Ukraine war: Waning support in the US

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

On December 6th the US Congress blocked an emergency spending bill for Ukraine and Israel ($ 106 billion – 61,4bn Dollars for Ukraine, 14,3bn Dollars for Israel’s war against radical Palestine organization Hamas as well as aid for allies such as Taiwan and expenses for protection of the border to Mexico). The package neither found a majority in the US Senate. It is noteworthy that US Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders refused to support the aid package, given his doubts about financing the “present inhuman military strategy “of Israel against the Palestinians. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Leader, also voted against the package for “procedural” reasons, arguing that he wanted to work it over, i.e. build in more concessions to the Republicans.  He stated that the blocking of the military aid package “has brought us into a serious situation which will have consequences for the 21rst century” and risk the decline of western democracy reported the German daily “Die Welt”.  The majority of US Senate and Congress voted “no” despite a series of last ditch appeals from democrats and an appeal by President Biden who stated Wednesday (6.12.) in a White House briefing that he was prepared to offer “significant concessions” on the border issue (US/Mexican border) and who scolded the Senators and Congressmen for abandoning Ukraine in its hour of need. “Make no mistake”, the president said, “today’s vote is going to be long remembered and history is going to judge harshly those who turned their backs on freedom’s cause.” At the same time he attacked the Republicans for “damaging our national security in the process.”

According to a NYT article (December 6th ) “the failed vote highlighted waning support in the US for continuing to fund Ukraine’s war effort”- a “perilous thing”- when Kiev’s counteroffensive is failing to meet its objectives and Russian forces are on the offensive.  “While billions faltered over an unrelated immigration policy dispute, the resistance it has met in Congress reflects a dwindling appetite among Republicans for backing Ukraine as polls show that Americans are losing interest in providing financial assistance. In the Senate the vote to move forward on the bill was 49 to 51. Republicans and Democrats dispute since months about financing Billions of Dollars for military aid for Ukraine and Israel, for the US interests in the Indo-Pacific, and for international humanitarian help.”

Asia Times harsh critique on US strategy

If one wants to understand what is the underlying cause for this US debate, it is worthwhile to look at an article, that was published December 7th in the website www.asiatimes.com by Stephen Bryan (a regular contributor to “Asia Times”,  who served as staff director for the Near East Subcommittee of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as a deputy undersecretary of defense foreign policy and who is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, Yorktown Institute.) The article contains a sharp critique against US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and President Joe Biden who on Wednesday had tried to arm-twist members from the US Congress and Senate into voting in favor of the US military aid package. According to Asia Times: “Austin conjured up a threat from Moscow, stating that if Congress does not approve $ 61 bn, US troops on the ground in Europe will be fighting Russia.” The website reported that both Republican Senators as well as Democratic Senators for various reasons walked out from the briefing after 20 minutes. (….) “The threat that Austin imagined is that Russia, after it finishes with Ukraine, will launch attacks in Europe. Objectively though there is no evidence that Russia threatens anyone in Europe.” The Asia Times author added that it is imaginable that some Russian generals would think about threatening Europe, given the immense amount of military aid, intelligence and technical help.  “From Russia’s point of view the real land grabber is NATO, after all, despite Russia’s warnings and promises made to Russia that were blatantly violated, NATO expanded in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The Russians were frequently assured starting with a vow from former President Clinton that NATO would not expand. Expansion has meant arming new NATO members with top quality western weapons, building bases for NATO on their territories and threatening Russia directly (…) But there is little sign that Russia intends any expansion in Eastern Europe or the Baltic States.  And virtually no intelligence of any kind supporting the Austin invasion thesis,“ the author underlined. If there were any concrete intelligence, one could safely bet that the Biden administration would let the Congress know, especially when it hands out for more money for the war.

According to the Asia Times author there are “three reasons for crediting the opposite hypothesis, namely that Russia has no intention of expanding outside of the Ukraine conflict area.”

