When an investment fails to generate returns in a stipulated time, it is a bad investment. The US public support for Ukraine is waning and the investment analogy is playing out hard on the ground. The population acts as audiences in a theatre. If they pay for tickets, the show should satisfy the customers. However, if the show fails to impress audiences, many will not be willing to pay for another show. There is a rational calculation in the process and the idea of solidarity takes a back seat.
The US has committed a large sum of money to strengthen Ukraine’s military capabilities to counter Russians. However, over three months into the counter offensive, the gains are minimal. With a lack of desired progress, the voices opposing aid are getting shriller. The US stands divided over Ukraine and as the election nears, the incumbent government may face tough choice.
A month old poll shows majority of Americans rejecting the idea of additional US aid to Ukraine. To make the matter worse for Biden government, this surge in opposition to aid coincides with a growing number of Republicans believing the same. A survey published by Pew Research Center in June of 2023 revealed that 44 percent of the Republicans believe that the US has done more than what it should have done to help Ukraine. The Republicans are fragmented over Ukraine and the bill seeking funds for Ukraine risks being stalled in the Congress.
However, when we look at the polls taken in early 2023, the Biden administration enjoyed good support among the general public for funding the war in Ukraine. The same report also shows how in the early stages of war, a large number of Republicans were strongly in favour of aiding Ukraine against Russia. However, as we progress into the Ukrainian counter offensive, we see a growing number of people changing their mind. This gradual change in opinion is not a coincidence. It relates to the performance of Ukrainian Armed Forces in the ongoing counter offensive.
The Ukrainian counter offensive has faltered and the recent public mood swing is reflective of that ground situation. The US investment in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is not reaping up expected results. This has led to the growing belief that any aid to Ukraine is a waste of America’s money and resources which otherwise could have been utilized for the benefit of US citizens. As with the investment analogy, the public is not impressed with Ukraine’s performance against the Russians. It is not the question of how much money the US has spent over Ukraine but rather how much has Ukraine been able to capitalize on it. Had the Ukrainian counter offensive been successful in recapturing more Russian occupied territories, the opinion polls would have shown a more favourable result.
To make the matter worse, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been pressured into speeding up the counter offensive. The US Army chief, in a recent interview to the BBC said that Ukraine had only 30 to 45 favourable days before the rain starts hindering troop movements. This rush has put Ukrainian Armed Forces into a complicated situation. Though they have concentrated their bulk of offensive capabilities in Robotyne area, their mechanized armoured units haven’t been able to breach the Russian main defensive lines yet. Though the Ukrainian are desperately looking for a breakthrough, the statement made by the US Army chief is only fuelling the anxiety.
Moreover, a video surfaced online confirmed the destruction of the first British Challenger 2 tank by an enemy till date. The Russians managed to hit it. Even though loss of a single tank is not an issue, the reputational cost associated with it is very high. What if the Abrams tanks due to be operational in Ukraine starts suffering similar fate? First it was the German made Leopard tanks, then the British made Challenger and now is it US made Abrams’ turn?
The US government must be wary of political damage in case the Russians manage to bring down a large number of Abrams. The Germans have already felt the heat when some leopard tanks were destroyed long before it could even fire at the enemies. According to the British Army website, the Challenger 2 had never been lost to enemy fire till date. However, that situation quickly changed in Ukraine. The source of pride is no more there. The US might have to deal with a similar situation as it has already committed 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine which further risks shifting public opinion against US aid to Ukraine.
As far as the US Army chief’s statement is concerned, it only shows the US intent in Ukraine. More than carrying a military significance, the statement is political in nature. The US government is looking for results which it could brag publicly in front of its domestic audiences. The United States doesn’t want to be seen as a loser. Like a mutual fund manager, the US President Joe Biden wants to assure the public that he has invested their contribution in a profitable enterprise. This is one of the reasons why Biden administration has announced delivery of more lethal weapons to Ukraine. The US government wants to deliver on its promise to help Ukrainians defeat the Russians.
However, given the current state of Ukrainian counter offensive, it is highly likely that we will witness even larger number of Americans opposing additional funding for Ukraine. Given the proximity of next election, if the public opinion maintains this trend, the Biden administration might be forced to dilute its support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia. The Republicans are trying to cash in on the public sentiment. As the poll indicates, there are growing number of people who align with Republicans over the issue of Ukraine. This development presents a challenge to the US president. As much as President Biden would like to see Ukraine succeed, he wouldn’t like to risk his next term. Given that the US is by far the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine, Ukraine is in a precarious situation where its course of war will be greatly influenced by the US public opinion.