PAWAC guest speakers say erosion of support for Ukraine is exactly what Putin wants to see
There are some signs that support for Ukraine is beginning to waver in the United States and other Western countries, 19 months after Russia's invasion.
Two experts on the region are speaking Thursday evening at a Peoria Area World Affairs Council event on the conflict and its greater significance.
Fiona Hill is a former National Security Council advisor for Russia and Eastern Europe who's now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She said it's inevitable that international attention is beginning to wane as the war drags on into its second year. That's something she said Russian president Vladimir Putin wants to use to his advantage.
"Putin really wants this all to go away," she said. "He wants the United States to stop supporting Ukraine. He wants the resolve to falter in Europe as well. He loves the fact. And we know he does, because he's talking about it all the time."
Some Republican congressional lawmakers have become increasingly adverse to continuing aid to Ukraine. Congress has sent more than $75 billion to the country since the war began in February 2022.
"He loves the fact that we're fighting with ourselves. And that we're not being coherent in our approach to any of these conflicts," Hill said. "Domestic incoherence in the United States, the way that our politics plays out, this is a boon for Putin, because he just believes that that will be the dispositive element in all of this."
William Taylor is the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and a vice president of the United States Institute of Peace. He recently returned to Ukraine, where he's visited five times since the war broke out.
He agreed that Putin's strategy is essentially to wait for international support to erode for Ukraine. He said Ukrainians aren't giving up, but they are beginning to worry about changing American political sentiment.
"They're tired, but they're not stopping. They're not giving up; they're continuing to fight. And if they if they stop, there'll be no more no Ukraine. It's existential for them." he said.
Hill said the conflict isn't just about land, but about people and cultural identity, too.
"Russians are talking about, not a division into a western and eastern Ukraine and an eastern Ukraine that will be separate from Russia," she said. "They're talking about absorbing territory and people into Russia and turning people into Russians with the idea that they have to then adhere to all Russian rules and disappear as Ukrainian identity. This is something different."
Taylor said he believes the U.S. is getting a good return for their military budget investment into Ukraine.
"We're spending 5% of that, to defend against one of the two main enemies that we've got: Russia and China. And the Ukrainians are doing the fighting for 5% of the defense budget, so we can do both," Taylor said. "This is not stopping us from taking care of other issues, other problems that we have to deal with. We can do both."
Hill said ultimately, the issue comes down to whether countries armed with nuclear weapons will be allowed to bully and blackmail other sovereign nations by the international community.
"This is precisely what our defense budget is for, is to prevent these kinds of threats, this proliferation of nuclear weapons, the proliferation of terror, the proliferation of countries being able to exploit the weaknesses of others, and to basically start invading their neighbors," Hill said. "This affects us directly in the United States, whether we like it or not."
Hill and Taylor are speaking in the Peplow Pavilion of the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center on the Bradley University campus at 7 p.m.