Vladimir Putin is fighting a two-front war. Sure, he’s losing badly in Eastern Ukraine, but things are looking up for the Russian dictator in the West—at least on the political front that runs through every ballot box in America.
Although the resilience, courage, and skill of the Ukrainian military has driven Putin to increasingly desperate and depraved measures to avoid further battlefield humiliation, he can see a glimmer of hope on the horizon. And it’s being provided by the leadership of the Republican Party.
“The GOP cavalry is coming! Hang on Vlad!” is the clear message being sent by Republican leaders like House Minority Leader (who might very soon be Speaker of the House) Kevin McCarthy. In an interview with Punchbowl News, McCarthy said:
“I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it…Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they do and it can’t be a blank check.”
Based on McCarthy’s statement and those of others in the party’s leadership, it is now reasonable to assume that if Republicans reclaim control of one or both houses of the U.S. Congress, they will reduce vitally needed support to Ukraine. And, of course, should Washington back off in support of Kyiv, it would be a disaster for Ukraine’s attempts to resist Putin’s invasion, and could doom that country’s heroic efforts to remain an independent democracy.
And all this could happen at the exact moment that a reeling and isolated Putin really needs all the help he can get.
Ukrainian troops continue to make gains against the Russians, and new opportunities for them are emerging as Russia falters. The Ukrainian military is moving closer and closer to retaking the key city of Kherson. Putin’s efforts at shoring up his military through conscription are going badly—except where they are going terribly. The new conscripts are also very unlikely to be much help to Russia’s war effort, given how badly equipped and poorly trained they are.
More criticism of the Russian army’s failures is appearing in the Russian media. And where there is no criticism, government-friendly Russian pundits are making grotesque, brutal suggestions that their motherland embark on even more genocidal assaults on Ukraine. Russian assaults on Ukrainian power stations, although depriving millions of electricity, are having the opposite of the intended effect, inspiring even greater Ukrainian resolve. Putin’s declaration of martial law in the four regions of Ukraine he claims—but over which he has neither a legitimate claim nor control—was seen as a gesture that, per The Washington Post, would likely produce “little change in Russia’s fortunes on the battlefield.”
In the face of this, rather than hailing the progress being made by Ukraine (with the support of the U.S. and many Western allies) against a sworn American enemy, Republican leaders are choosing now to question that support. The sentiment on the right that Ukraine is a minor concern and a waste of American taxpayer money has been steadily growing.
As early as last May, 57 Republicans voted against the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, and since the invasion in February, polls have shown that the number of self-identified Republicans who believe the U.S. provides too much support for Ukraine has more than tripled. And while Biden administration officials, per a Politico report, hope that bipartisan support for aid to Ukraine holds, McCarthy’s comments are worrisome.
After all, withholding aid to Ukraine was a signature decision of the leader of the Republican Party, former President Donald Trump (even if the way he did it was illegal and led to his first impeachment.)
And many in the GOP have benefited over the years, as Trump did, from Russian support. This, in turn, has led to GOP politicians working hard for Russian benefactors. And even as Russia has brutalized Ukraine, it has led to a chorus of defenses of Putin from Trump and the MAGA right. (A dark irony of all this is that the GOP is hoping to ride to victory in November by stirring up public frustration with inflation, a phenomenon that is not only global and largely beyond the control of Democrats or anyone in Congress—but has actually been made much worse by Putin.)
“American voters need to recognize that it is not just U.S. democracy that is on the ballot in November, it is the fate of democracies everywhere that are threatened by Putin and his Axis of Autocrats.”
A recent interview with columnist Christopher Coldwell by Isaac Chotiner in The New Yorker provides helpful insights into why conservatives are drawn to Putin—from his perceived role as an ally in the culture wars to the contempt they share with him for international institutions.
But it is clearly not simply the abstract appeal of Putin’s macho nativist authoritarianism that draws the American right to Putin. It is the result of a campaign by Putin to both win support in the West and, at the same time, to weaken the Western alliance—and with it, the resolve and means to oppose him. An illustration of this came from the Biden administration, which shared a recent intelligence community review that indicated that Russia has spent over $300 million on influencing foreign elections during the past eight years.
Indeed, when you look at the progress made from Putin’s efforts to use active measures to subvert Western democracies (in part by winning support within them) and compare it to his abject failures as a military strategist in Ukraine, it is easy to draw the conclusion that the former KGB lieutenant colonel should have stuck to the intel game.
That said, given the GOP’s history of support for Putin, and the rumblings that Republican leaders may seek to dial back our aid for Ukraine at precisely the wrong moment—it’s entirely possible that Putin may get the last laugh, thanks in great part to having opened that second front in the West.
For that reason, American voters need to recognize that it is not just U.S. democracy that is on the ballot in November; it is the fate of democracies everywhere that are threatened by Putin and his Axis of Autocrats.
It is not just U.S. rights and freedoms that will suffer should the GOP win; it is those of our friends—like Ukraine and other states currently being menaced by Russia and those that might be inspired by a Russian success in Ukraine. Thanks to reasons that the GOP leadership have made crystal clear, voters must vote like it is not just America’s future on the ballot, but that of Ukraine’s and of the Western world.