The Biden administration is wrong: Time is not on Ukraine’s side
Just a few days before the anniversary of Putin’s unprovoked invasion last year, Biden visited Kyiv and made a rousing speech in Poland promising that the West “will never waver” in the fight for freedom and democracy. A few days earlier, Vice President Harris took the stage at the Munich Security Conference to declare America’s endless commitment to the Ukraine effort.
“The daily agony of war will persist,” she said. “But if Putin thinks he can wait us out, he is badly mistaken. Time is not on his side.”
Nearly all the Ukrainian officials I met in Munich respectfully disagree. It’s not just about weapons (although they insist that more and better weapons are badly and quickly needed). These Ukrainian officials say they’re worried that the Biden administration’s stance could undermine support for Kyiv’s strategy, which is to accelerate the war effort now and avoid a protracted stalemate.
For them, an endless war means a win for Putin and the loss of their country as they know it.
“We are very grateful for the support that is coming, but there is one phrase that makes us very concerned,” Ukrainian member of parliament Yelyzaveta Yasko told me. “Many leaders right now are saying, ‘We will support you as long as it takes.’ And we feel this phrase is quite dangerous.”
Biden’s messaging signals that the West is psychologically and politically preparing for a long war. But Yasko told me the window of opportunity for winning is closing. Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, energy production and agricultural facilities are taking a brutal toll on the economy. The Ukrainian military is incurring heavy losses.
The deepening destruction means Ukraine will become even more dependent on the West in the future and reconstruction will become exorbitantly expensive and difficult. The longer the war goes on, the less industry Ukrainian refugees will have to return to.
Ukrainian member of parliament Oleksii Honcharenko told me victory must see Ukraine emerge as a healthy democracy with a functioning economy, or it will all be for naught. This is why, he says, the war must be won this year.
“If the war goes on for several more years, and then there is victory … it will be a Pyrrhic victory,” he said.
Ukrainians are also keenly aware of the war-weariness among citizens in the United States and Europe. As Ukrainians know only too well, Putin doesn’t have to take the opinions of his citizens into account. Biden, by contrast, has a political incentive to see this conflict end sooner rather than later.
“Do you really want another forever war?” asked Honcharenko. “The war should be finished this year. That should be the message.”
Biden administration officials rightly tout the enormous amount of military aid that has been provided to Ukraine and take credit for maintaining unity among NATO allies. But the White House’s fear of escalation with Russia has hampered its willingness to give Ukraine the things that Ukraine says it needs to win the war this year.
The Ukrainians are asking for longer-range missiles, advanced drones, more air defenses and lots of tanks, as well as fighter aircraft. The Biden administration’s pattern over the past year has been to withhold the types of advanced weapons Ukrainians are asking for, fearing escalation, and then, when Putin escalates anyway, provide them later.
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. told me the risk of Putin deciding to expand the war beyond Ukraine at this point is “very low,” given the state of Russia’s battered army.
“The delay in providing the weapons costs lives, because if we provided the weapons, that could shorten the war,” he said.
By providing Ukraine with just enough weaponry to fight to a medium-boil stalemate, the Biden approach is seen by many Ukrainians as an intentional strategy to nudge Ukraine toward negotiations. Ukrainian officials maintain that talks are possible only when Putin feels more pressure.
The first thing you will hear from any Ukrainian is “Thank you.” Ukrainians are not ungrateful or greedy — they are trying to survive. But their desperation is increasing. “As long as it takes” must not become an excuse for a lack of urgency. By next year’s anniversary, there might not be a Ukraine to save.
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