Putin pins hopes on a wavering West amid atrocity fatigue

As Vladimir Putin’s missiles continued to reduce Ukrainian churches, homes and shelters to rubble, and as Russian artillery continued to pulverize Ukrainian communities with impunity, Ukraine’s First Lady implored Americans not to abandon the Ukrainian people out of weak knees and atrocity-fatigue. “Don’t get used to our pain,” Olena Zelenska, wife of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, pleaded in an interview with ABC News last week.

It’s been 100 days since Russian forces invaded Ukraine because they could, in order to brutally subjugate a free nation whose people had the temerity to wish to remain free. Although Ukraine has resisted the Russian military with epic courage, its civilians remain largely defenseless against Russian barbarity.

In European capitals, pro-Ukrainian rallies have disappeared. In America, rather than blame Putin for the rising energy and food costs spurred by the invasion, many blame President Joe Biden, suggesting that the inevitable escalating costs tied to the most significant European conflict since 1945 reflect on his “competence of him.” This is a perception effectively peddled by Fox and friends; in truth, Biden has led the world’s military, economic and diplomatic response to Russia with a steadiness that history will record with admiration.

Putin has reason to be encouraged, reinforced in his conviction that the West lacks the discipline, the staying power and the will to stand up for Ukraine if it means economic and political sacrifice. There is a stream of evidence that international resolve to stick with Ukraine has gone wobbly and attention on the consequences of a Putin victory has wavered.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who admits that he has spent 100 hours uselessly beseeching Putin to please respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, proclaims that the world should make sure not to hurt his feelings. It is essential, Macron asserts, “not to humiliate Russia” in seeking to discourage it from slaughtering innocent Ukrainians. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, professing when convenient to be Ukraine’s staunch friend, has slow-walked German military assistance to the besieged Ukrainians. The Swiss just vetoed Denmark’s request to send Swiss-made armored vehicles to Ukraine, citing “neutrality.”

At home, 11 Republican senators and 57 Republican congressmen opposed the recent Ukrainian aid package. And the New York Times editorial board, which had published a ringing editorial in March pronouncing it America’s sacred responsibility to signal Putin that we would support Ukraine whatever it takes, triggered a wave of high-fives in the Kremlin by flip-flopping just 10 weeks later. It was, the Times intoned just 10 days after the Russians invaded, “imperative that the world continue to coalesce around the same message to Ukrainians and Russians alike: No matter how long it takes, Ukrainians will be free.”

On May 17, after proclaiming that it was “imperative” that we send an unequivocal message to Russia that we stand with Ukraine, the geo-strategic mavens of mid-town Manhattan determined that it was now “imperative” that we make clear that we will not provide Ukraine with unequivocal support.

The Times has ascertained that war is “messy” and “complicated,” so President Biden must “make clear to Zelensky that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will go to confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster.”

You guessed it: “It is imperative,” the Times now tells the Ukrainians, “that the Ukrainian government’s decisions be based on a realistic assessment of its means and how much more destruction Ukraine can sustain.”

It was a gelatinous display by the Times, a message of dispiriting vacillation to brave Ukrainians battling to survive without the creature comforts enjoyed by editorialists and oxygenating to Putin and company. The Ukrainians can only hope that Americans will understand that their battle is our battle, and that we owe them all the support they need for as long as they need it, for their sake and ours.

Jeff Robbins is a Boston lawyer and former US delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

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