Recently leaked intelligence papers suggest that the US is spying on world leaders, including US allies.  This is no doubt true, and it's certainly nothing new.  The very nature of NSA surveillance techniques, which involves culling trillions of bytes of data from every imaginable communications source, by definition will monitor the phones and internet traffic of foreign leaders, and pretty much everyone else.  That means the US spies on Ukraine, too.

 And it's probably a good thing. 

 One of the interesting cultural differences I observed in Eastern Europe revolves around manager-subordinate relations.  In the US, if a superior asks a question of a subordinate, answering, "I don't know," or "I'm not sure," is okay.  Expressing doubts about an initiative is not only acceptable, but often required.  The manager is trying to ascertain what is known and unknown, and as a manager myself, I wanted the story straight up.  This kind of interaction comes directly from the liberal arts tradition, where inquiry, uncertainty and an exchange of ideas is encouraged.  A topic can be discussed irrespective of the status of the participants. 

 That is not the system in Eastern Europe.  Students tend to be taught rote, and they are expected to know the 'right' answer.  Failure to do so draws a demerit.  Subordinates therefore feel under pressure to yield the 'proper' answer, resulting in claims of competence, knowledge or expertise which they may lack.  Consequently, an American manager will regularly be surprised by Eastern European subordinates who bite off more than they can chew and fail to deliver.  This in turn leads to delays and greater problems down the line.

 This sounds a bit like the information, or rather the lack of it, coming out of Kyiv regarding Ukraine's combat capabilities.  We know much more about Russian personnel, tank, aircraft and artillery losses than we know about Ukraine's.  This leads to unwelcome surprises, for example, seeing Ukraine cede ground where we might expect it to be winning.  Part of that arises from Kyiv's culturally conditioned fear of divulging bad news, of giving the ‘wrong’ answer.

 On the other hand, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they are not out to get you.  US support for Ukraine is ultimately political.  Kyiv has to keep the US public on board and may feel a need to paint a rosier picture than the reality on the ground.  Further, the hard right wing of the Republican Party wants to cut Kyiv loose, and President Biden remains hesitant about pursuing victory over Russia.  No less than Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, has excoriated the Biden administration for this waffling:

 "Just say, 'we want Ukraine to win.' Instead, what we hear from very good, smart, hardworking senior officials [is], 'we want Ukraine to be in the best, in the strongest possible position so that when they go to the negotiating table, they're in a good, strong position.'"

 What trust should Kyiv lend the US under the circumstances?  The Ukrainians are fighting for their lives, and the Biden administration is playing for a tie.  Does that foster open, full and frank communications?  Or does it open the door to another Afghanistan-style disaster in 2024 as the Ukraine slowly runs out of men?

 I always try to close my posts with some interesting insight.  Here I struggle.  Trust is important.  That's cliche.  The partners should trust each other.  Well, the partners' objectives are not quite aligned.  Moreover, the Ukrainians are a bit unsophisticated, and the US president vacillates.  Maybe the US and Ukraine should not trust each other entirely. In such a world, spying can have an upside, because it can deliver bad news on the sly and allow US planners to adjust military support more rapidly.  At the same time, Kyiv cannot afford to fully trust US leadership and be a passive consumer of US policy.  The Ukrainians need to be able to think for themselves, and outside the military sphere, they remain subpar in this regard by a substantial margin.

 Finally, President Biden's legacy still rests on victory in Ukraine.  Two days after the start of the war, I wrote “The Democrats will be buried in the Ashes of Kyiv,” in which I argued that the Biden administration will own any loss in Ukraine.  That's also true for a “tie” which allows Russia to retain any of its gains.  Moreover, the administration has to see Ukraine win the war within the next sixteen months if it wants credit at the polls next November, and that includes any possible recession between now and then.  For the Biden administration, playing for a tie is fraught with risk and likely a political loser.

 The administration would do better to commit to victory.  With it, the Ukrainians will trust us more.  This can lead to victory in the field, which should ensure President Biden's re-election in 2024. 

