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Opinion This is no time to go wobbly on resisting Russian aggression

A damaged building in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, after a Russian rocket attack on Sunday. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s no surprise that the Kremlin would try to divert attention from its failures in Ukraine toward a new story about Kyiv’s purported plans to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Transparent disinformation, Moscow’s tale might be intended to serve as a pretext for its own first strike with unconventional weaponry. More likely, it is another attempt to play on the West’s fears of nuclear war, the goal of which, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank that tracks the conflict, is “to slow or suspend Western military aid to Ukraine and possibly weaken the NATO alliance.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin guessed right that Western solidarity with Ukraine would be crucial; he has consistently guessed wrong about the willingness of Kyiv’s friends to stay the course, despite the costs of doing so. As Mr. Putin has no doubt noticed, however, there are incipient fissures in that united front, including — ominously — signs of a split within the Republican Party over U.S. aid to Ukraine, which has totaled $54 billion since the war began in February. Rank-and-file GOP voters, possibly influenced by messaging from former president Donald Trump and Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, are warming to the idea that U.S. aid is a waste of money better spent on domestic problems. A September Pew Research poll found that a significant minority of Republicans — 32 percent — say the United States is providing “too much” aid, up from 9 percent in March. Small wonder 57 GOP members of the House and 11 GOP senators voted no on a $40 billion package in May. Trump-endorsed Republican candidates for Senate in Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio have disparaged aid for Ukraine, as have several House candidates. Republican Joe Kent, running for Congress in a historically red district in Washington state, has tweeted: “No aid to Ukraine unless they are at the [negotiating] table.”

If indeed the Republicans take one or both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections, it will be up to their leadership to contain isolationist sentiment and work with President Biden and other Democrats on aid for Ukraine. Unfortunately, potential speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said last week that next year “people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” Mr. McCarthy — who voted for the May bill — modified that remark slightly later, noting that he supports “making sure that we move forward to defeat Russia.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell countered Mr. McCarthy by calling for “expedited” aid. To his credit, Mr. McConnell has been a strong supporter of a robust U.S. response to Russian aggression in Europe, based on the succinct, and apt, rationale that it is an investment in vital U.S. interests: “The future of America’s security and core strategic interests will be shaped by the outcome of this fight. Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger cost should Ukraine lose.”

The GOP’s mixed signals are music to Mr. Putin’s ears. Also unhelpful, in its own way, was Monday’s letter from a group of 30 progressive House Democrats to Mr. Biden, urging the president to open direct cease-fire negotiations with Moscow. The Democrats, unlike Mr. Biden’s critics in the GOP, said they want to “pair” this new diplomatic push with continued aid; there is no moral equivalence between the two parties in that regard. Still, Russia is all too likely to advertise the progressives’ letter, which includes the suggestion that ending the war would help ease high gas prices, as evidence of flagging U.S. resolve. The White House politely but firmly rebuffed the idea, as it should have. This is no time to go wobbly — and that goes for lawmakers in both parties.

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