Bloomberg: What if Putin wins? US allies fear defeat in Ukraine

With critical aid for Kyiv snarled up by political infighting on both sides of the Atlantic, European officials are starting to think through the consequences of a victory for Russia.

With critical aid for Kyiv snarled up by political infighting on both sides of the Atlantic, European officials are starting to think through the consequences of a victory for Russia. The impasse over aid from the US and Europe has Ukraine’s allies contemplating something they’ve refused to imagine since the earliest days of Russia’s invasion: that Vladimir Putin may win, writes Bloomberg.

With more than $110 billion in assistance mired in political disputes in Washington and Brussels, how long Kyiv will be able to hold back Russian forces and defend Ukraine’s cities, power plants and ports against missile attacks is increasingly in question.

Beyond the potentially catastrophic consequences for Ukraine, some European allies have begun to quietly consider the impact of a failure for North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II. They’re reassessing the risks an emboldened Russia would pose to alliance members in the east, according to people familiar with the internal conversations who asked for anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t public.

The ripple effects would be felt around the world, the people said, as US partners and allies questioned just how reliable Washington’s promises of defense would be. The impact of such a strategic setback would be far deeper than that caused by the spectacle of the botched US pullout from Afghanistan in 2021, they said. And that’s leaving aside the prospect that Donald Trump might win next year’s presidential election and realize his public pledges to pull back from major alliances, including NATO, and make a deal with Putin over Ukraine.

The growing sense of alarm has slipped into leaders’ public statements. They’ve taken on an increasingly shrill tone as backers of the aid exhort their opponents not to hold the vital assistance hostage to domestic political priorities, something which rarely happened in previous debates.

“If Ukraine doesn’t have support from the EU and the US, then Putin will win,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said last week at the European Union summit, where leaders failed to overcome growing opposition to next year’s €50 billion ($55 billion) aid package and only barely managed to approve the largely symbolic gesture of opening the way to membership for Ukraine sometime in the future.

“There is increasing concern about lack of movement on aid for Ukraine on both sides of the Atlantic and frustration that there is this stagnation with dire battlefield consequences,” said Kristine Berzina, managing director at the German Marshall Fund in Washington. “The possibility of Ukraine losing additional territory and even its sovereignty — that is still on the table.”

Ukraine’s backers in both the EU and US contend aid is likely to be approved in some form early next year. But that’s unlikely to yield a major breakthrough on the battlefield, officials said. Beyond that, the outlook is increasingly murky, even as the stalemate on the ground makes it increasingly clear that the fight could go on for years to come.

“Russia is not scared of NATO,” Estonia’s military chief Martin Herem said in an interview with a local TV station last week, estimating that the Russian military could be ready to attack NATO within a year once the conflict in Ukraine — not a member of the alliance — was over.

The earlier confidence that the invasion would be a ‘strategic defeat’ for the Russian leader has faded, replaced in some quarters by a growing sense that Putin’s bet that he can outlast the US and its allies may prove right.

Finland, which joined NATO this year amid the growing threat from Russia, has stepped up its own defense buildup and is seeking to lock in security ties with the US. Putin Sunday warned that Russia plans to deploy more troops along its border, the longest between Russia and a NATO member. “There were no problems,” he said. “Now there will be.”

Some European countries might seek to strengthen their ties with Moscow or Beijing to avoid having to rely too much on an unreliable US, other officials said.

The US would have to deploy a “sizable portion” of its ground forces as well as a “large number” of stealth aircraft. Given the limitations of US manufacturing, that could force the White House to choose between keeping sufficient forces in Asia to defend Taiwan against a potential strike by China or deterring a Russian attack on NATO, Bloomberg concludes.

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