- - Friday, March 3, 2023

President Biden’s Feb. 20 visit to Ukraine came four days before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. Mr. Biden walked the streets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that America had an “unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine,” and promised $500 million in aid in addition to the more than $75 billion already provided.

In contrast, Russian ruler Vladimir Putin staged a Soviet-style celebration on Feb. 24, the invasion’s anniversary. The televised event included kidnapped Ukrainian teenagers from Mariupol who were paraded to thank Russian troops for saving them from the clutches of the Ukrainian government. It was government-sponsored child abuse.

There is evidently no strategy behind Mr. Biden’s endless commitment to Ukraine. He seems satisfied with the current stalemate, preferring not to give Ukraine what it needs to win. The other major and minor participants in the war have other ideas.

Peace between Ukraine and Russia is currently impossible because neither can impose a settlement on the other. On Feb. 24, Germany, France and the United Kingdom dangled the promise of security guarantees for Ukraine if some peace agreement could be reached. On Feb. 27, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it was the alliance’s long-term plan to make Ukraine a member.

Any such security guarantees — most of all, the promise of eventual NATO membership — are anathema to Mr. Putin and compelling reasons to continue his war. Mr. Putin regards Ukraine much as Chinese President Xi Jinping regards Taiwan: a wrongfully separated part of the mother nation. Even the promise of NATO membership for Ukraine in the indefinite future would likely prevent Mr. Putin from engaging in any negotiations. If he did, his regime would be at greater risk than it is now.

Mr. Putin’s government is being challenged by people who apparently wish to succeed him and may be capable of staging a coup d’etat against him.

Yevgeny Prighozin is the creator and commander of the mercenary Wagner Group. Its troops were instrumental in Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. It has about 50,000 men fighting in Ukraine. Mr. Prighozin, formerly a key Putin supporter, is making Mr. Putin’s failures in Ukraine public, challenging him directly.

Mr. Prighozin is rebelling against Mr. Putin’s strategy that has failed to conquer Ukraine. Mr. Prighozin published an image of dead Wagner Group troops. He accused Mr. Putin’s defense minister and chief of staff of trying to destroy the Wagner Group by depriving it of ammunition. He has called on Russian citizens to help him.

Public sentiment in Russia usually doesn’t matter. Decisions are reached by Mr. Putin and his “siloviki,” the former intelligence officers who, with him, run the Russian government. For a key member of that clique, as Mr. Prighozin is, to publicly criticize Mr. Putin is a signal of the latter’s weakness. For Mr. Prighozin to be asking for Russian citizens’ help may be a signal of a coup attempt that he may soon be ready to launch. Mr. Putin could have Mr. Prighozin assassinated, or the reverse could happen.

Our intelligence community asserts that China is considering sending Russia weapons and ammunition to use in Ukraine. National security adviser Jake Sullivan warned China of serious consequences if it did. Mr. Xi will surely take this threat as seriously as Mr. Putin took Mr. Biden’s December 2021 threat of serious consequences if Russia decided to attack Ukraine.

Mr. Putin visited Beijing in February 2022, about three weeks before his forces invaded Ukraine. On the day China’s Winter Olympics began, he and Mr. Xi announced a new strategic alliance between their nations that they said was without limits. Until its new “peace initiative” for Ukraine, China had remained in the background in the Ukraine war.

China has proposed a 12-point peace plan for Ukraine that calls for, among other things, a cease-fire. Mr. Zelenskyy has agreed to meet with Mr. Xi to talk about it. At this point, China’s move may be nothing more than a public relations ploy to help Mr. Putin, but that, too, may be an indication of Mr. Putin’s growing weakness.

At home, Mr. Biden faces growing opposition to his apparently unlimited aid to Ukraine. Former President Donald Trump has called for peace negotiations and said that we should not be sending “very much” aid to Ukraine. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said he didn’t want to give Ukraine a blank check, and several Republican neo-isolationists are calling for aid to Ukraine to be reduced or ended. This bodes ill for Mr. Biden’s continued aid to Ukraine.

We don’t know what the outcome of this war will be. But one consequence seems inevitable.

Russia’s army is being broken in Ukraine, and the longer that war goes on, the more damaged it will be. NATO exists — and our 75,000 troops permanently stationed in Europe are there — to oppose a Russian invasion of NATO nations.

However, the neo-isolationists affect Mr. Biden’s ability to fund Ukraine’s defense. If Ukraine survives Mr. Putin’s war intact (minus Crimea), America will have far less justification to keep that number of soldiers in Europe permanently. Perhaps a significant pullout of U.S. troops from Europe would finally be enough to compel the deadbeats of NATO to invest in their own defense. No. That’s too much to hope for.

• Jed Babbin is a national security and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times and contributing editor for The American Spectator.

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