“The language of escalation is the language of excuse.” That’s how Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, dismisses anxiety that assistance to Ukraine could provoke Russia to either expand the war to NATO countries or cross the nuclear threshold. The country most concerned about Russia expanding its aggression beyond Ukraine is the country least likely to be the victim of it: the United States.
The Biden administration has been unequivocal in its policy declarations. The president has said, repeatedly and in public, that the U.S. will provide Ukraine “whatever it takes, as long as it takes.” The president wants the political benefits of heroically assisting the good of Ukraine against the evil of Russia, but his administration’s policy is much more hesitant than its bold declarations would suggest.
I spoke to Ukrainians both in and outside of government during a recent trip to Kyiv with the Renew Democracy Initiative. Those I met were keenly aware that Ukraine relies on U.S. weapons, U.S. financial assistance, and U.S. leadership to pull together international support, and they expressed gratitude for all that the United States is doing. Most know very well that Ukraine would have lost the war without the U.S. rallying support to keep its economy from collapsing, arm its soldiers, and provide essential intelligence to protect its leaders and blunt Russian attacks. Ukrainian government officials are careful to speak only of the United States as a whole, without singling out the Biden administration or delving into U.S. domestic politics.
Yet Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers acknowledged that “the first answer the U.S. gives to any request is no.” That was America’s answer across the past three presidential administrations: no to javelin missiles, no to stinger missiles, no to NATO membership, no to F-16s, no to weapons that can reach Russian territory, no to tanks, no to Patriot air defenses, no to HIMARs, no to ATACMs, and—until this week—again no to F-16s, even if they aren’t U.S. F-16s. [Continue reading…]