Does the USA believe in the victory of Ukraine and what is Biden planning?
Ukraine became almost the first foreign country to feel the approach of the American presidential elections. Our support and assistance has become hostage to the numerous divisions highlighted by another election campaign – between Republicans and President Biden's administration, within the Republican Party itself, which is currently experiencing a particularly acute identity crisis.
Of course, it is not the first time that Ukraine is being used as a football in the American political football, but it is the first time that it is happening at a time when it is fighting a war for survival. A war that even Jake Sullivan recognizes as the most obvious confrontation between black and white, good and evil.
In order to understand how much Ukraine is actually involved in the discussions of support for Ukraine, it is worth at least trying to analyze the real intentions of both the administration and the Republican Party regarding the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war, as well as to project the place of our country in the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.
Real intentions and real actions
Perhaps the only positive thing that has arisen against the background of the Republicans' blocking of support for Ukraine is that they have put the issue of a "victory strategy" for Ukraine back on the agenda.
The word "victory" has been difficult to pronounce in the political circle of Washington since the beginning of the war. I personally witnessed funny situations when diplomats and politicians paused, thinking how to replace it even in informal conversations, where this word simply looked like must have (one diplomat after the phrase "we must take care that Ukraine..." instead of, to say "won", thought for a long time and finally pronounced "was on the winning side"). And at the moment when Ukraine's chances of military success stopped along with the current counteroffensive, this word generally began to become one that is tried to be avoided in political and diplomatic circles. Moreover, even Ukrainian deputies from the pro-government party started talking about a "war plan" and not a "victory plan." Republicans, on the other hand, demand from the Biden administration a plan for Ukraine's victory in the war. By the way, we had to hear about this directly from Republican congressmen during the visit of our expert delegation to Washington. Namely, they want to know in particular how many territories and in what time it will be possible to free them from occupation.
The question is valid and relevant for Ukrainians. After all, it is our people who must understand that the strategy "as long as it takes" (as long as it takes), proposed by the administration and unconditionally taken as a basis by its allies in the world, is doomed to failure. Because for us Ukrainians, the "as long as it takes" strategy is actually an invitation to a war of attrition, where Russia has obvious advantages.
But do we in principle have the right to criticize the strategy of the one who, in the most terrible times, helped us stand as a state? Although it should be noted that we stand on our feet still wobbly, unsure, we bleed, and in addition to the old wounds, we have new ones.
However, there is nothing to prevent Americans themselves from asking questions about the effectiveness of the "as long as it takes" strategy, including representatives of the Republican Party. Although they ask this question for other reasons. If for us it evokes a direct association with an invitation to a war of attrition, then in American society the strategy of "as long as it takes" immediately evokes déjà vu with the "forever wars" that America has been waging for decades. Moreover, losing the lives of American soldiers and spending hundreds of billions of dollars in various countries. Yes, Ukraine never asked for the involvement of the American military, only military and financial support. Biden also never gets tired of repeating that the American military will not fight in Ukraine. And even in the short conversation I once had with him as vice president on this topic, he made it clear that as long as he is alive and in power, he will do everything possible to ensure that no American soldiers set foot on Ukrainian soil.
However, the absence of American troops in Ukraine does not ease the American voter's feeling that Russia's war in Ukraine is turning into another "endless war" so hated by Americans. And ironically, this is happening precisely during the presidency of Biden, who built his presidential campaign not least on getting America out of endless wars (hence the chaotic withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan), and not on starting new ones.
Another relative positive for Ukraine in the aid story is that many – perhaps even most Republicans who oppose aid to Ukraine – are not actually against Ukraine, but against the Biden administration. "In principle, how is it possible to be in opposition to the administration and at the same time support Ukraine?" is a question that is increasingly being asked in the offices of Republican congressmen. "We're convinced it's still possible," an adviser to one of the influential Republican senators assured me. In practice, Republican politicians such as Senator Jim Risch or Congressman Mike Turner really confirm that it is possible. However, their colleagues who are less experienced or more eager for media and electoral attention clearly do not think so, operating with a different approach: the harder you hit Ukraine, the tougher you will look in relation to the Biden administration. And this is a serious bid for success among the Republican electorate, which considers the US Democratic Party a greater threat to America than, say, the master of the Kremlin. At Forum 2000, President of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel recounted his conversation with the republican politician, who told him so directly: "I would rather find a common language with Putin than with the Democrats."
