The Korea Herald


[Carl P. Leubsdorf] Ukraine’s battles drag on

By Korea Herald

Published : March 1, 2024 - 05:29

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Two years after Vladimir Putin sought to wipe it off the European map, Ukraine still stands. But its future remains in doubt.

The resistance of House Republicans has stalled the provision of more vital US aid. And the past few months have not been kind to Ukrainian troops on the country’s hundreds of miles of battlefields.

That the embattled country still stands is a surprise to both sides -- an unpleasant one to Putin, who was confident his mighty legions could score a quick success, and a pleasant one to the West, which feared he was right.

That it still stands is primarily a tribute to the brave Ukrainians who have fought fiercely to protect their homeland and to their charismatic president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He first showed his character in rejecting Donald Trump’s blackmail and became a global democratic hero by mobilizing support for his country, at home and abroad.

But its survival is also a tribute to the leaders of the West, to President Joe Biden and those who followed his lead and rallied to support their neighbor, lest Putin next target one of their fellow NATO members.

Among them:

-- The leaders of Sweden and Finland, who have forsaken decades of neutrality to align themselves with the forces of democracy by finally deciding to join NATO.

-- Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, who embraced the effort after years of trying to balance economic relations with Russia and political ties to NATO and the United States.

-- And many less known figures, like Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of little Estonia, potentially a prime target if Putin succeeds in Ukraine. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, Estonian aid to Ukraine totals 3.8 percent of its gross domestic product -- the most of any nation and 10 times that of the United States.

These leaders have not wavered in supporting Ukraine. But Biden acknowledged recently there may be limits to what he can persuade the American Congress to do.

Initially, the president’s mantra was that the United States would stand with Ukraine “as long as it takes.” But in December, formally unveiling his administration’s latest aid package, he said the United States would stand with the embattled country “as long as we can.”

That reflected the difficulty Biden has encountered in recent months from the chaotically Republican-led House of Representatives in providing additional aid. First announced last October, a revised version of Biden’s proposal finally passed the Senate on Feb. 13.

But it remains stalemated after five months in the House, where new Speaker Mike Johnson continues to waffle on whether and how he will put the proposal before the full membership.

Meanwhile, pro-Ukraine members from both parties -- believing they have the support of a bipartisan majority of the full House -- are plotting parliamentary maneuvers to get around the speaker. But the outcome remains uncertain.

The resulting impasse has prompted apocalyptic warnings from Zelenskyy and other Western leaders of the dire impact on Ukraine of an American failure to maintain the flow of needed assistance.

“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique,” the Ukrainian president said during a Washington visit last December.

“Will Ukrainians survive without Congress’ support?” he asked during an interview last week with Fox News’ Bret Baier. “Of course, but not all of us.”

Underlying this struggle is the potential impact of next November’s American presidential election. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has made it clear he is no fan of US support for Ukraine -- or NATO. He has predicted that, if elected, he and Putin could settle the matter in 24 hours.

Trump’s attitude is a key factor behind the House Republican leadership’s refusal to even grant a vote on the proposal. During the recent Senate debate, Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance, a key Trump supporter, warned that the aid package “represents an attempt by the foreign policy blob/deep state to stop President Trump from pursuing his desired policy, and, if he does so anyways, to provide grounds to impeach him and undermine his administration.”

House Republicans are not the only ones whose plans are being affected by the possibility that Trump will regain the presidency in November. Analysts see no reason for Putin to consider any settlement now if the American elections will, in effect, deliver Ukraine to him.

At the same time, military analysts believe the tides of war have shifted somewhat to the Russians because of Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive last summer and the fact it could be running short of troops, weapons and bullets.

Reflecting the drive that has put the Ukrainians back on the defensive, Russian forces recently re-occupied Avdiivka, a key crossroads in eastern Ukraine -- its biggest military success in a year. Western efforts to cripple Russia’s economy with waves of sanctions have been largely unsuccessful.

Some weeks ago, there were reports of private talk among Ukraine’s allies -- including the United States -- of the need to prepare for ultimately reaching a compromise settlement. But Zelenskyy has been no more willing to do so than Putin, still talking unconvincingly of regaining all land lost to the Russians.

So, after two years, the bloody war goes on, a success in terms of Ukraine’s original outlook, but with no certainty of achieving a permanent one.

By Carl P. Leubsdorf

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)