isolationism with his calls for “America First,” along with two also-rans, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy,
There’s no question Republicans are giving aid and comfort to an avowed enemy of the United States. Military analysts, foreign policy experts and Russian propagandists have said Putin is banking on Trump’s election as president in 2024.
That means Putin will stall on negotiations and continue the war at least until 2025.
But the idea the United States can step off the world stage and abandon its commitments in Europe and Asia is ludicrous — and dangerous.
The nation learned the lesson the hard way. U.S. isolationism was a contributing factor to both World War I and World War II.
Russia is actively trying to distract and destabilize the West by indirectly backing the Hamas attack on Israel and fomenting discord elsewhere, including Latin America and Asia. But its influence is also limited.
For a while, it’s ally, China, seemed to play Putin’s game with renewed threats to take over Taiwan by force. But Chinese leader Xi Jinping, facing growing domestic problems, now appears ready to ratchet down hostility toward the United States over Taiwan.
Some experts also suggest Russia’s failures in Ukraine have demonstrated the folly of a possible Chinese communist invasion of the island nation.
The third leg of the disinformation campaign involves ramping up saber rattling. Early in the war, Russian propagandists threatened everything from a nuclear strike on Ukraine to an attack on neighboring countries. But the ploy backfired. It caused Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.
The propagandists backed off for a while, but now they’re back on nightly Russian television talking wildly about invading Poland and the Baltics, marching on Berlin and even taking London. While the likelihood of anything like that happening is next to nil, the rhetoric serves a purpose.
It creates uncertainty and timidity among elected officials, especially in Europe. Fear of provoking a wider war has been a recurring reason among Western governments to limit the type and flow of weapons to Ukraine.
That, in turn, undermined this year’s Ukrainian counter-offensive and is prolonging the war because Ukraine is without long-range weapons, air superiority and adequate air defenses.
While the West is dithering over supplying Ukraine with the weapons it needs as rapidly as possible, Putin is sending tens of thousands of men — young and old — into the war and is ready to call up even more in a broader mobilization.
Ukraine is slaughtering them in great numbers. But if its army can’t cut key Russian supply lines, like the Kerch Bridge, the war will drag on, because Putin seems willing to accept horrendous casualties to achieve his ends. The only way to kill the snake, in this case, is to starve it.
Late this summer, with the offensive making limited territorial gains, talk began to focus on a “stalemate,” allowing Putin to leverage the idea of growing “war weariness” in the West, prompting reams of coverage in the news media.
But the will to fight in Ukraine is still strong and so is U.S. support. A study be the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that a strong majority (six in ten Americans) still favor continued US economic and military assistance “until [Ukraine] has reclaimed all of its territory.”
A majority (55%) of Americans (split 67% Democrats/53% Independents/47% Republicans) also support meeting Ukraine’s request for F-16 fighter jets.
Significantly, those who say their support is wavering — again, mostly Republicans — cite “a reduced sense of threat from Russia, a desire for Europeans to take a larger role … and a growing sense that Ukraine has not been able to gain advantage in the conflict,” according to the study.
It’s a classic “Catch-22. The United States and Europe are limiting the type or slowing the flow of weapons causing critics to claim Ukraine isn’t making enough progress in the war.
Despite another Russian propaganda campaign that Zelenskyy is losing support, his popularity is still strong in the United States. He has “enviable ratings” by American political standards, (66% favorable), although it’s down from 81 percent when the war started in Feb. 2022, the study found.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas has also pushed news about the Ukraine war off the front pages of most major media — another goal of Putin’s disinformation campaign. But the war, to date, has been anything but a stalemate.
The Ukrainians are focusing on Russia’s long logistical tail, hitting high-value targets behind the lines almost daily. That’s a natural precursor to breaking down Russia’s well-engineered defenses.
It’s driven the Russian fleet out of its Black Sea headquarters in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, all but halting missile attacks from the sea and opening up shipping routes for grain.
Significantly, it has established a solid foothold on the southeastern bank of the Dnipro River, across from the City of Kherson, which it liberated last year. That’s opened up Russia’s soft underbelly and sets the stage for a major thrust to cut Russian forces in half.
One thing is clear, even a limited victory by Russia — holding on to some territories which they occupy — will send aftershocks around the world. “It will be the end of the global structure as we know it,” Ukraine’s energy minister, German Galushchenko, told The Wasington Post.
It will show the United States lacks resolve, is unable or unwilling to keep promises to its allies and is untrustworthy.
That;s why Ukraine remains critically important to the U.S. national interest and national security. Ukraine is the gateway to Europe for Russia. Without it, it’s territorial ambitions will be thwarted.
The West’s investment in Ukraine has been surprising low. To date, U.S. aid comprises only 5 percent of the Pentagon’s budget. But Russia is now shifting its economy to a war footing and the West must do the same.
It needs to step up delivery of the weapons Ukraine needs to finish the war — as soon as possible. And, Putin’s Republican sympathizers in Congress need to be called out for what they are.