This, in fact, is the end of the positive moments in history with the return of the issue of victory strategy to the agenda. The real intentions of those who talk about this plan and even sign the corresponding letters to the administration begin. And the real intentions of some Republicans (some, not all) are to use Biden's lack of a winning plan as an excuse to block aid. They really don't care much about the White House's victory strategy. They are interested in trapping Biden. After all, it is clear: the president of the United States of America will not be able to provide any victory plan, because he cannot guarantee its implementation, and therefore makes himself an easy target at the most vulnerable moment, during the presidential campaign for re-election, which will be very problematic in view of his main opponent and (spoiler alert – it's not Trump, it's Biden's age).
However, the key obstacle for Biden in publicizing the victory strategy is that, despite the very correct rhetoric, there are no signs that the president of the United States of America has begun to consider the victory of Ukraine a realistic task in which all resources should be invested.
At least in the planning horizons in which political time in the United States of America is measured, until the presidential election next November. In addition, the epithet "unrealistic" popular among American political figures who make key decisions is often used to replace the concept of "too risky".
What place is "reserved" for Ukraine in the Biden campaign?
Today, it is quite certain to say that Biden's tactics – to be both cautious and successful in Ukraine – turned out to be unsuccessful. But there are no signs that the general line taken by the White House to achieve the so-called negotiated settlement will be revised. There is not even a sign that the scenario of this settlement is seen differently. More precisely, a mix of tentatively Korean and tentatively Israeli scenarios. A kind of Korean-Israeli hybrid for Ukraine. Korean – in terms of ending the war – the ability to recognize a stalemate on the battlefield in time (here, Zelenskyy is increasingly reminiscent of South Syngman Rhee to many in the American capital) and try to freeze the conflict without admitting the defeat of either side. It's a shame that we don't have our 38th parallel, and we haven't reached the status quo – where the war began, it ends there – in view of the newly occupied territories. And the Israeli scenario, in terms of creating sustainable security, is security assistance without real alliance commitments instead of the same Korean bilateral treaty, which provides for real security guarantees, an American military presence, or even the deployment of an American tactical nuclear arsenal, which for some time took place in South Korea.
The problem is that those who were so afraid of Ukraine's "disastrous success" during the counteroffensive and even before it began testing the ground for potential negotiations, approached the preparation of this counteroffensive very cautiously. And therefore, in this way, together with Ukraine's military success, the prospect of negotiations was actually moved away, not brought closer. Only military success can be converted into diplomatic success. If there is no military success, there can be no diplomatic success either.
Although, in my opinion, even if Ukraine was super successful on the battlefield, reached the administrative line with Crimea and initiated negotiations from a much stronger position, another reasonable question arises. If Putin is really interested in Trump's victory in the next election, what is the point of "giving" Biden at least a minimally decent "negotiated settlement"? To increase the chances of re-election under the conditions when in the Biden-Trump duel everything can be decided by some minimal percentages?
Especially since Biden doesn't really need much to position himself as "the one who stopped the war" (not to be confused with "the one who won the war"). Any relative calm of the sample of the first phase of the Russian-Ukrainian war, any reason to loudly declare "I stopped the bloodshed in Ukraine", will be enough to position yourself during the campaign as a great peacemaker. One question – will Ukraine meekly agree to help Biden "sell" another negotiation piece as at least a partial victory for Ukraine?
Perhaps that is why the contours of Biden's campaign in the part of Ukraine, which are already emerging in the discourse and advertising materials of the Democrats, are rather pale and devoid of particular ambition. It is, first of all, about the bet on the leadership of the United States of America in the "unification" of more than 50 countries of the world in a coalition to contain the Russian Federation. And also about the bet on the personal courage of the president of the United States of America. In addition, it is a bet on courage, which was especially evident in the fact that he... was apparently the first president since Lincoln to visit a combat zone not controlled by American troops. I don't know how convincing such arguments will be even for the electorate of the Democratic Party, not to mention independent voters. But I would venture to suggest that this hardly coincides with our Ukrainian vision of what American leadership and American courage should be. Even though President Biden this year became the foreign leader most trusted by Ukrainians (overtaking President Andrzej Duda) for the first time, according to a recently released poll commissioned by the New Europe Center.
