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Foreign Affairs

James Brooke: How US aid to Ukraine can pay for itself

Russia Ukraine Propaganda

Soldiers load a high-mobility artillery rocket system from a U.S. Special Operations MC-130J aircraft during military exercises at Spilve Airport in Riga, Latvia.

Some Republicans are asking a legitimate question: What does the U.S. taxpayer get for blocking Russia in eastern Ukraine?

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy predicts in an interview with Punchbowl News: “People are going to be sitting in a recession — and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”

According to Pew Research, the portion of polled Republicans who think Washington is giving “too much” aid to Ukraine jumped to 32 percent last month, from 9 percent in May.

Voting has started in the Nov. 8 midterm congressional elections. Polls indicate that Republicans could win back the House of Representatives.

Aside from protecting a democracy from invasion by a totalitarian neighbor, here are dollars and cents reasons for helping Ukraine.

Containment pays

As the West’s inglorious response to the start of World War II shows, containment pays. By moving fast to help Ukraine block Russia, NATO aid is radically reducing the chances of having to fight later on to defend five NATO members: Poland, Slovakia and the three Baltic nations. In speeches and essays last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that his goal is to restore the old borders of the Russian Empire. Aleksandr Dugin, a political theorist sometimes called “Putin’s Rasputin,” has called for a Moscow-centered empire stretching from Vladivostok to Dublin.

In reaction, Putin’s expansionism has prompted a doubling of countries pledging to increase their defense spending to two percent of gross domestic product. This year, 11 new countries made the pledge, including three heavyweights: Germany, Italy and Spain. Until now, of the NATO 30, only the U.S. and nine other countries met that level. Putin achieved what President Donald Trump could not: getting Europeans to pay more for their defense.

Putin’s war shocked Scandinavia. Norway is detecting Russian drones near offshore oil platforms. Finland and Sweden are abandoning long cherished neutrality and joining NATO.

Finns are well aware that until 1917, Finland was a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. Thanks to Putin, the Baltic Sea is about to become a NATO sea.

Thanks to American arms, Ukrainian soldiers are cutting Russia’s army down to size. According to the latest Ukraine Defense Ministry numbers, Russia has lost in Ukraine: 245 helicopters, 270 fixed-wing aircraft, 1,370 drones, 2,048 artillery pieces, 2,590 tanks, 4,044 fuel and supply trucks, and 5,295 armored personnel carriers. Russia has lost 67,940 soldiers and officers — almost five times the number lost by the Soviets during a decade in Afghanistan.

All this has been pushed off Eurasia’s chessboard, greatly easing Russia’s military threat to NATO’s eastern wing. Postwar, the U.S. and NATO will not have to spend heavily to face Russia. Even if Putin, now 70 and in political trouble, gets his mojo back, it will take years to rebuild his army.

China is watching closely the Western reaction to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. For China, a mercantilist economy, the massive U.S., European Union and United Kingdom trade sanctions slapped on Russia are scary. By backing Ukraine, the U.S. may be averting an enormously costly war over Taiwan.

US firms to rebuild Ukraine

Plans are underway to rebuild Ukraine after Russia’s devastation. Unlike the 1948-1951 Marshall Plan for Western Europe, this would not be funded primarily by American taxpayers. Instead, legal work is underway to create a Western-supervised rebuilding plan funded by $350 billion in Russian government accounts frozen in America, Britain, Switzerland and the EU. As the top weapons supplier to Ukraine, Washington should insist that General Electric, Bechtel and other American corporations go to the head of the line for rebuilding Ukraine’s power plants, highways, bridges and airports.

Meanwhile, the U.S., the world’s largest arms exporter, will take market share from the second-largest: Russia. For the countries of the former Warsaw pact, this war is completing a 30-year process of replacing Soviet-era weapons with NATO standard weapons. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are sending their Soviet-made tanks, jets and artillery pieces east to Ukraine.

From the west is arriving NATO equipment, largely made in the USA. Elsewhere, the poor performance of Russian equipment is expected to cut Russian exports. After seeing photos of Russian “amphibious” armored personnel carriers stuck in a Ukrainian swamp, it is hard to imagine the Indian Army buying those models.

American military knowledge is expanding

Here is a little-known fact: From 2014 to 2021, U.S. military officers quietly visited Ukraine’s front line to study Russian tactics and weaponry. Some of their West Point lectures can be watched online.

Now, the Pentagon is learning daily about the weak points and strong points of Russian strategy and equipment — without an American life lost. This week’s lesson: how to jam swarms of cheap kamikaze drones.

US gas exports will grow

During the first half of this year, the U.S. became the world’s largest exporter of liquid natural gas. For years, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel politely brushed off American proposals to build LNG landing terminals on Germany’s Baltic seacoast. German officials quietly insinuated that Texas politicians were simply trying to peddle their wares. Instead, Chancellor Merkel moved ahead with Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.

Last year, Germany’s dependence on Russian pipeline gas rose to 55 percent of its imports. Few people were rude enough to note that the two Russia-Germany pipelines made landfall in Vorpommern-Rugen and Vorpommern-Greifswald I — districts in the Baltic constituency that Merkel represented from 1990 to 2021.

Since the war broke out, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has ordered construction of five LNG landing terminals up and down Germany’s sea coast. Temporary, floating versions of these terminals are to be working by December.

One lasting legacy of today’s war will undoubtedly be a sharp reduction of EU dependance on imports of Russian gas, from 45 percent last year to a more manageable level, say 20 percent.

The United States now has more than 140 LNG processing plants and ports. The EU will become a big market for gas from the red states of Texas and Louisiana.

Beware the silent majority

Republicans who focus on votes today and not gas export revenues tomorrow should remember that Americans of Eastern European origin were key pillars of Richard Nixon’s “silent majority,” a bloc that helped him win national elections in 1968 and 1972. In 2012, Polish-Americans alone were estimated to be casting 10 percent of all ballots in U.S. national elections – more than Black, Latino or Asian Americans.

Due to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, 5.5 million Ukrainians refugees have flooded through Poland, with an estimated 1.5 million staying. Like Latinos, Polish American voters are up for grabs, often splitting evenly between Republicans and Democrats. A lot depends on candidate positions on Poland and, now, on neighboring Ukraine.

Lenox native James Brooke has traveled to about 100 countries reporting for The New York Times, Bloomberg and Voice of America. He reported from Russia for eight years and from Ukraine for six years, coming home a year ago.

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