The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Putin can win only if Josh Hawley-esque isolationists multiply

A destroyed Russian tank, covered in snow, stands in the yard of a private residence in the town of Sviatohirsk, Ukraine, on Feb. 12. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)
4 min

In autumn 1941, a few German units in Hitler’s drive toward Moscow reached the city’s outer suburbs, close enough to see the Kremlin’s spires. Then Soviet forces counterattacked against a German army that lacked winter clothing because the high command had promised that the Soviet Union would fall before snow did.

A year ago, Vladimir Putin launched what he believed would be a quick dash to Kyiv. A few army units briefly touched the city’s suburbs.

Russia’s estimated 60,000 military deaths so far are more than U.S. deaths in eight years in Vietnam, and four times what the Soviet Union lost in a decade in Afghanistan. The “Putin exodus,” which began well before the invasion and is accelerating, has cost Russia hundreds of thousands of mobile, educated young civilians. Strategy scholar Eliot A. Cohen writes in the Atlantic that elements of Putin’s army “have to be kept at the front by the fear of blocking units that will gun down soldiers fleeing the battlefield.” Putin’s gangster regime has scrounged for cannon fodder in Russia’s prisons, finding criminals to wage a war conducted as a war crime.

Hence the pertinence of Nuremberg, where in 1946 the first of the charges against some Nazi defendants was of aggression, which the tribunal called “the supreme international crime” because “it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Other charges included war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. These categories are capacious enough to include Putin’s indiscriminate rocket and artillery attacks on civilian concentrations and infrastructure, and the rapes and tortures inflicted by his rabble soldiery.

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Opinions on the war in Ukraine after one year
One year ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. Post Opinions is marking the anniversary with columns looking at all that has transpired and what may lie ahead.
Post Opinions partnered with the Brookings Institution to visualize the war’s effects on Ukraine’s economy, immigration trends and more. Together, these indicators suggest the fighting is unlikely to end anytime soon, write Michael O’Hanlon, Constanze Stelzenmüller and David Wessel of Brookings.
The Editorial Board looked for solutions, calling on the United States and its European allies to intensify their military, economic and diplomatic support for Kyiv. Vladimir Putin hopes for a stalemate, the Editorial Board writes, and the West needs to fuel a game-changing shift in momentum.
In an op-ed adapted from her Feb. 9 speech at the “Rebuilding Ukraine, Rebuilding the World” conference at Harvard, Oleksandra Matviichuk writes that it is not only wrong but also immoral not to provide weapons for Ukraine.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling describes the Ukraine war as a slugfest, not a stalemate. He outlines five phases of the war and predicts that Ukraine’s forces will ultimately prevail.
Columnist Jason Willick looks at the war through the lens of U.S. politics. President Biden, he says, is positioned to take advantage of divided government by using as his foil Republicans who oppose continued support for Ukraine.
Antony Beevor, a former tank commander with the British Army, says the Ukraine war has revived the role of the main battle tank.
Columnist David Ignatius examines three main characters of the war: Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr Zelensky and Joe Biden. A year into the war, Ignatius writes, Putin’s staying power begins to seem questionable, while Zelensky and Biden have never looked stronger.
Columnist George F. Will discusses the importance of continued support for Ukraine, writing that Putin can win only if Ukraine’s allies neglect to maximize their moral and material advantages.
Graham Allison, a professor of government at Harvard, reconsiders what it would mean to win in Ukraine. A new Cold War, he writes, might not be the worst outcome.


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Wartime atrocity charges often merit skepticism. When, however, Ukraine says Russians are scattering booby-trapped — explosive — toys to maim children, who then require caregivers, remember that Soviet forces did this in Afghanistan. And Putin’s abduction to “re-education camps” in Russia of unknown thousands of Ukrainian children is an attempt at cultural erasure akin to what his Chinese soulmates are doing to the Uyghurs, which U.S. policy has branded genocide. Putin is refuting his war rationale that Ukrainians are culturally Russians.

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Putin can win only by Ukraine’s allies choosing to lose by not maximizing their moral and material advantages. He is counting on Western publics’ support for Ukraine being brittle, and especially on the multiplication of Josh Hawleys.

This freshman Republican senator and probable presidential aspirant exhorted the Jan. 6 mob moments before he did what it demanded, trying to block some states’ electoral votes. Now, continuing his pandering to the most primitive portion of the GOP base, this Missouri Metternich is opposing what no one is proposing — giving Ukraine a “blank check.” He evidently has not noticed the excruciating incrementalism of NATO allies’ aid to that valorous nation. Perhaps Hawley, advocate of nanny government “conservatism,” has been too busy promoting his plan to make the federal government not Big Brother but Big Parent, taking over parenting with a law against children under age 16 using social media.

Hawley, a caricature of a (rhetorically) anti-Washington demagogue, is a human windsock, responsive to gusts of public opinion. An Associated Press poll shows that public support for aiding Ukraine militarily has declined from 60 percent last May to 48 percent today, and to 39 percent among Republicans. So, Hawley says the U.S. policy of supporting Ukraine’s survival “has to stop.”

See more charts on the war in Ukraine

The invincibly ignorant Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has 10 co-sponsors, all Republicans, for a resolution calling for an end to aid for Ukraine. Their geopolitical thinking probably is of Tucker (“Has Putin ever called me a racist?”) Carlson sophistication. They might eventually join hands across the barricades with some progressives who begrudge every federal nickel not devoted to feeding government-dependent Democratic factions. But Putin’s congressional caucus will remain a mostly Republican rump.

Putin will be disappointed by the caucus’s anemia. Few Republican legislators would be comfortable in the company of the likes of Hawley and Gaetz. And as Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said last week, “Don’t look at Twitter, look at people in power. … Look at the top Republicans on the Senate and House committees that handle armed services, foreign affairs, appropriations, and intelligence.” They support Ukraine.

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower ran for president primarily to protect the Republican Party and the Republic from Robert A. Taft, who had been wrong about prewar preparedness and about postwar collective security. Taft was a formidable intellect and legislator whose views resonated with the many Americans who were isolationists before the war and nostalgic for isolationism’s comforts afterward. He sought the presidency three times (1940, 1948, 1952), winning it as often as Hawley will.

One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.

A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.

Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.