Vladimir Putin is playing a long game in Ukraine. He is counting on the erosion of bipartisan support in Washington and disunity in NATO’s ranks. The Russian president is also closely monitoring US domestic politics. With Donald Trump running for office, Putin expects US policy to change would Trump returns to the White House.
Biden and Trump have dramatically divergent views on Ukraine. Biden is a profile in courage. On the war’s one-year anniversary, he traveled to the Ukrainian capital to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
It marked the first time a US president traveled to a war zone where no US troops were present. Biden and Zelensky walked through downtown Kyiv while Russian rockets rained down on Bakhmut and other cities across the country.
Biden’s remarks were Churchillian. “Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you and the world stands with you.”
Historic. Timely. Brave. I welcomed @POTUS in Kyiv as Russian full-scale aggression approaches its one-year mark. I am thankful to the U.S. for standing with Ukraine and for our strong partnership. We are determined to work together to ensure Ukraine’s victory. pic.twitter.com/EPtH3fLWWD
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) February 20, 2023
Biden also addressed the Bucharest-9 countries (B-9) in Warsaw. Comprising NATO’s eastern flank, B-9 countries are new democracies that experienced tyranny during Soviet times. Biden strongly endorsed collective defense, reiterating America’s commitment to NATO Article 5 – an attack on one is considered an attack on all.
Biden cast Russia’s attack as an affront to democracy, which poses a risk to free countries everywhere. At Biden’s urging, the US Congress authorized more than $113 billion for Ukraine in 2022 alone.
In contrast, Trump has consistently kowtowed Putin. Trump called him a “genius,” likening Russia’s take-over of Ukraine’s mineral-rich eastern provinces in the Donbas to a real estate deal. To Trump, national sovereignty is malleable. International relations are transactional.
Trump recently doubled down, defending his assertion that he trusted the foreign leader over his own intelligence community. Trump boasted of his “very good relationship” with Putin.
The Trump-Putin bromance is inexplicable. Why is Trump so enamored with Putin, a war criminal and an antagonist of the US? Some speculate that Trump is being blackmailed. For whatever reason, Trump will be much more forgiving of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine than Biden. “America First” is used to justify a blind eye to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Views on NATO
Biden and Trump also have dramatically different views about NATO. Biden heralds NATO’s critical role in guaranteeing security, while Trump questions NATO’s purpose and efficacy, calling it “obsolete.”
According to Trump, “It’s costing us too much money. [NATO is] “unfair, economically, to us.” Trump scorns the notion that NATO has value as both a military alliance and a coalition of countries with shared values.
Trump opposes multilateralism in principle. He warns that US support for Ukraine will lead to World War III and criticizes Biden for issuing Kyiv a blank check.
Defense Against Global Disorder
The world would be a dramatically different place should Putin prevail. Russia won’t stop with Ukraine. Russian forces and Wagner Group mercenaries would push west, attacking B-9 countries and potentially threatening Western Europe.
Acquiescing to Russia could increase the chances of a world war. Autocrats worldwide would be emboldened, and the international rules-based order undermined.
China would intensify its anti-democratic agenda and strengthen ties with autocrats. Iran would accelerate its pursuit of a nuclear bomb, threatening Israel and fomenting a greater Sunni-Shiite conflict.
A strong America, standing with its democratic allies, is both the basis of US national security, as well as a defense against global disorder.
2024 US Election
Ukraine will be a pivotal US election issue in 2024. Previewing an attack line for his presidential bid, Trump criticized Biden for being in Ukraine instead of visiting the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Trump exploited the train wreck, questioning Biden’s priorities for supporting Ukraine rather than prioritizing East Palestine. He queried whether there would be funds left over for Ohio residents after the US dished out billions for Ukraine.
Sense of Urgency
Biden says the US will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” With US elections around the corner, Trump is attacking Biden for paying more attention to Ukraine than the American people. Putin’s long game assumes that popular support for military involvement in Ukraine will wane.
Biden needs a greater sense of urgency. A stalemate plays into Putin’s hands. Rather than slow Russia’s advance, Ukraine needs the tools to defeat it.
The US can shape the battlefield by providing Ukraine with F-16s and precision-guided long-range artillery. Time is not on Ukraine’s side, nor on Biden’s.
David L. Phillips (@DavidLPhillips4) is Director of the Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights at Columbia University.
He served as Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the State Department during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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