  1. “The first reason is behavioral. With NATO’s war stocks at an all- time low, Russia could have taken advantage of this vulnerability and moved its forces against NATO targets- for example NATO operations in Poland or in the Balkans, but have not done so. The Russians have exercised unprecedented restraint and even tolerated aggressive intelligence flights and NATO naval exercises in the Black Sea, an extraordinarily sensitive Russian security worry. The Black Sea is not only the back door to Ukraine, it is also a route challenging Russia itself. Russia even exercised restraint when Ukraine used drones to hit an airfield (Soltsy-2 airbase in August 2023) inside Russia, where nuclear bombers are based. Two of these bombers were either damaged or destroyed. Such an attack needed intelligence support from NATO, primarily the US, and the Russians – no doubt- understood that quite well. Yet the Russians tolerated the attacks to a degree and took no steps to widen the conflict. There is some evidence that the attack on the Soltsy-2 airbase was launched by the Ukrainians from Estonia as Ukraine drones did not have the range to reach the airbase.” Other examples of Russian restraint include, according to Bryan, the sinking of Russia’s flagship Moskva with US help, multiple attempts to destroy the “Kerch Strait bridge” connecting Russia to Crimea and multiple attacks on Moscow, including an attempt to hit Putin’ s Kremlins office in what Russia says was an attempt to assassinate Putin.
  2. “The second reason to view Russia as reluctant to expand the conflict is that doing so would be immensely costly. Russia has already learned just how expensive the Ukrainian war is, even though it is finally winning the war, after nearly 2 years of fighting. But a war in Europe would add US and European fighter aircraft and bombers to Russia’s misery, even if NATO ground -forces would have significant problems, according to a RAND study. Bryan emphasized that “it’s hard to believe that Russia would crank up a bigger war, given the impact on manpower, nor would the war keep the support of the Russian people, who know how to oppose a conflict when it starts to bite them at home. That’s what forced Russia to leave Afghanistan starting the withdrawal in May1988 and completing it in February 1989. That wasn’t enough to save Gorbachev or prevent a coup attempt and it led to the disintegration of the USSR.”
  3. “The third reason that speaks against Russia expanding the conflict is the unanticipated wild card of Western sanctions on Russia. In effect responding to Putin’s ‘Special military operation’ in Ukraine, Bryan underlines, “NATO and many other countries aligned with the United States or with the European Union, imposed heavy sanctions on Russia. This drove Russia into the arms of China and forced Russia to rethink its future. After all it meant a realignment of Russia’s resources, trade and monetary system away from Europe and the West. This is a decisive new factor that changes the strategic roadmap for Russia. It directly undermines the argument that Russia has something to gain from an attack on Europe. The truth is that the Russians are less and less interested in Europe or the United States.” Bryan qualifies the “extra-legal Western sanctions as a “major strategic blunder for NATO and its partners and friends. Even if a peace declaration is made with Ukraine and Europe and the US, the US lifts sanctions in Russia, it is probably too late to recover from the damage done to any future ties. Russia won’t reject trade with the West but it is likely to make business deals only on its own terms. It is unlikely that Russia will again allow western companies to operate inside Russia and the country will increasingly team with China for technology and weapons development. In short the West filed for divorce and the Russians accepted the final decree.”

Hence the conclusion which Bryan draws: “The Austin argument is for the above reasons false, misleading. When the Republicans walked out of the Secret briefing staged for the Senate to try to sell them on supporting more money for Ukraine, many argued that the Biden administration’s arguments were stale and unconvincing the Biden effort to intimidate the Senate simply didn’t work. What will the Biden bunch come up with next?”

It is precisely this Austin argument, that during the last weeks was also spread by several German media and by some German strategic experts- like military expert Dr. Christian Moelling from the German DGAP (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik), who in a ZDF Heute interview (22.11.23) under the headline “Does Putin plan the next war?” was uttering his bizarre thesis about how “imperial Russia” is planning the next war in Europe, including a possible attack on some Baltic -i.e. NATO- state, calling upon NATO to be better prepared for the next war.

