The GOP’s Pro-Russia Caucus Lost. Now Ukraine Has to Win.

It’s not too late, because it’s never too late. No outcomes are ever preordained, nothing is ever over, and you can always affect what happens tomorrow by making the right choices today. The U.S. Congress is finally making one of those right choices. Soon, American weapons and ammunition will once again start flowing to Ukraine.

But delays do have a price. By dawdling for so many months, by heading down the blind alley of border reform before turning back, congressional Republicans who blocked weapons and ammunition for Ukraine did an enormous amount of damage, some of it irreparable. Over the past six months, Ukraine lost territory, lives, and infrastructure. If Ukraine had not been deprived of air defense, the city of Kharkiv might still have most of its power plants. People who have died in the near-daily bombardment of Odesa might still be alive. Ukrainian soldiers who spent weeks at the front lines rationing ammunition might not be so demoralized.

[David Frum: Trump deflates]

The delay has changed American politics too. Only a minority of House Republicans, including Speaker Mike Johnson, joined most Democrats to approve $60 billion in aid yesterday. What is now clearly a pro-Russia Republican caucus has consolidated inside Congress. The lesson is clear: Anyone who seeks to manipulate the foreign policy of the United States, whether the tin-pot autocrat in Hungary or the Communist Party of China, now knows that a carefully designed propaganda campaign, when targeted at the right people, can succeed well beyond what anyone once thought possible. From the first days of the 2022 Russian invasion, President Vladimir Putin has been trying to conquer Ukraine through psychological games as well as military force. He needed to persuade Americans, Europeans, and above all Ukrainians that victory was impossible, that the only alternative was surrender, and that the Ukrainian state would disappear in due course.

Plenty of Americans and Europeans, though not so many Ukrainians, supported this view. Pro-Russia influencers—Tucker Carlson, J. D. Vance, David Sacks—backed up by an army of pro-Russia trolls on X and other social-media platforms, helped feed the narrative of failure and convinced a minority in Congress to block aid for Ukraine. It’s instructive to trace the path of a social-media post that falsely claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky owns two yachts, how it traveled up the food chain late last year, from the keyboard of a propagandist through the echo chamber created by trolls and into the brains of American lawmakers. According to Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, some of his colleagues worried out loud, during debates about military aid to Ukraine, that “people will buy yachts with this money.” They had read the false stories and believed they were true.

But with the passage of this aid bill, Russia’s demoralization campaign has suffered a severe setback. This is also a setback for the Russian war effort, and not only because the Ukrainians will now have more ammunition. Suddenly the Russian military and Russian society are once again faced with the prospect of a very long war. Ukraine, backed by the combined military and economic forces of the United States and the European Union, is a much different opponent than Ukraine isolated and alone.

[Read: The war is not going well for Ukraine]

That doesn’t mean that the Russians will quickly give up: Putin and the propagandists who support him on state television have repeatedly stated that their goal is not to gain a bit of extra territory but to control all of Ukraine. They don’t want to swap land for peace. They want to occupy Kharkiv, Odesa, Kyiv, and more. Now, while their goals become harder to reach, is a good moment for the democratic countries backing Ukraine to recalibrate our strategy too.

Once the aid package becomes law this week, the psychological advantage will once again be on our side. Let’s use it. As Johnson himself recommended, the Biden administration should immediately pressure European allies to release the $300 billion in Russian assets that they jointly hold and send it to Ukraine. There are excellent legal and moral arguments for doing so—the money can legitimately be considered a form of reparations. This shift would also make clear to the Kremlin that it has no path back to what used to be called “normal” relations, and that the price Russia is paying for its colonial war will only continue to grow.

This is also a good moment for both Europeans and Americans to take the sanctions and export-control regimes imposed on Russia more seriously. If NATO were running a true economic-pressure campaign, thousands of people would be involved, with banks of screens at a central command center and constantly updated intelligence. Instead, the task has been left to a smattering of people across different agencies in different countries who may or may not be aware of what others are doing.

As American aid resumes, the Ukrainians should be actively encouraged to pursue the asymmetric warfare that they do best. The air and naval drone campaign that pushed the Black Sea Fleet away from their coastline, the raids on Russian gas and oil facilities thousands of miles from Ukraine, the recruitment of Russian soldiers, in Russia, to join pro-Ukraine Russian units fighting on the border—we need more of this, not less. The Biden administration should also heed Johnson’s suggestion that the United States supply more and better long-range weapons so that Ukrainians can hit Russian missile launchers before the missiles reach Ukraine. If the U.S. had done so in the autumn of 2022, when Ukraine was taking back territory, the world might look a lot different today.  

This war will be over only when the Russians no longer want to fight—and they will stop fighting when they realize they cannot win. Now it is our turn to convince them, as well as our own pro-Russia caucus, that their invasion will fail. The best way to do that is to believe it ourselves.

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