'Hope for Peace is Named Donald Trump'
Ukraine's biggest risk is an isolationist United States
In October, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban said to an audience in Berlin what many of Vladimir Putin's backers are pinning their hopes on: "Hope for peace is named Donald Trump."
Trump has been repeatedly claiming that he could end the war quickly. "It really has to be done from the office of the president. And you have to get both in a room, and there are things you can say to each one of them, which I won't reveal now, which will guarantee that this war will end immediately," he said in a recent video. In reaction to the Biden Administration's decision to send 31 Abrams tanks to Kyiv. Trump warned that providing tanks to Kyiv would lead to "nukes."
In a way, he is right: he could end the war if he were president, because he could cease providing weapons to Ukraine. But it would not be a settlement, it would be a capitulation.
Without U.S. military support for Ukraine from the Biden Administration, Russia would have won the war within weeks. The United States has been far and away the largest provider of military aid. According to the Kiel Institute for World Economics, the United States has provided 22.9 billion Euros in military support through November 20. Who is next? The United Kingdom with 4.1 billion, the European Union institutions with 3.1 billion, and Germany independently with 2.34 billion.
U.S. weapons have been decisive. For example, the U.S. decision to give Ukraine M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). These highly advanced systems allowed Ukraine to overcome its numerical disadvantage of troops and strike deep into Russian supply lines. The Institute for Study of War, a Washington think-tank, attributed Ukraine's ability to retake territory in Kherson largely to "the Ukrainian Armed Forces' (UAF's) innovative use of the US-provided HIMARS precision rocket system."
While the United States has been strong in its support for Ukraine, it is also the weakest link.
Given Trump's eagerness to end the war, it seems highly unlikely that he would have made the same decisions as Biden. It's also unlikely that in a second Trump term, he would have veteran national security hands, the so-called adults in the room, to steer him away from emotional and impulsive decision-making and friendliness towards Putin.
Many Republicans also think that the United States should curtail its support for Ukraine. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy warned in October that Republicans would not provide a "blank check" for Ukraine in the majority. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who is an influential member of the House GOP caucus, vowed in November that "not another penny" would go to Ukraine. She has echoed Putin talking points, saying in March that NATO was supplying weapons to "neo-Nazis in Ukraine." According to a January Pew Research Center survey, 40 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think the United States is providing too much support for Ukraine, up from just nine percent in March. (A few days ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sat down for an interview with Fox News, speaking directly to its largely Republican audience.)
Some cracks in the alliance have emerged in Europe, but they have been of minimal importance. Recently, Orban's Hungary and Austria drew headlines with an announcement that they would not be giving Ukraine weapons. But Austria is a neutral country, not part of NATO, and has never sent weapons to Ukraine. Orban has said from the beginning of the war that he would not supply weapons to Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz drew consternation for dragging his feet to sending Leopard tanks; he agreed only after exacting a promise from the United States that they too would supply tanks. Scholz and those around him have cast his decision-making as strengthening German sovereignty. However, it had close to the opposite effect: by waiting for the United States, it solidified the notion that Berlin's defense relies on Washington.
But Scholz and Biden did send the tanks; it's unlikely that Trump would do the same. For months, one of Russia's few hopes was that a government or two in the European Union, because of rising fuel prices, would turn right-wing populist, collapsing the sanctions coalition. The winter has been warm and even Italy's right-wing Prime Minister Georgia Meloni has been steadfast in her support for Ukraine. Now, the biggest risk is that Trump -- or someone with isolationist and nationalist instincts like him -- will be elected as U.S. president in 2024 and end U.S. support for Ukraine. It's of course impossible to predict the likelihood of that happening a little less than two years out. But it is within the realm of possibility. For Russia, this possibility is an incentive to keep going despite heavy casualties. For Ukraine, the stalemate-like nature of the war means that time is not on their side.
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