The Senate passed a $40 billion emergency aid package for Ukraine, but with a small group of isolationist Republicans loudly criticizing the spending and the war entering a new and complicated phase, continued bipartisan support is not guaranteed. This is stated in an editorial published in The New York Times (NYT).
Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, warned the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that the war in Ukraine could take "a more unpredictable and potentially escalatory trajectory", with the increased likelihood that Russia could threaten to use nuclear weapons.
The newspaper also notes that there are many questions that President Biden has yet to answer for the American public.
Is the United States, for example, trying to help bring an end to "this conflict" (as the newspaper calls the war in Ukraine) through a settlement that would allow for a sovereign Ukraine and some kind of relationship between the United States and Russia? Or is the United States now trying to weaken Russia permanently? Has the administration’s goal shifted to destabilizing Putin or having him removed? Does the United States intend to hold Putin accountable as a war criminal? Or is the goal to try to avoid a wider war — and if so, how to achieve this?
Without clarity on these questions, the White House not only risks losing Americans’ interest in supporting Ukrainians — who continue to suffer the loss of lives and livelihoods — but also jeopardizes long-term peace and security on the European continent, the NYT says.
The authors of the article believe that Americans "have been galvanized by Ukraine’s suffering", but popular support for a war far from U.S. shores will not continue indefinitely. Inflation is a much bigger issue for American voters, and problems in global food and energy markets are likely to intensify.
"It is tempting to see Ukraine’s stunning successes against Russia’s aggression as a sign that with sufficient American and European help, Ukraine is close to pushing Russia back to its positions before the invasion. But that is a dangerous assumption."
The article says that Russia remains too strong, and Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down.
"Unrealistic expectations could draw the United States and NATO ever deeper into a costly, drawn-out war. 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 NYT says that it is the Ukrainians who must make the hard decisions: they are the ones fighting, dying and losing their homes to Russian aggression, and it is they who must decide what an end to the war might look like. "If the conflict does lead to real negotiations, it will be Ukrainian leaders who will have to make the painful territorial decisions that any compromise will demand."
But as the war continues, "Biden should also make clear to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his people that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster. It is imperative that the Ukrainian government’s decisions be based on a realistic assessment of its means and how much more destruction Ukraine can sustain."
Confronting this reality may be painful, but it is not appeasement, the NYT stresses. This is what governments are duty bound to do, not chase after an illusory "win." Russia will be feeling the pain of isolation and debilitating economic sanctions for years to come, and Putin will go down in history as a butcher. The challenge now is to shake off the euphoria, stop the taunting and focus on defining and completing the mission.