Not long after President Vladimir Putin of Russia launched his illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the now-familiar blue and yellow of that sovereign nation seemed to appear everywhere all at once. Flags adorned store windows and stickers were plastered on lamp posts. In Boston, 500 Ukrainian flags were placed in a Back Bay park as a symbol of welcome to Ukrainian refugees and in solidarity with their nation.
As Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine dragged on, many of those flags and symbols disappeared. Yet at least one that I see every week is still flying outside a home in a Boston suburb. Yes, the weather has had its way with it. But that flag is still there in defiance of Putin and in defense of democracy — which is exactly where this nation must also continue to be.
But according to a recent CNN poll, 55 percent of Americans now oppose Congress authorizing more funding to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. And 51 percent say this nation has already done enough to help the Ukrainian war effort.
What those who stand against more funding don’t understand is that Putin’s murderous actions aren’t just an existential crisis for Ukraine and its people. Democracy itself is under threat.
In his speech Tuesday before the United Nations General Assembly, President Biden again made the case for continued funding for Ukraine.
“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence,” said Biden, who wants Congress to authorize another $24 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. “But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the UN Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?”
That’s been the core of US support for Ukraine, and it’s a message that once resonated on both sides of the aisle. Weeks after the war began, Kevin McCarthy, then-Republican minority leader, said, “This is an unwarranted war [Ukraine] did not ask for, but they are willing to defend the right of freedom. We should stand with anyone willing to defend freedom.”
That was then. This is what House Speaker McCarthy said when President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine arrived in the United States this week to make his case for more funding: “Is Zelensky elected to Congress? Is he our president? … I have questions for him. Where’s the accountability on the money we already spent? What is the plan for victory?” McCarthy said he continues to support Ukraine, but “I will listen to the American public.”
Of course, as he has done since becoming speaker, McCarthy is only listening to the squeakiest wheels in the Republicans’ extremist caucus, and they’ve been clear for months that they do not want another dime to go to Ukraine. And as they have done before, they are threatening a government shutdown if they don’t get their way.
Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who keeps McCarthy on a very short leash, said any shutdown would be the fault of the speaker because he hasn’t lived up to the terms of the backdoor agreement that allowed McCarthy to finally win enough votes to become House leader. It was also Gaetz who in February introduced a “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution to “halt additional military and financial aid” to that war-seared nation.
While the resolution was symbolic, this particular part shouldn’t be overlooked — with Gaetz, 8 of the 10 House Republicans who cosponsored it also voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In casting that vote hours after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, their position was clear: They don’t care about existential threats to democracy whether they are foreign or domestic.
Even before Putin’s missiles began targeting schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings, before he ordered the slaughter of civilians in crimes against humanity, the stakes of his war were already impossibly high. Yes, this nation has already given more than $110 billion to Ukraine during what will soon be 19 months of horror and bloodshed. But if Ukraine loses, it will be a mortal wound to every democracy and embolden dictators and autocrats to invade any nation of their choosing. Taiwan, facing China’s increasing provocations, shouldn’t be the only country alarmed by what Russia is doing to Ukraine.
Even as political tides shift, what compelled this nation to aid Ukraine has not changed. The existential threat to the free world is real. And every bomb that lands in Ukraine is also designed to land ever closer to democracy’s heart.