Putin is counting on the U.S. to cave on Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman takes cover in a trench near Bakhmut in March. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian serviceman takes cover in a trench near Bakhmut in March. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

For the second winter in a row, Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of the West’s fatigue to escalate his attacks on Ukrainian cities, trying to freeze Ukrainians into submission. But this year, he is getting an assist from those in Washington who are arguing for pressuring Ukraine into negotiations rather than focusing on helping it win the war.

The front lines in the Russia-Ukraine war seem stuck. Congress is dragging its feet on passing the military, economic and humanitarian aid Ukrainians urgently need. The American people are growing tired of the effort. No wonder a chorus in Washington is calling for President Biden to lean on Kyiv to sue for peace. In fact, German media is reporting that the White House is discussing just such an approach.

Some Washington pundits argue Ukrainians should back away from their stated goal of pushing Russian forces completely out of their sovereign territory. Two top “realist” think tankers — former Obama administration official Charles Kupchan and former Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass— wrote in Foreign Affairs this month that Ukraine’s objectives are “out of reach”.

“Washington needs to take the lead in launching consultations with Ukraine and Western allies aimed at persuading Kyiv to offer a cease-fire in place while pivoting from an offensive to a defensive strategy”, they wrote.

There are several fundamental problems with this argument. First of all, there’s no indication Moscow has any intention to seriously negotiate. In fact, after preparing for months, Russia is carrying out some of its largest coordinated attacks yet both on Ukrainian cities and on the energy infrastructure on which millions of civilians depend. Last weekend, Russian forces attacked Kyiv with 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones, nearly all of which were reportedly shot down. Those that broke through plunged thousands of homes into darkness. Moscow’s campaign is just beginning.

“The Russians are just waiting for the temperature to fall below zero to start another wave of massive attacks”, Ukraine’s energy minister, German Galushchenko, told me in an interview.

Also, Galushchenko noted, the vast majority of his compatriots oppose a cease-fire and want to keep fighting. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky answers to his people, not to Washington, despite Ukraine’s dependence on U.S. assistance. If he moved to negotiate now, he would lose significant public support.

Instead of pressuring Ukraine to negotiate with Putin, the United States should focus on helping Ukraine fend off Russian attacks and then get back all its territory, Galushchenko said. Air defense systems and long-range munitions top Ukraine’s list of needed weapons.

“If the countries of the civilized world allow the Russians to have success in Ukraine ... even if they hold on to some territories which they occupy, it will be the end of the global structure as we know it”, he told me.

Ukrainians are not against the idea of negotiations, but they insist on negotiating from a position of strength, Estonia’s defense minister, Hanno Pevkur. told me this month at the Halifax International Security Forum. That requires taking back more territory first, he said.

“Ukrainians are fighting to set the conditions for negotiations”, Pevkur said. “When they can kick the Russians out of their territory, that means it is much easier for them to negotiate”.

Pressuring Ukraine to pursue a cease-fire now is also misguided because it repeats the mistake of underestimating Ukrainians’ determination to achieve their objectives. Again and again after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, experts such as Kupchan and Haass have argued that Ukrainians were so overmatched they had no choice but to accept Russian control over large parts of their country. But again and again, Ukrainians have showed they can resist far more effectively than U.S. experts predicted.

“Putin miscalculated certain things because he viewed Ukraine from his perspective, and he did not take into account the Ukrainians’ determination to fight”, Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told me in Halifax. “It would be very bad if NATO countries miscalculate and underestimate the Ukrainians’ determination to win this war and reduce support to Ukraine because of that”.

Finally, pushing Ukraine to change its strategy at this moment would betray the United States’ European allies. Those calling to “lower our goals” in Ukraine often warn that continuing high levels of support for Kyiv risks escalating the conflict into a war between NATO and Russia. But many NATO leaders don’t see it that way.

“Countries need to support Ukraine so that it wins the war rather than achieving a status quo with Putin”, Anusauskas said. “I don’t see that as an escalation”.

The Ukrainian people have made it very clear they won’t repeat the mistakes of 2014 and 2015, when Kyiv negotiated an unfavorable cease-fire with Moscow under pressure from the Obama administration (in which Kupchan served) only to have Putin launch an even bigger attack a few years later.

Pressuring Ukraine to stop fighting simply won’t work. Ukrainians aren’t going to give up, so the United States must not give up on them. The war will end only when Putin has finally learned aggression doesn’t pay.

Josh Rogin is a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post. He writes about foreign policy and national security. Rogin is also a political analyst for CNN. He is the author of the book Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the 21st Century.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *