What the Putinists Get Wrong About Ukraine

The alarm over the fate of funding for Ukraine has spread from this corner to the WaPo thanks to Josh Rogin.

Many in Washington were surprised when Congress failed to approve continued vital support to Ukraine last weekend. But for the far-right MAGA lawmakers fighting to kill the aid, this was the culmination of months of hard work. Now, Ukraine’s backers face a steep uphill climb to restore the funding. If they fail, the result will be more Ukrainians killed and a longer, costlier war.

The signal boost from Rogin is quite welcome, especially as the Putinists from outside the House and inside it have begun consolidating behind Jim Jordan’s candidacy for Speaker (WaPo). Rogin does more than that, though; he also gives advice for the pro-Ukraine side (emphasis added).

… those who support aid for Ukraine must come up with a better legislative and public communications strategy. Contrary to the MAGA message, abandoning Ukraine won’t end the war. Instead, it could lead to the wider conflict everyone is trying to avoid.

The emphasized statement best reflects the Putinists’ mistakes in how they see the conflict. It comes in three parts. The Kremlin caucus seriously underestimate Ukrainian resolve. It minimizes or ignores Russian cruelty, which further skews their views of Ukraine’s willingness to fight. Finally, they do not understand the consequences of preventing a Ukrainian victory.

Let’s take each problem in turn.

Underestimating Ukraine’s Resolve

Before the 2022 invasion began, the question of how Ukrainians would respond was a heated topic. On this very blog, even as Ukrainians began to put up their defense, some authors presumed, “civilian centers … will now be weaponized as human shields in the face of Russian tanks whether they volunteer for service or huddle in their homes — as predicted, a repeat of the Syrian Civil War” and that our European allies would be “unwilling to assist the Ukrainians in any meaningful form.”

Kyiv was supposed to fall in three days. Twenty-one months later it remains never occupied. Territory taken from Ukraine was supposed to be Russian forever. Ukraine has since retaken at least half of it (Reuters). Ukraine does not have a navy. They are winning the Battle of the Black Sea anyway (Atlantic Council). These are not a people that need our encouragement to fight.

Part of the problem blinding the Kremlin caucus is their obsession with the Maidan uprising. They are convinced it was a foreign operation. They’re wrong about that, but more importantly, their focus on it leaves them stuck in 2014. They haven’t noticed that the Maidan-supported government was voted out of power in 2019. President Zelensky defeated his Maidan-supporting predecessor (Petro Poroshenko). The governing party (Zelensky’s Servant of the People) didn’t exist in 2014. The Ukrainian people have moved on from Maidan, even if Putin and his allies can’t.

As for our allies, the first long-range missiles to be sent to Ukraine came not from us, but from the British (CNN). Fifteen European nations have contributed a larger share of their GDP to Ukraine than we have. As of October, America hadn’t even provided a majority of the military aid Ukraine received (CNN).

The Role of Russian Cruelty

One of the things that is encouraging Ukrainians to fight on simply doesn’t register with the Putinists: the cruelty of the invading Russians.

Two of the areas liberated by Ukraine (Bucha and Izyum) have mass graves courtesy of Russian-caused massacres (PBS and CBS). The number of rapes committed by Russian invaders is at least in the hundreds (ABC News). Russia itself has admitted to seizing over two-thirds of a million children from Ukraine (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty). Then there’s Kherson (NBC News).

According to the new evidence gathered by the investigation, at least 36 victims described the use of electrocution during interrogations, and of those cases nearly half involved electrocution of genitals. Others detailed incidents where genital mutilation was threatened and at least one person said they were forced to witness the rape of another detainee by a foreign object.

Other techniques commonly used against detainees in the more than 35 torture chambers in Kherson were suffocation, waterboarding, severe beatings and threats of rape, according to the evidence gathered.

In March, the Mobile Justice Team reported that at least 20 torture sites in Kherson were directly financed by the Kremlin and managed by various Russian security agencies, including Russia’s Federal Security Services, known as the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

Putinists and anti-anti-Putinists have insisted that Russia care more about the land of Ukraine than anyone else. Even if that were true (it’s not), Ukrainians are fighting for more than just land. Parents are fighting to keep their children. Husbands are fighting to keep their wives from being raped. Wives are fighting to protect their husbands from being murdered. These are not causes that suddenly vanish if outside allies start going wobbly.

The Consequences of Russian Success

One of the reasons European nations have been so willing to help Ukraine is because they understand what would happen if Russia gets away with slicing up Ukraine. Russian General Andrey Mordvichev is already dropping broad hints of war with “Eastern Europe” (New York Post). Finland joined NATO for a reason.

Any outcome that doesn’t lead to Russia’s expulsion from Ukraine will send a signal that irridentist seizures of territory can succeed without consequence. The Chinese Communist Party and Kim Jong-un would gleefully take note. In fact, both of them are already making it clear which side they’re on (Politico and CBS). That’s why Japan has made no secret about its support for Ukraine.

The National Interest(s)

The Putinists tend to think our allies in Europe and Asia would rather toss us aside to advance their own agendas. They don’t see why we’re allies in the first place: our interests and theirs happen to align in a lot of areas. If we were to decide (wrongly) that we shouldn’t care about Russia gobbling up Ukraine, Europe and Japan wouldn’t simply follow our lead. They’d likely see themselves in even greater danger from the Moscow-Beijing axis.

Contrary to the Putinists’ assertion, it is in no one’s interest to see Ukraine defeated – or even forced into a stalemate – among our allies and in the democratic world. As I said nearly two years ago, Ukraine will continue this fight. Our refusal to back them wouldn’t change that. It would simply make the fight longer and bloodier.

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