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Helping Ukraine puts America first — President Biden should have aided Ukraine all along

Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron palletize ammunition
U.S. Air Force via AP
Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron palletize ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Jan. 21, 2022.

Let’s be clear: Supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia puts American security interests first. With the military aid the U.S. and our partners have already delivered, our friend Ukraine has pushed back Vladimir Putin’s invasion, dramatically weakened the Russian military, and prevented them from encroaching even closer to NATO territory. Continuing this aid now makes it less likely that our sons and daughters will have to fight a war against Russian aggression later. 

We also need to be clear that for the last 17 months, President Biden could have done much more to deter Russia — and much less to appease Putin.  

One of Biden’s first acts as president was to extend the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia for five more years, without holding Putin accountable for violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and developing new nuclear capabilities. 

Next, in his first budget, Biden tried to drastically underfund the U.S. military and shrink the size of our force — our most effective deterrent against Russian aggression.  

After Putin began his aggressive military buildup along the Ukrainian border in spring 2021 — the precursor to the invasion — Biden rewarded Putin by offering a one-on-one summit in the summer — right after his first NATO Summit, adding insult to injury for our NATO allies. 

In the fall, it was revealed that Biden’s National Security Council was scrutinizing U.S. military exercises in Europe, a key deterrence tool, for being too provocative. 

Along the way, Biden refused to wield a major non-military signal to Russia that we won’t accept their invading Ukraine: NordStream 2 sanctions. This was contrary to the consistent position of congressional Democrats, who had been united with Republicans in seeking to block this pipeline from getting up and running. The Biden administration not only let the project proceed, they actively thwarted bipartisan attempts in Congress to block it. 

But nowhere has Biden dragged his feet more than on military aid to Ukraine.  

Despite Putin’s clear intent to invade, the Biden administration blocked delivery of additional military aid to Ukraine all last summer. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan admitted it, warning the administration would only approve more aid “in the event that there was a further Russian incursion into Ukraine.” After snubbing the Ukrainian president all summer, the administration finally approved a meeting between Zelensky and Biden at the end of August — along with the aid package.  

Even as Russia’s imminent invasion grew more apparent, the Biden administration dragged its feet on every effort to deliver more credible weapons to Ukraine. When the president finally got around to asking Congress for additional funding to send aid this March, two weeks after the invasion began, Republicans had to fight to increase the administration’s inadequate request. 

Maybe if the Biden administration hadn’t spent its entire first year in office signaling to Putin that he can do whatever he wants without consequence, he would not have felt so emboldened to invade Ukraine.  

Now, we have to deal with the situation as it is. We must send Putin a clear message that he cannot continue his reckless attempts to rebuild the Russian empire and threaten U.S. security interests in Europe. 

As I have long advocated, that means investing more in Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. Stronger U.S. action gives Putin pause, strengthens our European partners’ and allies’ ability to defend themselves, and keeps threats farther from our shores.  

This includes robust funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which I helped create in 2015. Of course, when we sought to require some of that funding go to lethal military aid, we faced opposition from the Obama-Biden White House — including many of the same officials who dropped the ball in responding to Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 but are in charge again today. 

It’s unfortunate this administration didn’t learn a lesson then. They are only now doing the right thing after Congress, our European allies and partners, and most of the rest of the world had already leaned forward with support for Ukraine.  

Let’s hope President Biden learns this lesson now. Let’s hope that he starts thinking one step ahead of the crisis, instead of staying 10 steps behind.  

Jim Inhofe is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Tags biden foreign policy Joe Biden Russia-Ukraine war Ukraine aid

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