Trump is Putin’s only hope now

The $61 billion US military aid package for Kyiv means Russia’s war effort will resume its downward trajectory

Trump is Putin’s only hope now

Vladimir Putin talks to military pilots in Torzhok, in Russia’s Tver region, 27 March 2024. Photo: EPA-EFE / MIKHAIL METZEL / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL 

Following the passage of a long-awaited, multibillion-dollar US military aid package for Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s war effort will resume its downward trajectory. The Kremlin, no longer with time on its side, will desperately await its own saviour: the messiah from Mar-a-Lago.

Carl Bildt

Former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister

The news this past week was undoubtedly met with relief in Kyiv and with grief in the Kremlin. The US Congress finally broke its six-month logjam and approved a new package of military aid for Ukraine, as well as for Israel and Taiwan. And the breakthrough came only days after EU leaders also committed to providing even more support, in addition to the large aid packages they recently approved.

What this will look like is still being determined, but Germany has already pledged yet another Patriot air-defence system — one of the key technologies that has prevented Russia from gaining a decisive advantage — and pressed other EU member states to help bolster Ukraine’s air defences.

The support is desperately needed. Ukraine has endured a difficult few months. After its highly anticipated military counteroffensive last year produced hardly any results at all, America’s failure to agree on another aid package struck a sharp blow to morale. Ukrainian ammunition dwindled as the Kremlin stepped up its missile attacks against the country’s industrial and energy infrastructure.

As the situation grew increasingly bleak for Ukraine, the Kremlin could claim a propaganda win. Though many Russians want to end the war, Vladimir Putin could reassure them that the West’s will was starting to crumble. Not only are Russia’s ammunition factories humming along, but Donald Trump stands a good chance of winning the US presidential election and returning to the White House early next year. A Russian victory, of sorts, seemed within reach.

But lest we forget, Putin has had to pare back his goals substantially since launching his war of aggression in February 2022. He initially suggested that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government would be removed within days, and that all the territory known as Ukraine would be returned to the Russian fold. Russia’s armies were supposed to have marched into Kyiv, where they would be greeted as liberators.

It was a strategic blunder with few historical precedents. The Russian offensive soon ground to a halt, and Russian forces had to retreat outright from key areas, such as those around Kyiv. In the following months, they were also driven out of Kherson and the Kharkiv region.

Happier times: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump meet at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 28 June 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK

Happier times: Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump meet at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 28 June 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE / MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK

Ukraine’s unbending determination wasn’t the only thing that the Kremlin underestimated. It also apparently failed to anticipate that a broad coalition of Western countries would respond with comprehensive financial and military aid. By 2023, Russian forces had settled into a defensive posture, and there were growing expectations that the Ukrainians — armed with Western equipment — would repel the invaders.

When that didn’t happen, the conflict became a war of attrition. As Western resolve appeared to wane, Putin grew more confident, having concluded that time was on his side. While he doubtless will have prepared for new offensive operations, I suspect he has been banking more on Trump riding to the rescue than on his own forces.

But now the calculus has changed once again. Defying Trumpian isolationists and Putin appeasers on their own side of the aisle, congressional Republicans, along with the Democrats, have approved the support that Ukrainians have desperately been awaiting. Although it will take some time for the new shipments of ammunition and equipment to reach the front lines — where Russian forces have been making incremental, if minor, advances — the immediate political and psychological effect is significant.

The odds of Ukraine holding the line and surviving any new Russian onslaught this year have dramatically improved. 

Suddenly, it is no longer so clear that Putin has time on his side. If this war has taught us anything so far, it is that defence is easier than offence. In the middle to longer-term, the production of artillery shells in Europe and the United States will most likely rival, if not surpass, that of Russia, which has had to rely on ammunition from North Korea. Moreover, the continued development of Ukraine’s long-range strike technologies will have started to yield significant results; and Ukraine’s latest mobilisation of personnel will have replenished some of its frontline fighting forces and reserves. In short, Putin’s hope of marching to victory this year will evaporate. His war effort will resume its downward trajectory.

But one hope will remain. The Kremlin will desperately await its saviour from Mar-a-Lago — who one Republican reportedly called “Orange Jesus.” Whether Trump’s return to the Oval Office really would end the ordeal that Putin created for himself is another story. For now, Russia is once again heading for failure in Ukraine.

This article was first published by Project Syndicate. Views expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of Novaya Gazeta Europe.

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