February 28, 2024 | The Washington Times

Putin’s defeat in Ukraine

That should be the goal of liberals and conservatives alike
February 28, 2024 | The Washington Times

Putin’s defeat in Ukraine

That should be the goal of liberals and conservatives alike

Last Friday, President Biden announced new sanctions targeting 500 Russian officials and companies.

His aim was to deliver the “devastating” consequences that, three years ago, he vowed Russia’s ruler, Vladimir Putin, would face if Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, were to die in a Siberian penal colony – as he did, on Feb. 16th at the age of 47.

“Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” Mr. Biden said. “Putin is responsible.” 

The sanctions also are intended to hobble Russia’s economy as Mr. Putin’s war to conquer Ukraine enters its third year.

To call these 500 sanctions a slap on the wrist would be unfair. To call these sanctions 500 slaps on the wrist would not be unfair. And Muhammad Ali never won a fight by slapping wrists.

If only the U.S. had allies willing – on their own, without putting American troops at risk – to do the hard work necessary to degrade Russia’s military capabilities, to diminish Mr. Putin’s threat to NATO, and reduce his value to America’s other adversaries!

Oh wait! America does have such allies. Their capital is in Kyiv, their president is Volodymyr Zelensky, and they are only asking for more of the tools necessary to get the job done.

A bipartisan bill to authorize new military assistance – old ammunition made in America which we’d replace within U.S. war stocks by new ammunition made in America – passed 70-29 in the Senate.

But a faction of Republicans in the House is blocking a vote in that body – a vote that would easily garner a bipartisan majority.

Meanwhile, the rulers of Iran, China, and North Korea – an Axis of Anti-American Tyrannies – are sending Mr. Putin an abundant supply of missiles, drones, and other weaponry.

Memo to Donald Trump: You’ve said that upon returning to the Oval Office you’ll negotiate a peace deal. Will you have more leverage if the Ukrainian defenders are making progress, or if the Russian invaders are advancing?

Not so long ago, anyone who called himself a conservative regarded Mr. Putin as a villain: a former KGB colonel who said the “demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.

Conservatives winced when Vice President Joe Biden, in 2009, declared that “it was time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas we can and should be working together with Russia.”

In 2013, conservatives criticized President Obama for not enforcing his “red line” after Bashar al-Assad persisted in slaughtering opponents and civilians with chemical weapons. Instead, Mr. Obama trusted Mr. Putin to rein in the Syrian dictator – which, of course, he did not.

Was it just coincidence that, the following year, Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine for the first time?

Conservatives were dismayed by Mr. Obama’s weak response; his refusal to give Ukrainians weapons that might have deterred Mr. Putin going forward.

Over the past two years, President Biden’s support for Ukraine has not been insignificant. But neither has it been sufficient to allow the Ukrainians to drive the aggressors from their lands.

American and European sanctions have had only a limited impact on Russia’s economy. Russian hydrocarbons remain valuable commodities. China, India, and Brazil are eager customers.

Also: A whopping 6% of Russia’s GDP is now going to the military. That has stimulated Russia’s economy which has been growing faster than expected.

On Friday, Mr. Biden vowed “to continue to ensure that Putin pays a price for his aggression abroad and his repression at home.”

If he’s serious, three measures should be at the top of his list.

One: He should immediately send a dozen ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) with unitary warheads (better against hard targets than the cluster munitions variant) and with longer ranges than anything now in Ukraine’s arsenal. He can do that without Congressional approval.

Though these missiles wouldn’t be silver bullets, they’d make a difference.

Among the targets they could reach: the Kerch Strait Bridge that connects Russia to Crimea. Built following Mr. Putin 2014 annexation of the peninsula, it has been attacked several times but not beyond repair. It was fully reopened in October.

Two: Mr. Biden should seize the $300 billion in frozen Russian bank reserves and utilize those funds to help Ukrainians defend themselves and begin rebuilding. It’s an extraordinary measure but one justified by Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion and the multiple war crimes that have followed.

A slight variation: Mr. Biden could use the funds as collateral for a lend-lease program for Ukraine.

Three: Mr. Biden should reverse his decision to curtail exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Without an abundant and reliable supply of American LNG – sales of which earn profits for Americans – the Europeans will be tempted to increase their purchases of oil and gas from Russia (they’ve never gone cold turkey) or buy more from Qatar which has spent lavishly over the years on Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

As for getting additional military aid to Ukraine quickly, one other promising path is now in the mix. A bipartisan group of House members have introduced the Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act which combines providing weapons to allies with a version of Mr. Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy for aliens seeking admission.

That will cause some Democrats to vote against it, but it will pass – if it has the support of Speaker Mike Johnson and some of the Republicans most determined to curtail Mr. Biden’s open-borders policy.

They should provide that support because having allies willing and able to fight common enemies makes America stronger.

And because the Axis of Anti-American Tyrannies would see Mr. Putin’s victory over Ukraine as a significant defeat for America.

And they’d be right.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.


Russia Ukraine