Prof. Nicolai Petro: How the war will end

In a fascinating interview with US- political scientist Prof. Nicolai Petro from the University of Rhode Island, that was conducted on 28/29th November by Pascal Lottaz from the London based “Neutrality Studies – Neutrality and Non alignment in International Politics”, Petro when being asked about his recent article: “How the war in Ukraine will end?”, gave a sober assessment concerning the actual developments in Ukraine. Petro, a known author (e.g. The Tragedy of Ukraine. What Classical Greek Tragedy can teach us) emphasized that we can observe that many strategic thinkers in the West and Ukraine don’t admit that the situation has reached a turning point.  But this “failure of understanding”, as he underlined, goes back decades, since it would mean to admit mistakes: “Such as the expansion of NATO in the late 1990ies, which led to the current conflict.” He pointed out that the general orientation of the Western Elite is “We don’t get out of the cul de sac (dead end), unless the West treats Russia i.e. on an eye to eye basis.”

According to Petro one should look at the thinking of the famous 19th century Prussian General von Clausewitz who had said War is nothing other than the continuation of politics by other means. According to Petro “the West has lost strategically”, what one sees on the outside is only “tactical. (….)  We see a long term slow evolution of Russia’s strategy. While in the West there is still a debate what strategy means, they want the West to guess. They basically signal “our objective never was to occupy the whole Ukraine. I agree with Prof. Mearsheimer that Russia didn’t wat to occupy Ukraine, that it had more limited objectives.”

Concerning the possibility of a negotiated settlement, Petro noted: “It’s not that Moscow doesn’t want to negotiate with Kiev. Lavrov said that you must negotiate with the US because it’s the primary funder of the war.” Being asked about those “maximalists” in Washington who argue that Kiev needs more weapons or as one former NATO general said “Kiev needs to win “, Petro qualified this thinking as being “still prevalent in Washington.”  He referred to high level US military representative such as Geneal Petraeus  ( ret US Army General and former director of CIA) and  Ben Hodges who was commander of the US Army in Europe. Both share the analysis that “Ukrainians should be encouraged to fight, even if it is a hopeless war. What is it what they fight for? They hope for a new type of weapons ‘Wunderwaffen’, Petro commented. “If it exists we should share it with the Ukraine. It should be done without delay and it will break Russia’s will to fight. It will give the Ukraine a sense of hope to join the EU in an expedite fashion.  Yet, there are no such weapons”.

Petro mentioned the Istanbul negotiations in March 2022,- which had been sabotaged by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson-, as a good model for how a peace settlement could be negotiated. In the second part of the interview, entitled: “Neocons can’t still believe that Russia defeated them” (29.11.),  Prof. Petro pointed to the underlying cause why so many in the US want to endlessly inject weapons into the Ukraine- even if the defeat on the ground is obvious. In terms of a cost/ benefit analysis, Petro stated that the whole thing is only good for the US, the real competitor of Russia.  He agreed to what Lottaz described as a purely Keynesian model of warfare whereby the “US aid is mainly given to Ukraine in order to buy US weapons and in turn these supplies are an injection into the US economy. A purely Keynesian warfare.”

On the other side Professor Petro doesn’t see anything that would entice the US to come to an end of this: despite the fact that Democrats and Republicans are competitors, both agree in their support of an “imperial America.”   Only if there would be a huge event that could bring home the idea that wars have consequence for the US, a shift may be possible.  More likely is that Russian strategy will shift, Petro stated. He stated that he observed a shift in Russian rhetoric in the last two months: “Russia is winning the war on its own terms. If correct, the West will not abandon but will effectively withdraw. We’ll see resources withering.  And the Ukraine is slowly realizing that it has been deceived by the West.”

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