Americans should back Ukraine to win the war and then make Russia pay for it.
Support for Ukraine and opposition to Russian aggression remain high, but confidence in President Joe Biden is low, and his leadership of the international effort has been lacking. His inability to articulate the threat Russia poses to US interests in concrete terms and his refusal to commit to Ukraine’s victory — never mind devising and supplying a strategy to achieve it — are wearing patience thin. His repeated claim the United States will back Ukraine “for as long as it takes” without defining “it” is frustrating even to America’s most dedicated Ukraine-backers.
The Ukrainians must be permitted to fight the way their commanders on the ground determine will best stop the Russian assault, retake the Russian-occupied territory and return the region to peace. Only under these conditions will the war end on terms that favor Americans, who have a clear interest in stopping Russian aggression, degrading the Russian military and backing our democratic allies in NATO and in Asia who know the high risks of allowing an expansionist authoritarian power to succeed in using nuclear blackmail to subsume sovereign nations.
Before the war and throughout, policymakers have urged Biden to stand firm and deter the Russians, turn up sanctions and rush in the weapons Kyiv requires to compel the Kremlin to stop its assault and withdraw forces. But Biden has instead chosen to adopt a slow tempo and gradual approach to providing more capable weapons, including longer-range strike systems like HIMARS and ATACMS and more effective munitions like DPICMs.
Republican leaders have pushed all those systems with the goal of helping Ukraine to win and not merely to not lose as Ukraine grinds through its counteroffensive. Congress should not settle for Biden’s platitudes and must continue to press him to cooperate with allies to fully back Ukraine’s victory. The Department of Defense has received the most funding in every supplemental dubbed “for Ukraine.” But there is a misunderstanding that the money is going there at the expense of here. Not so. The Pentagon is receiving money to replenish stocks, expand production capacity of certain munitions, train and pay American troops and give the military a chance to replace the older weapons being sent to destroy the Russian military with newer, more advanced weapons. That money is well spent for American security and readiness.
But when it comes to rebuilding Ukrainian society itself, Congress should insist the Russians pay for the reconstruction. The United States and democratic allies including the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, Japan and Italy have seized billions of dollars’ worth of Russian oligarch assets. There are homes, yachts and jets sanctioned — and taxpayers are paying for their upkeep.
A bipartisan bill would give the president the authority to make Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction efforts. The Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity (REPO) for Ukrainians Act, introduced by Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees, enables the US government to provide Kyiv aid by accessing the $300 billion in frozen assets confiscated from the Central Bank of the Russian Federation and other sovereign Russian assets. It also instructs the president to work with allies and partners to distribute the funds.
The White House has so far shown its trademark hesitation in dealing with the Russians — as well as reluctance in going after the frozen assets of the Russian oligarchs who benefit from and support Putin’s corruption, crimes and aggression. But recent assessments put the cost to rebuild the Ukrainian infrastructure the Kremlin destroyed in just the first year since the invasion at more than $400 billion.
Americans are right to want Ukraine to win, but it is asking too much of Americans to rebuild the country. If Biden keeps saying he’ll support Ukraine “as long as it takes,” Congress should respond by telling him that it should take as little time as possible — and Russians should pay for what they have done.