 Perhaps that's the lesson for today. Commitment creates trust, and trust is political capital in the long run.

 Steven Kopits heads Princeton Policy Advisors. A strategic management consultant and investment banker, he writes frequently on policy topics for a variety of publications, including Foreign Policy and The National Interest, and is a regular contributor to CNBC and The Hill.

 Reprinted with the author’s agreement from Princeton Policy Blog. Read the original here.

 The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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Comments (4)
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The least Biden can do after the intelligence leak disaster is to immediately provide Ukraine, from existing US stocks, with all that is missing for a successful counter offensive by June 2023. That means 20 fully mobile sets of low, medium and high altitude air defense systems, artillery ammunition and 150 Abrams tanks of any available version, 250 Bradleys, and about twice the necessary minefield breaching systems
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Added to the tradition of compliance in place of independent reasoning is the traditional role of eastern European nations as 'buffer states' held in thrall to the various neighboring 'spheres of influence.' The idea of genuine and thorough national sovereignty or territorial integrity as their own sacrosanct doctrines of policy is all but unknown in the old Warsaw Pact zone, and to some extent across all of Europe. A threadbare patchwork of dozens of borders, languages, currencies, legal codes, political parties and tribal histories (Europe, in other words) has long been a soft target for nations such as UK, China, USA or Russia, who have themselves long since subjugated the will to internal factionalism in their own countries under singular regimes to which all must answer.

Ukraine itself is made up of various cultural/linguistic groups with distinct histories and traditions, making this chant of 'slava Ukraini' more ambiguous and not as entirely convinced of itself as wartime propaganda would have us believe. No wonder a nation only three decades into self-knowledge as an independent state has found itself caught yet again in a titanic struggle ultimately to be determined by which imperial sphere of influence is best suited to make Ukraine into its obedient buffer state. It is simply naive magical thinking to assume that the USA's or NATO's intentions toward Ukraine are any more altruistic than Russia's, all claims of 'defense of liberal democracy' notwithstanding.

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@INCREDULOUSICONOCLAST, Under the circumstances, history matters very little to millions of Ukrainians, who have been fully transformed by recent events, and now have near absolute unanimity and certainty of what is in their best long term interests, as well as supreme confidence in the ultimate outcome, which will be a clearly focused, united and ever stronger country, absolutely determined to be whole again, notwithstanding temporary unavailable of modern fighter jets.
The Taliban had almost nothing compared to what Ukraine inherently has, and is continuously getting from other players, each acting in their own interests.
Consequently the inevitable result on the ground will arrive on a much shorter time scale than the Russian defeat in Afghanistan.
Russia's opportunistic aggression has triggered unity of apprehension, purpose and determination in the US and EU, and for now, all that matters is that this unity, and unprecedented coherence in actions, already transcends notions of friendship, NATO, joining the EU, etc.
oksana bashuk hepburn
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Agree with Steven Kopeks that US/NATO/global democracy FAILS if Ukraine's does not get a victory over russia. To win it needs missiles, AirPower, and ammunition. Nato needs to tell russia: no funny horrific chemical or nuke experiences or automatic membership for Ukraine in NATO.

Even NATO now is too late. it was mucked up as a most effective deterrent to russia's criminality cause we let russia set the game plans. So onwards.

After the victory Ukraine needs a firm pro-Ukraine outcome of the negotiations, NATO membership and a way to clean/control russia's spies/fifthe column in Ukraine.

pres. Biden's team must realize asap what an opportunity Ukraine is for him and the USA, embrace it and take it. Agree that if Ukraine loses, US & Biden will lose too. And remember hals measures aren't good enough for victory!
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Steven makes very good points. The ISW also frustrates ns by claiming most elite Russian units are demoralized, or have been rendered combat ineffective, yet we see continual gains in Bakhmut and other places. Kyiv needs to be more persuasive about the impact of delays in supply of key weapons and adequate ammunition. This is not about "how long it takes" but "how fast" can Russia be defeated. That means moving from a commercial footing to a war footing, to outpace Russia faster.