Zelensky's chief of staff: Biden has done more for Ukraine than any of his predecessors as president

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Lucky for Ukraine that Donald Trump has no chance of becoming president again.

And that he’s known for not holding grudges when he feels slighted.

I understand why Andriy Yermak would go out of his way to praise Biden in the clip below, just as I understood why Zelensky downplayed Trump’s interest in a quid pro quo in 2019. When your national survival depends to some degree on the goodwill of the current occupant of the White House, you say what you have to say to maintain that goodwill.

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But it’s a misstep regardless. American opinion is united in support of Ukraine to a degree rarely seen in modern history. Zelensky and his team should take care not to say anything that might disrupt that by causing a partisan rift. Especially with certain elements of the nationalist right searching for ways to steer Republicans towards backing Russia.

Yermak was so keen for Biden and his party to know how much Ukraine appreciates their help that he repeated the sentiment on Twitter:

Go figure that they prefer him as president to a NATO skeptic who once engaged in a little light extortion of Zelensky involving critical military aid for his country.

Politico reports today on how congressional Republicans are spinning Trump’s history with Ukraine now that America *hearts* Zelensky. Some point to the fact that his administration did ultimately send weapons to the Ukrainians, which is true. Others blame the Democrats. No one blames Trump, naturally.

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Then-President Trump ordered his No. 2 to skip Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 2019 inauguration, put a secret hold on a package of military aid for months and deprived the incoming Ukrainian leader of a White House meeting meant to show solidarity with the West. Simultaneously, Trump and his allies repeatedly asked Zelenskyy to open politically motivated investigations into Democrats, including then-candidate Joe Biden…

The GOP’s refusal to acknowledge the Ukraine-related substance of the Trump impeachment as Russia bombards Zelenskyy’s nation is a case study in the hopeless partisanship of the modern Congress, and the difficulties ahead as leaders weigh more support for Ukraine. Democrats are adamant that the former president deserves significant blame for worsening Ukraine’s long-term position, while Republicans dig in and say the impeachment itself — rather than Trump’s conduct — turned a backroom drama among world leaders into a front-page scandal that threw Zelenskyy in the middle of a political cage match.

Republicans have often pointed out that Trump eventually did give Ukraine the $400 million of aid he had withheld — just as Democrats began gathering evidence about the hold. They also note that he sent lethal aid in the form of Javelin anti-tank missiles prior to Zelenskyy’s election. Meanwhile, they argue, Biden has delayed on urgently needed assistance.

I’m curious to see the next round of polling on whether Americans believe Biden is doing too much, the right amount, or not enough to help Ukraine. His numbers on handling the war have been middling so far but that’s almost entirely due to some voters, Republicans especially, believing that he hasn’t done enough. Is that perception amenable to change based on events — like, say, the White House sending literally tons of new weapons to Ukraine — or is it based on an unshakable belief that Biden is weak no matter how much the U.S. does for Ukrainians?

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Bear in mind that not everything we’re doing for them is publicly known, for obvious reasons:

Current and former U.S. officials knowledgeable about the operations told The Intercept that the U.S. military has deployed extensive ISR, or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, assets to countries neighboring Ukraine to monitor developments within the embattled nation…

The assets are largely aircraft tasked with flying along the borders between Ukraine and its NATO-allied neighbors, which must be careful not to cross into Ukrainian airspace. Capable of peering deep inside the country, the aircraft glean intelligence that is then passed onto the Ukrainians, according to two former U.S. officials knowledgeable about current operations. The aircraft include MQ-9 “Reaper” drones, Boeing RC-135 “Rivet Joints,” and Boeing E-3 Sentry “AWACS,” which have been used to eavesdrop on communications and collect imagery intelligence, according to one of the former officials, a retired CIA officer. A current U.S. Army signals intelligence officer said that the U.S. had deployed many of the ISR assets to neighboring countries in February, following Russia’s massive troop buildup along the Ukrainian border. Open-source flight data shows the same models of aircraft positioned over Poland, Romania, and the Black Sea.

I continue to believe that U.S. intelligence is an important reason why the Ukrainians have been so surprisingly effective on the battlefield, especially at targeting Russian generals. But the White House will never admit that, even if the Kremlin already suspects it to a near-certainty. Relatedly, lately I’ve wondered if the big debate over whether to send Ukraine those Polish MiGs is a red herring of sorts, a request from Ukraine for a flashy but nonessential weapon that’s been contrived to give the White House a way to show Russia that it’s not giving the Ukrainians everything they want. No one but no one thinks the MiGs would be as useful to Zelensky as the anti-tank and anti-aircraft arsenal we’re actually sending him, but his insistence on it and Biden’s insistence on saying no conveniently lets the U.S. claim that it’s taking a “moderate” approach to arming the Ukrainians, a concession to Russian power. Essentially, telling Zelensky no is a way to let the Russians save face without depriving the Ukrainians of anything meaningful on the battlefield. After all, most of their air force is still intact.

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Just a theory. I’ll leave you with this guy, paying tribute to certain members of the American right after Team Zelensky paid tribute to certain members of the American left.

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David Strom 3:30 PM | June 20, 2024
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