We will leave to the discretion of history the question of whether a country terrified by Putin can in principle be a leader in a war of such a scale. And should the courage of the leader of the "free world" be measured in a ten-hour train ride to Kyiv?
Will the Republicans manage to simultaneously put Biden in another trap – by not voting for support of Ukraine? This is unlikely to happen. I would venture to assume that the administration will be able to skillfully use this in its own interests – to "blame" Ukraine's failures on the battlefield on the Republican Congress and make the Republican Congress responsible for the fact that Ukraine is forced to enter into negotiations with Putin on unfavorable terms. Yes, it sounds absurd and unfair, because it was the Congress of the United States that was one step ahead of the administration on most key issues, pushing it to make difficult political decisions.
Controlling what we can control
When immersing yourself in American political battles, you may get the impression that the heated debates in the United States of America about support for Ukraine are not really about Ukraine after all. It is partly so, but only partly. Ukraine is still present in them. And what is happening in Ukraine directly affects the content and tone of these discussions. This is also the question of the existence of a plan for victory in Ukraine itself (by the way, in the Biden administration, in response to the objections of the Republicans about this plan, they assure that it is Zelenskyy who should provide it). And the issue of unity in Ukraine itself at the level of political and military leadership – we were asked about the conflict between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhnyi at almost every meeting in Washington during the last trip a few weeks ago, and there were more than 40 such meetings.
There is nothing surprising in this: among the four types of unity necessary for our victory (Ukrainian, European, transatlantic, American), unity in Ukraine itself is key. Without this unity, everything else will crumble. The delegation of one Ukrainian party to the United States of America is good, but it is another manifestation of the lack of such unity even on a single parliamentary track. Not to mention that at the moment it would be much more convincing not to have delegations of politicians – regardless of party affiliation – but to have delegations of our veterans, religious leaders, and farmers visit certain American states where we face misunderstandings.
I dare to assume that as long as the American elections take place at the level of a duel between Trump and Biden – politicians burdened by the Ukrainian issue emotionally and institutionally – Ukraine will remain a particularly toxic issue.
What should we do in such a situation? The best thing, and this is probably the main takeaway from the United States of America, is to at least try to control the things we can control here at home. This is the above-mentioned unity, this is the rooting, and not the one-time implementation, of anti-corruption reforms, the results of which can then be communicated to congressmen and their voters, and we in the expert environment know how to do it. Because the Americans made it clear: a corrupt country has the right to support exactly until the moment when there is a threat to its existence as a state. As soon as this threat recedes, the logic of strict conditioning is activated.
The good news for Ukraine and the bad news for Putin is that even among Republican primary voters (which is the right-wing electorate), the majority is pro-Ukraine. That despite the lack of faith in Ukraine's victory, the majority of Americans would like Ukraine's victory. What actually opposes Ukraine and its support is a very small percentage of Republican politicians: the majority of skeptics simply do not believe that the United States of America is in the financial and military shape today to have the ability, as they like to say, to go and chew gum at the same time. That is, to deal with internal economic, migration and other challenges and also effectively help other countries. Or at the same time fight back against Russia and prepare for a potential conflict with China.
Yes, Russia is not perceived as a threat to the national interests of the United States of America, but Putin is still perceived as the one who causes perhaps the greatest revulsion among foreign leaders, and it is Putin who arouses the desire to put him in his place and teach him a lesson. Americans do not always positively perceive our war as a war of democracy against authoritarianism – it is too general, too "politicized" by Biden and the Democrats, but the issue of "freedom", for which Ukraine is actually fighting, evokes sympathy and understanding. It is not for nothing that Nikki Haley persistently calls Ukraine a freedom loving nation in her rhetoric – a nation that loves freedom, not just democracy.
I will conclude with what the Americans themselves – our friends in the administration, the United States Congress, think tanks – keep pushing us. So keep putting pressure on us. And we will do it, push it. After all, it is impossible to help Ukraine survive without helping it win the war.
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