On December 4, the Washington Post published an article by Robert Wright, “Biden can help Zelensky, and Ukraine, by pushing for peace,” which illustratively gets everything wrong. Let me point out what is wrong:
“Biden can help Zelensky, and Ukraine, by pushing for peace.” No, in surveys 90% of the Ukrainians regularly state that they expect Ukraine to win. Whoever in Ukraine stops short of victory will lose political power. Wright just ignores Ukraine’s democratic politics. The Ukrainians understand that if Putin does not lose all territories that he has conquered he will just rest until he has recovered sufficient strength so that he can attack again. Wright appears unaware of this very argument.
Putin has violated all relevant international agreements and bilateral agreements with Ukraine. Wright only states that “this war has been extremely costly for Russia and for Vladimir Putin.” That does not make Putin a reliable person. He must be defeated to be checked.
“If an enduring peace can be had through negotiation…then negotiations would be in America’s interest.” We know that is not possible. Putin would not give up without victory and Zelensky would be ousted by democratic politics if he stopped before liberating the whole territory of Ukraine. Remember that Ukraine is democratic while Russia is a dictatorship!
“The war is costing America lots of money.” No US government money is better spent than the US military support to Ukraine. For 3% of the annual US defense budget, Ukraine has taken out half of the Russian military force, one of the US two international adversaries (the other one being China). In addition, so far this war has not cost the life of any US government soldier (more than a dozen of US volunteers have died).
“This spending is inflationary.” No, it is not. It is too tiny to matter $40bn out of the US $23,000bn GDP = 0.17% of US GDP. Wright proceeds by contradicting himself: “some European officials are accusing the United States of profiteering,” that is, just after having claimed that the US is suffering economically, he on the contrary claims that Europeans complain that the US benefiting economically.
The US economic benefits are palpable and obvious: more US LNG exports to Europe at good prices and more US arms exports. Furthermore, the arms not only of Russia but also China (largely Russian made) are being proven obsolete. The US military and US arms producers learn in real time which arms that are good and which are not. In terms of the number of soldiers, the volume of military hardware and ammunition, this is the biggest war at least since the Korean War and probably since World War II. The US receives all these valuable real-time tests and information without having to risk the lives of US soldiers. The US had better deliver more arms faster to make Ukraine win faster!
“Every day the war continues, more Ukrainians die, and more of Ukraine gets wrecked.”
If Wright had been democratically inclined, he would instead have asked what the Ukrainians want, which they have stated so clearly so many times: Kick out the Russians! That requires more US support faster.
The only reference that Wright cites for his not very democratic defeatism for Ukraine is Samuel Charap, who has persistently advocated that Ukraine should give up territory to Russia. In no way does he reveal any knowledge of Ukraine, and his article suggests it is minimal.
Similarly, Wright does not even mention the EU or that Ukrainians with more than two-thirds majority want to join both the EU and NATO. For the Ukrainian nation this war is existential. They have decided to survive and to join the West, which Wright ignores. Nor does he mention Russia’s war crimes or genocide in Ukraine.
Needless to say, Wright does not cite any Russian proposal for negotiated settlement, because they are all maximalist. He just mentions Putin once in passing, since the best way of defending Putin is to ignore him.
What nearly all Ukrainians understand is that there can be no lasting peace with Russia until it has been DEFEATED. A peaceful settlement with Russia requires that Ukraine regains its whole territory from February 2014, including Donbas and Crimea.
In passing, Wright mentions Russia’s “casual seizure of Crimea in 2014.” It went so easily because Ukraine had allowed Russia to lease the Sevastopol naval base on Crimea. The lesson from Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 is that Ukraine needs to seize full control also of Sevastopol.
In 1997, Ukraine leased Sevastopol to Russia for 20 years through a bilateral agreement with Russia at the same time as the two countries concluded an eternal Friendship Treaty. These treaties between the newly-reelected Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President Leonid Kuchma stood out as the high point of the friendship between Russia and Ukraine, but then Putin arrived. In 2010, his underling Dmitri Medvedev pressurized pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to lease Sevastopol for another 25 years for dubious gas price discounts.
After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, Putin has canceled these treaties. Therefore, no legal basis exists for Russia holding on to Sevastopol any longer, and Russia had better turn it over to Ukraine for good.
Fortunately, I am convinced that well-informed President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are smart enough to recognize Ukraine’s democracy. They are not going to jeopardize the fate of Ukraine’s democratically-elected leader. They have told us so repeatedly: Ukraine decides about the fate of Ukraine.
Anders Åslund is the author of “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: the Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.”
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