America Pulls Back from Ukraine

America Pulls Back from Ukraine

For two years, Ukraine has relied on American weapons to fight Russian invaders. It has bombarded Russian lines with U.S. artillery, destroyed tanks with Javelin missiles and stopped aerial attacks with Patriot launchers.

But American support has sharply declined. House Republicans have blocked additional aid to Ukraine, and the Biden administration cannot send many more weapons. (The $300 million package announced this week will likely help Ukraine for only a few weeks.)

Ukraine has already felt the consequences. Over the past month, Russia made some gains after it took the eastern city of Avdiivka, once a Ukrainian stronghold. Intelligence officials warned Congress this week that Ukraine’s losses signal what is to come from an undersupplied war effort.

Ukraine retreated because it ran out of artillery shells, the Biden administration said. These weapons have played a major role in the war; Ukraine has used them to deter and weaken Russian attacks before close combat. But with limited supplies, Ukraine’s leaders sacrificed Avdiivka to save munitions for more strategic territory, such as the Black Sea coastline and the country’s northeast. The chaotic retreat that followed left Ukrainian troops and civilians vulnerable.

Russia does not have the same problem. Despite Western sanctions, its economy is humming along. It is producing weapons and supplying its troops. Its allies, particularly North Korea and Iran, have helped fill gaps.

Ukraine’s allies across Europe have not picked up most of the slack as American support has dwindled. European countries have promised to build up their military spending to protect themselves and one another, but that process will take years. Ukraine might not have that long.

Today’s newsletter will examine what the war may look like if Ukraine does not receive more American support.

For now, the war is at a stalemate, despite Avdiivka. Ukraine probably has enough supplies to hold off most Russian attacks for weeks, perhaps months. Analysts already doubted that Ukraine could carry out large offensives this year, even if it had received more aid.

In the longer term, America’s diminished support will likely force Ukraine to cede more land. Russian forces currently hold about 20 percent of Ukraine’s former territory, and they want more.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, recently talked about seizing what remains of Ukraine’s coastline, which would strangle Ukraine’s ability to send and receive shipments through the Black Sea. He also wants to take the rest of the eastern region of the Donbas, where Russia supported a separatist movement before the war.

In the past, Ukraine has made Russia’s victories costly. Russia endured tens of thousands of casualties to take the city of Bakhmut, which both sides called a “meat grinder.” Ukraine needed plenty of munitions to parry Russia’s attacks in the city for months. Today, it would run out of supplies quickly and have to flee — and Russia would suffer less for its victory. Knowing that, Russia might become more willing to push.

In other words: Russia wants, and could get, more chances like Avdiivka.

“Without more aid, those chances rise,” my colleague Julian Barnes, who covers the war, told me. “With an aid package, the Ukrainians will have a much better chance of solidifying their defenses, holding the line. And in some places, they may be able to retake territory.”

The United States is not Ukraine’s only ally, but it is the only one with the willingness and means to supply Ukraine’s war effort. Many European nations lack a political tradition of arming other countries. They have sent Ukraine some impressive weapons, like German tanks and Swedish shoulder-fired missiles. But “they cannot pump out munitions,” Julian said. “They cannot produce large numbers of artillery shell rounds — the No. 1 thing Ukraine needs.”

So it falls on the U.S. to supply Ukraine. President Biden and the Senate have already backed more funding. House Republicans refuse to bring it to a vote.

This situation — in which narrow domestic politics could end American support for a war effort — is unusual, said Stacie Goddard, an international security expert at Wellesley College. The U.S. has abandoned war efforts in the past, typically after battlefield defeats or as the public loses trust in a cause. Neither is true for Ukraine. The war is at a stalemate, but Ukraine is not losing. And most Americans still support providing aid.

Related: Read more about what a Ukraine peace deal might look like.

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