Why the Republican Party faces a crisis over Ukraine and the global support for its defense of democracy
Russia’s war on Ukraine continues. If the broader patterns of war apply, Russian president Vladimir Putin is making the war as senselessly brutal as possible, likely hoping to force Ukraine to give in quickly before global sanctions completely crush Russia and the return of warm weather eases Europe’s need for Russian oil and gas.
Russian shelling has created a humanitarian crisis in urban areas. A brief ceasefire designed to let residents of Mariupol and Volnovakha escape the cities through “humanitarian corridors” broke down as Russian troops resumed firing, forcing the people back to shelter.
On March 6, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to more than 280 members of the U.S. Congress to describe Ukraine’s “urgent need” for more support, both military and humanitarian.
Putin said that the continued resistance of President Zelenskyy and his government threatens Ukraine’s existence. He also said that the sanctions imposed against Russia, Russian companies, Russian oligarchs and their families, and himself by the global alliance arrayed against him are “akin to a declaration of war.” Remember, saying things does not make them so, words are often a posture.
The global economic pressure on Russia and the Russian oligarchs is already crushing the Russian economy. Mastercard and Visa suspended operations in the country — while other countries’ refusal to sell airplane parts, for example, will soon render Russian planes useless, a major crisis for a country the size of Russia. Meanwhile, support is pouring into Ukraine: aside from the military support coming, yesterday the World Bank said it was preparing ways to transfer immediate financial support.
There are suggestions, too, among those who study military strategy that the Russian invasion has been far weaker than they expected. The Russian forces on paper are significantly stronger than those of Ukraine, and by now they should have established control of the airspace. Ground forces are also not moving as efficiently as it seems they should be.
Phillips P. O’Brien, Professor of Strategic Studies at University of St. Andrews, outlined how the Russian military, so impressive on paper, might in fact have continued the terrible logistics problems of the Soviet Union. On the ground, they appear to have too few trucks, too little tire maintenance, out-of-date food, and too little fuel. In the air, they are showing signs that they cannot plan or execute complicated maneuvers, in which they have had little practice.
Russia expert Tom Nichols appeared to agree, tweeting:
“Ukrainian resistance has been amazing, but I am astonished — despite already low expectations — at how utter Russian military incompetence has made a giant clusterf**k out of an invasion against a much weaker neighbor.”
Meanwhile, Russians are now aware that they are at war — something that Putin had apparently hidden at first — and a number are protesting. The government has cracked down on critics, and rumors are flying that Putin is about to declare martial law. It appears he is already turning to mercenaries to fight his war. The U.S. government has urged all Americans to leave Russia.
And so, time is a key factor in this war: will Russian forces pound Ukraine into submission before their own country can no longer support a war effort?
Closer to home, the Russian war on Ukraine has created a crisis for the Republican Party here in the United States
Aaron Blake of the Washington Post reported that after Trump won the 2016 election and we learned that Russia had interfered to help him, Republicans’ approval of Putin jumped from about 14% to 37%.
In the Des Moines Register, columnist Rekha Basu explained how the American Right then swung behind Putin because they saw him as a moral crusader, defending religion and “traditional values,” from modern secularism and “decadence,” using a strong hand to silence those who would, for example, defend LGBTQ rights.
Now, popular support has swung strongly against the Russian leader — even among Republicans, 61% of whom now strongly dislike the man. This is widening the split in the Republican Party between Trump supporters and those who would like to move the party away from the former president.
In a March 6 tweet, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) referred to the “Putin wing” of the Republican Party when she shared a video clip of Douglas Macgregor, whom Trump nominated for ambassador to Germany and then appointed as senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense, telling a Fox News Channel host that Russian forces have been “too gentle” and “I don’t see anything heroic” about Zelenskyy.
Possibly eager to show their participation in Ukraine’s defense, when Zelenskyy spoke to Congress, two Republican senators — Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Steve Daines (R-MT) — shared screenshots of his Zoom call while it was going on, despite the explicit request of Ukraine’s ambassador not to share details of the meeting until it was over, out of concern for Zelenskyy’s safety.
In an appearance on Newsmax, Trump’s secretary of state John Bolton pushed back when the host suggested that the Trump administration was “pretty tough on Russia, in a lot of ways.” Bolton said that Trump “barely knew where Ukraine was” and repeatedly complained about Russian sanctions. Bolton said Trump should have sanctioned the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany, rather than letting it proceed, and concluded: “It’s just not accurate to say that Trump’s behavior somehow deterred the Russians.”
Still, the sudden attempt of the Republicans to rewrite history cannot erase the fact that every Republican in the House of Representatives voted against impeaching Trump when he withheld $391 million in aid for Ukraine that Congress had appropriated, offering to release it only on the condition that President Zelenskyy announced an investigation into Hunter Biden. That is, they were willing to look the other way as Trump weakened Ukraine in an attempt to rig the 2020 election by creating a scandal he hoped would sink his chief opponent.
Democrats supported impeachment, though, and the case went to the Senate to be tried. And there, every single Republican senator except Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who voted to convict him for abuse of power, acquitted Trump of the charges stemming from his attempt to hamstring Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
Letters from an Аmerican is a daily email newsletter written by Heather Cox Richardson, about the history behind today’s politics