April 29, 2022 | NEWS | By Tom Byron | Illustration by Sierra Romero
The Biden administration announced Monday that the U.S government now sees weakening the Russian army as one of its key goals in providing military support to the government of Ukraine.
At the end of his recent visit to Kyiv, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared that the US wants to see Russia “weakened” to the point where it would not be able to launch another invasion of a neighboring country and commit more atrocities like those in Bucha. This is a drastic change from the previous American stance, where President Biden insisted that American support for Ukraine was simply intended to help a small democracy defend itself against a sudden, unprovoked invasion by a major world power.
Though Biden has previously let this mask slip, most notably during his visit to Poland when he declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” his administration has mostly stuck to its position that this war is not part of a larger contest between the US and Russia. Until recently, direct US shipments of arms to Ukraine have included mostly defensive weapons, and American forces have tried to keep their training of Ukrainian military forces in Poland under wraps.
American economic sanctions were advertised as punishment for the Russian invasion, instead of a way to damage a rival power. And though American officials have condemned Russia for its actions, they have been careful to keep American interests –– such as a militarily incapacitated Russia or the overthrow of Putin’s regime ––out of their public statements.
Russia, on the other hand, has always seen the war in Ukraine as a front for a much larger war against the United States. In his initial announcement of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, Putin declared the true enemy to be America’s “empire of lies.” Putin has repeatedly called Western support for Ukraine to be part of a plan to destroy Russia, declaring the U.S.’s recent sanctions equivalent to a declaration of war. Putin has believed that the U.S. has been plotting to topple his regime and marginalize Russia for years, and thus the sanctions only confirm what he and his inner circle already believe.
But to the U.S., Ukraine, and many American allies, this change in war aims means that the war in Ukraine has entered a new stage. With the defense of Ukraine and the destruction of the Russian military as outright goals, America can now justify open support for Ukrainian counterattacks. American military aid can now include offensive weapons like artillery, missiles, tanks, and jet fighters, and new rounds of sanctions can be specifically targeted at Russian military industry. Though direct intervention by American forces is still off the table, essentially every option short of that is now available.
In an interview with The Catalyst, Adele Matter ’23 expressed concern. “The U.S. goal is that this conflict becomes a long war of attrition that devastates Russia, and that could be good for Eastern Europe… but when the powers that be talk about stabilizing Eastern Europe, they’re talking about destroying Ukraine. What weakens Russia most isn’t a quick, decisive victory for Ukraine, it’s a drawn-out bloody war over months or years.”
Continuing on, Matter said that “as someone with family in Poland and a vested interest in Ukraine, it’s my responsibility to keep the U.S. honest that what we’re advocating isn’t about humanitarianism. The U.S. is pursuing a strategic interest and couching it in humanitarian rhetoric. It’s better than nothing, and I can’t think of a better option, but everyone involved here needs to cut the bullshit. People in Eastern Europe, including my family, live in fear of Russia, but the safety of the Ukrainian people is more worthwhile than using Ukraine to ‘strategically weaken’ Russia.”