President Joe Biden will mark the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with a speech Tuesday in Poland, where he is expected to reiterate the United States’ commitment to support the defense of Ukraine “for as long as it takes” despite growing Republican reticence and softening overall support among Americans.
Scheduled to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday morning, Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss “collective efforts to support Ukraine and to bolster NATO’s deterrence,” said John Kirby, National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson in a briefing to reporters Friday.
Biden also will meet with NATO leaders from the so-called Bucharest Nine (B-9), the countries on NATO’s easternmost flank, which include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
B-9 countries feel the Russian threat more acutely and are pushing for a more robust military response compared with other European nations including France and Germany, whose citizens are more concerned about ways to end the conflict and are questioning the war’s impact on their own economies.
The White House said there are no plans for Biden to visit Ukraine nor to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during this trip. Observers say Biden may not cross the border to avoid provoking Putin, but it’s likely that Zelenskyy will meet him in Poland in a summit that would not be revealed until the last minute for security reasons. The pair last met in person in late December when Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to Washington.
Meanwhile Vice President Kamala Harris is in Germany to attend the annual Munich Security Conference, in which the Ukraine war dominates conversations among world leaders.
War of attrition
Despite repeated public confirmation that the U.S. will support Zelenskyy for “as long as it takes,” observers note that time is not on Kyiv’s side as Moscow turns the conflict into a war of attrition in a bid to grind down Ukrainian resolve and exhaust the West’s patience. Ukraine has the advantage of Western high-tech weapons and intelligence support, but Russia is favored by the sheer size of its economy, manpower and defense production capacity.
The U.S. wants Ukraine to make battlefield progress rapidly without dragging NATO into a direct military confrontation with Moscow, said George Beebe, director of Grand Strategy at the Quincy Institute.
“We are trying to essentially achieve a balance here to give the Ukrainians enough military wherewithal that they can bring this war to a successful conclusion but to do so without recklessly raising the risk of World War III as President Biden is fond to say,” Beebe told VOA. “That’s not an easy balance to strike.”
With the U.S. and Russia having most of the world’s nuclear weapons, escalation could be catastrophic.
Amid reports of Russia ramping up its ground and air attacks, administration officials would not say whether Biden will announce another security package or offensive weaponry including jet fighters that Kyiv says it needs to make significant gains on the battlefield.
No pathways to peace
White House officials are quick to point out that Russian President Vladimir Putin can end the war immediately by halting his offensive. Instead, Moscow is mobilizing and ramping up long-term defense production.
“At the same time, Ukrainians are absolutely not ready to give up any of their territory, not that that would stop the war because Putin would just be encouraged by this,” said Michal Baranowski, managing director for German Marshall Fund East.
Polls show an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians believe the country should get back all its territory, including Crimea, which Moscow annexed illegally in 2014.
Baranowski told VOA that Biden is unlikely to force Zelenskyy into a premature compromise, however it remains unclear how much Western support can be sustained long term. Already NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is saying that Ukraine is using up ammunition faster than the West can provide, straining its weapons industries.
Another contentious element is Ukraine’s future geostrategic alignment. Moscow is adamant that Kyiv does not join NATO or have a separate military alliance with the U.S. even if it doesn’t become a NATO member.
“Unless there’s some understanding reached with the Russians on that, I think their fallback position is going to be simply to wreck Ukraine to the point where it’s in no condition to ally with anybody,” Beebe said.
Beebe points to cease-fires where neither side recognizes territorial changes and simply accepts them as unsettled issues, at least at first. “That may be where we want to go into here,” he said.
Next week, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on a draft resolution co-sponsored by the U.S. that stresses “the need to reach, as soon as possible, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” in Ukraine.
“We are also urging countries to support the resolution,” a National Security Council spokesperson told VOA.
While there is still broad support for Ukraine in Congress, some Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives, where their party now holds a slim majority, are increasingly questioning the massive flow of American funds to Kyiv — $40 billion in security, economic and humanitarian aid since the invasion.
“This war is being fought on the backs of U.S. taxpayers,” said Ryan Zinke, a Republican congressman from Montana. “And what’s our plan, Mr. President? Is it an endless war? Are we going to continue to feed armament that we don’t know where it’s going exactly, or how it’s going to be used? To what extent?” he said to VOA following Biden’s State of the Union remarks earlier this month.
Traditionally, Republicans are more likely to support foreign military spending. But former President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine has motivated a small but vocal non-interventionist faction in the party.
Earlier this month a group of House Republicans who support Trump introduced the “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution that calls for an end to U.S. military and financial aid to Ukraine and urges combatants to reach a peace agreement.
Although the group represents a minority even within the Republican Party, its members could jeopardize future Ukraine aid packages since the January adoption of a new House rule where only one member is needed to bring a “motion to vacate” to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — a concession McCarthy agreed to in exchange for support to secure his speakership.
Nearly half of Americans (47%) now say Washington should urge Kyiv to settle for peace as soon as possible.