Biden reaches a vital new turning point on Ukraine
(CNN) — The West has reached its last fateful crossroads with regard to Ukraine.
Impending decisions on deepening support for Kyiv in its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war have become even more critical due to a winter battlefield that was more dynamic than the expected stalemate.
The time is also passing quickly for the United States and its allies to send in more powerful weapons and train Ukrainian soldiers how to use them before the possibly decisive second year of the war, in which Russia could launch a fierce new offensive.
Meanwhile, the painful humanitarian cost of the conflict and the justification for Western aid were laid bare in the horror of the Russian cruise missile attack on a nine-story apartment block in Dnipro, central Ukraine, which killed at least 45 people, including six children. The tragedy exacerbated the depravity of unprovoked war and renewed calls for Putin to face war crimes charges. He also stressed that any hope of a negotiated end to the war is further away than ever, a fact that appears to have injected new determination and unity into the Western alliance at a critical time.
Western partners are now sending tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine. Several are joining the United States in sending Patriot anti-missile vehicles, steps that would have been off limits early in the war to avoid further provoking Putin.
Ukraine, given its dire situation, will always want more. And while the West’s upcoming elections will ultimately be based on an assessment of its own interests, the context of Ukraine’s agony and anger is impossible to ignore.
“We are facing the collapse of the world as we know it, the way we are used to or aspire to,” Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, in the most harrowing and timely latest of the effort. Ukrainian expert courier.
What the West does could decide the fate of the war
The issues facing the West now are serious, but they are also familiar.
How far should NATO go to meet Ukraine’s increasingly desperate requests for more numerous and more sophisticated offensive weapons? What is Russia’s red line before Western action triggers a massive escalation, possibly including the use of a battlefield nuclear weapon that could usher in a horrifying new era of warfare and a risk of US-American conflagration? and Russia?
Then there is the question of how much longer the political foundations of an extraordinary Western effort to save Ukraine, in the United States and in Europe, will hold, even if a mild continental winter has weakened Putin’s efforts to wage energy war against civilians. .
US President Joe Biden and Western leaders face a dilemma that has been made more acute by Ukraine’s resistance and its surprising ability to inflict heavy losses on the Russian military. Is the West committed to helping Ukraine drive the invader out of its entire territory? That is a goal that could eventually generate unpredictable political turmoil in Moscow and even threaten Putin’s survival in power. Or is he limiting his effort to giving Ukraine enough steel to survive but not to win?
Retired General Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Tuesday that the West had to do much more, especially after the Dnipro attack.
“We have to give Ukraine the weapons to drive out Russia. Russia is not giving up on what it is doing, Putin is mobilizing more forces. He is planning another offense,” Clark said. “It is fantastic that we give them 10 tanks from Great Britain. Ten tanks? Ukraine needs 300, 500 tanks. It’s great that we’re trying to send them some more howitzers. But it’s not enough. We have to take this seriously.”
Intensive Western diplomacy escalates over Ukraine
These questions are at the center of extraordinary diplomatic activity on both sides of the Atlantic this week. Biden spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday and welcomed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the Oval Office by a campfire. A high-level US government delegation visited Ukraine. The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, traveled to Poland to meet for the first time with his Ukrainian counterpart. And he will attend the upcoming Ukraine Contact Group meeting in Germany this week when 50 nations will come together to pledge new support for Kyiv.
All these leaders are talking about a great game. But after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s emotional pleas for more help on a Christmas visit to Washington, the question in Ukraine is whether the generosity of Western leaders will match their rhetoric.
“We are stepping up our protection of democratic values around the world… including our toughness with Ukraine,” Biden told Rutte on Tuesday. In response, the Dutch leader predicted that history will remember his host for saving Ukraine. “I want to personally congratulate him and the United States on his leadership,” Rutte said.
His comment was a reminder of the indisputably historic role Biden played in revitalizing the Cold War alliance against Russia. But it was also especially resonant for two reasons. First, Biden’s legacy in Ukraine, as the author of one of the most significant and thus far successful US foreign policy ventures in decades, will mean little if Washington does not continue to finance and arm Zelensky’s forces during a conflict. no end in sight. This means that the inexorable logic of US policy is toward deeper involvement, even if it doesn’t go as far as Zelensky hopes and is likely to cause further friction with Moscow and the new Republican majority in the House.
Second, Rutte’s invocation of the stakes shows that despite the storm over the discovery of some of Biden’s classified documents dating from his vice presidency where they shouldn’t be, the president is playing a bigger scenario. big with deep national security implications that will reverberate long after the latest Washington scandal subsides.
With that in mind, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken implicitly acknowledged on Tuesday the latest impending changes to US aid already worth tens of billions of dollars in a commitment that would have been unthinkable at the start of the war. .
“As this aggression has evolved, so has our assistance to Ukraine,” he told a news conference with Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.
“If you look at the trajectory of the Stingers, the Javelins, the HIMARs, the Bradley Fighting Vehicles and the Patriot missile batteries, we have continuously delivered what Ukraine needs and we are doing so in a way to make sure it is responsive to what is really happening. on the battlefield, as well as projecting where it might go,” Blinken said.
Following up on his comments, John Kirby, the White House National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that new announcements on weapons and assistance could arrive “perhaps as soon as the end of this week.” . He did not say whether the United States would also send tanks to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Cleverly said Putin needed to understand that Britain would have “the strategic resilience to stick with” Ukraine until “the job is done.”
“Now what we recognize is that they need the ability to push back hard in the East and the South,” Cleverly said in a conversation with CNN’s Kylie Atwood at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Meanwhile, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, vowed not to stop supporting Ukraine. “In this last year, your country has moved the world and inspired Europe and I can assure you that Europe will always be with you,” she von der Leyen said in Davos after Zelenska’s speech.
And there is growing optimism in Europe that Scholz, who will speak in Davos on Wednesday, will take the significant step for a nation that has abhorred militarism since World War II to also agree to send tanks to Ukraine.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said after visiting Berlin: “I strongly believe that Chancellor Scholz will decide on this and I witnessed a very important turning point or turning point in Germany’s thinking or mentality.”
Western rhetoric in support of Ukraine has rarely been so strident. The next few days will see if the promises of military aid coincide with that resolution.