Earlier this month President Biden addressed the nation. Rather than do so from behind the Resolute Desk, he went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” In a 23-minute interview, Russia’s war on Ukraine wasn’t mentioned once. With domestic issues such as inflation, the Jan. 6 hearings, abortion and gun control on the president’s plate, the war in Ukraine may seem less of a priority. But it isn’t. Providing Ukraine with everything it needs to fight the Russians is the right—and popular—thing to do.
Yet Mr. Biden seems as if he’d rather pass the buck than act. During remarks at a Democratic fundraiser two days after the Kimmel interview, he said that President
“didn’t want to hear it” when warned about Russia’s imminent invasion. The Ukrainians deny this, but even if it were true, what of the U.S. ignoring its own warnings? No sanctions or aid was deployed to deter Mr. Putin’s invasion. Mr. Zelensky was surely skeptical that any U.S. support would be forthcoming after the fighting started.
Now we know the high cost of that failure to act—the slaughter, destruction and war crimes in Ukraine, and the food and fuel crises around the world. Instead of working to contain Mr. Putin in the eight years since he first invaded Ukraine, instead of insulating themselves against blackmail by becoming less dependent on Russian exports, American and European governments kicked the can down the road.
They also kept the door open to Mr. Putin, giving him confidence along with the hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues he used to arm his war machine. Mr. Biden had a summit and several calls with Mr. Putin, and for what? Mr. Putin has stayed in power for 22 years by ignoring what weak Western leaders say and watching what they do. He took note as U.S. intelligence correctly predicted his long-planned invasion but did nothing to stop it. He watched as the first U.S. offer of help to Ukraine was to evacuate Mr. Zelensky under the assumption that Kyiv would fall within hours. Ukrainian courage and skill proved that assumption wrong.
Mr. Biden may be besieged politically, but Mr. Zelensky is besieged literally, as Ukraine suffers great loss of life in its defense of the eastern Donbas region. The only way to end the war is by helping Ukraine regain its territory and sovereignty and destroying Mr. Putin’s war machine. Anything less would allow Russia to consolidate and rearm, while Ukrainians under occupation suffer.
Mr. Putin made his intentions clear in a televised appearance on June 9, birthday of Peter the Great. Like Peter, Mr. Putin said he plans to “reclaim” lost lands. Unlike Peter, who modernized Russia and brought it closer to Europe, Mr. Putin is isolating Russia and moving it into a dark age. While dictators usually lie about everything they do, they are often candid about what they would like to do. Mr. Putin has long talked about rebuilding his beloved Soviet Empire. This week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum featured the presentation of a map of “former Ukraine,” from Kyiv to Odessa. Colonialism is not a Western European invention, despite what some progressives seem to think.
The escalation Mr. Biden and other Western leaders say they fear if they take stronger action to support Ukraine is guaranteed by their caution. Ukraine is the frontline now, but if Mr. Putin succeeds, he won’t stop there. A direct confrontation with North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces will become inevitable. If the goal is Ukrainian victory, the White House must say so clearly and everything Ukraine needs must be sent now.
During World War II, the American lend-lease program delivered millions of tons of materiel to the Soviet Union. I refuse to believe that it’s harder to get a few hundred howitzers into Ukraine today than it was to ship trucks and tanks past Nazi U-boats. Ukraine is running out of everything, even bullets. The U.S. has the way but not the will.
announced another formidable Ukrainian military aid program at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Wednesday. The package includes some of the longer-range weapons Ukraine desperately needs. That’s good, but more is needed. Stop talking about negotiated outcomes that will only give Mr. Putin time to prepare his next attack. Helping Ukraine isn’t charity. Democracy can’t be defended on the cheap. The high cost of inflation will be nothing compared with the price
will exact if he isn’t stopped now.
Mr. Kasparov is chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative.
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Appeared in the June 18, 2022, print edition.