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Trudy Rubin: History won’t forget GOP’s bow to Putin over Ukraine

History will record this as the week the GOP formally kowtowed to Vladimir Putin.

This was the week when otherwise sane Republicans, who’d spent months drafting a bipartisan Senate bill that linked major border reforms to more military aid for Ukraine, threw in the towel.

These senators abandoned the bill under heavy pressure from Donald Trump, who prefers to keep the border boiling as an election issue. Far worse, Trump has shown he buys Putin’s rationale for crushing Ukraine.

What’s so disgusting about the cave-in is that most of these senators – unlike the mindless MAGA mob in the House or the blinkered Trump – understand the strategic risk of abandoning Kyiv.

On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his Republican colleagues to show strength by backing the bill – and Ukraine – because “our adversaries, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran are working together to undermine us.” Yet, he and his colleagues suddenly decided to swallow an aid cutoff with hardly a dissenter.

“We cannot walk away from Ukraine now,” President Joe Biden said on Tuesday. “If we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power … he won’t limit himself to Ukraine.”

Craven GOP senators effectively responded: “We don’t care. Drop dead, Ukraine.”

If you think I’m exaggerating the cost of the GOP’s kowtow, consider the following: Trump insists he can solve the Ukraine war directly with Putin in 24 hours. He has made clear he supports Russia keeping large parts of Ukraine that it acquired by invading and bombing its neighbor.

Displaying total ignorance of Ukrainian history, the former president has said publicly that Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine rightly belong to Russia. Clearly, he has no idea that, before Russia invaded, much of Ukraine was Russian-speaking, having been under Soviet rule for decades. Yet, Putin has bombed Russian-speaking regions relentlessly, killing more Russian speakers than anyone since Hitler, because these Ukrainians do not want to live under harsh Russian imperial rule.

Putin has played Trump for a fool, praising Trump’s 24-hour pledge fulsomely last September. When asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” whether he welcomed Putin’s support, Trump said: “Well, I like that he said that. Because that means what I’m saying is right.”

It’s no accident that Trump acolyte Tucker Carlson has been roaming around Moscow this week, apparently invited to interview Putin. Carlson, as you will recall, frequently praises Putin and is often featured on Russian television.

Writing about Carlson’s Moscow visit, the Daily Beast’s Russia expert, Julia Davis, who closely follows all Moscow media, wrote: “Russia’s state TV stooges (talk show hosts) believe a Tucker Carlson-Putin interview will boost Putin at home and help restore Trump to the White House.”

Indeed, the English-language Moscow Times quoted an unnamed Moscow official as saying of the Carlson visit: “Access to an American audience through Carlson during the heated struggle between Biden and Trump is again an opportunity to exert that proverbial influence on the U.S. election, given Carlson’s huge audience.”

No doubt, Putin is also delighted at a prospective U.S. aid cutoff at a critical moment when Ukraine is running short of everything.

In WhatsApp conversations with Ukrainian fighters on the front lines this week, I have heard repeated stories of desperate shortages of ammunition. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said two weeks ago in Kyiv that Ukraine couldn’t survive without U.S. help.

And yet, contrary to claims by Trump and MAGA acolytes, Ukraine is not losing. Its military has made amazing progress. Without a navy, it is pushing back Russia’s Black Sea fleet via missiles and Ukrainian-made sea drones.

If the United States and Germany sent long-range missiles, air defenses and more ammo – something Biden will be discussing with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this Friday in Washington – Ukraine could make further progress in 2024.

Also contrary to MAGA disinformation, Europe sends Ukraine twice as much aid as does the United States, but does not have the volume and many of the types of weapons that Kyiv desperately needs.

Nor will a cutoff of Ukraine aid result in more aid for the southern border or for poor U.S. communities – another falsehood spread by the bill’s opponents. In reality, most U.S. aid to Ukraine goes to the Pentagon to purchase new weapons while Ukraine is sent older models.

By dooming the bipartisan border-Ukraine bill (which also contains aid for Israel and Taiwan), the GOP is sinking the best chance for border reform in decades. The bill was endorsed by the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Border Patrol Council, and – until they were intimidated by Trump – many Republican legislators in Congress.

In standing by and letting Russia dismember Ukraine, the GOP has sent a message of profound weakness to Putin and his dictator cronies in Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang.

The Russian dictator need only wait until (as he hopes) Trump is elected, with the expectation that the GOP leader cares nothing about what Putin does in Europe. Nor does Trump care what happens to America’s most important military alliance, NATO, which he has said he will withdraw from if he returns to the White House.

In other words – as the world sees this week – the GOP won’t stop Putin, who will feel free to nibble around Poland, the Baltics, the North Sea, the Arctic, East Asia and the Middle East.

Already, he is reportedly helping Tehran with nuclear weapons technology in return for Iran’s sending drones to help Moscow destroy Ukraine.

The lesson Putin has learned over the last few days will be absorbed by China, Iran and North Korea. With his threats, Trump is capable of silencing those in his party who understand the dangers posed by dictators to America.

“History is watching,” Biden said Tuesday. “The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten.”

The question at hand is whether Biden can still find a way to funnel aid to Ukraine despite GOP blindness, before Trump has ensured Ukraine’s demise.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101,by email at trubin@phillynews.com.

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