Senators join House lawmakers in pushing for bold Ukraine victory resolution

Ukrainian soldiers holding weapons walk through a wooded area.
Ukrainian soldiers take part in military exercises outside Kyiv on April 20. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — At a time when many Americans, and some of the legislators who represent them in Washington, are growing weary of supporting the defense of Ukraine, a new bipartisan House resolution introduced Tuesday calls on the United States to support an outright victory over Russia.

“We must not repeat the error of Sept. 1, 1939,” the resolution’s chief sponsor, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., told Yahoo News, referencing Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland, which followed desperate efforts to appease Nazi Germany and prevent a second world war.

Notably, the resolution, which requires review from the House Foreign Affairs Committee before a vote from the full chamber, “affirms that it is the policy of the United States to see Ukraine victorious against the invasion and restored to its internationally recognized 1991 borders.”

The return to that year’s borders is significant because 1991 marked the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of an independent Ukraine that included the Crimean Peninsula.

On Tuesday evening, the Senate followed with a bipartisan victory resolution of its own, introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, both of whom are Democrats, and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican.

“Ukraine will win the war — and win the peace — if America continues its steadfast support, as this resolution strongly states,” Blumenthal said in a statement forwarded by his press secretary. “To our NATO allies as well as Ukraine, our message must be that we’ll have your back in this fight for freedom and democracy — yours and ours together.”

The resolution requires passage from the full chamber, where support for Ukraine has generally been stronger than in the House, which is controlled by Republicans. Its introduction comes at a time when both Ukraine and Russia have struggled to break through a months-long stalemate marked by brutal fighting around the city of Bakhmut.

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in 2021. (Ting Shen/Pool via Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin seized Crimea during an initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, which the United States and many European nations condemned but did not stop. The Kremlin also backed Russian separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk, two regions in a part of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas. Russia has since fully annexed those and two other provinces, in a move that has widely been deemed illegal.

Returning to 1991 borders is unrealistic, some experts say, especially since retaking Crimea would likely require an amphibious assault of the sort for which the Ukrainian forces are not equipped.

“They would be pressed to retake all of Donbas; Crimea would take a miracle,” said Ben Friedman, chief analyst at the Washington, D.C., think tank Defense Priorities, which tends to be skeptical of intervention-heavy foreign policy. “It certainly seems unlikely that anything short of a failed offensive will make this clear.”

But for Ukrainians, anything short of a full expulsion of Russian forces is untenable. “All other half measures will lead to the collapse of both international law and the global security system, and the decline of the Western world,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told Yahoo News.

Wilson’s resolution is co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. They two men head the Helsinki Commission, a congressional panel founded in 1976 to help keep the Soviet Union abiding by its international agreements. Since the collapse of the USSR, the commission has focused on Russia, which under Putin has sought to expand the so-called Russian world by reclaiming former Soviet regions and republics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Gavriil Grigorov/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

“The only way to maintain peace is through strength,” Wilson said. The phrase represents conservative icon Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, which most historians credit with helping to end the Cold War. Today, however, the GOP’s isolationist strain is stronger than it was then, and a growing number of Republicans say Ukraine is not worth defending.

In addition to affirming support for victory, the resolution calls for Ukraine to join NATO, a move that Russia would certainly consider a major provocation. In addition, Russia is to pay reparations, and Kremlin officials are to be tried for war crimes.

Podolyak called the resolution “brilliant” and praised the House for calling Russia to account. “Perhaps the most important feature of Western civilizational culture is the ability to analyze past experience and acknowledge mistakes,” he told Yahoo News.

Skeptics worry that prolonging the war, even if for sound reasons, will result in only more suffering on the battlefield and among Ukraine’s population. Pushing for a full victory, instead of merely a partial one, could extend the war for years. The battle for Crimea could be especially brutal, given the peninsula's cultural and geopolitical significance for Russia.

Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at the frontline in Donetsk.
Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery at the frontline in Donetsk on Monday. (Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“If neither side can win outright — which I think we can all agree is not going to happen — then it’s sort of not clear what the path to ending the war is, absent some change in policy that helps both sides overcome the impediments to negotiation,” RAND Corporation senior defense analyst Miranda Priebe told Yahoo News earlier this year.

The new resolution explicitly counters this line of thinking by both defining victory and tethering the United States to that outcome.

“This bipartisan resolution demonstrates the wide support in Congress for Ukrainian victory. We all need to move beyond ‘as long as it takes’ and embrace ‘Ukrainian victory’ as our rallying cry in order for Ukraine to win the war this year,” a congressional staffer familiar with the contents of the resolution and willing to speak only on the condition of anonymity told Yahoo News. “This is the strategy that experts around D.C. have been calling for. It’s time to stop hedging and get Ukraine what it needs to win.”

When the invasion began, most members of both parties readily agreed to send billions of dollars in weaponry to Ukraine. Lately, however, both progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans have expressed hesitation with the scope of American contributions to the Ukrainian war effort.

A chief figure in stoking anti-Ukraine sentiment has been Tucker Carlson, the primetime Fox News host who was ousted on Monday morning. The program he hosted was watched by 3 million people nightly and served as a frequent stop for Republicans critical of the war; fellow Republicans who did support the effort dreaded being the target of a Carlson segment.

President Biden in the Oval Office.
President Biden in the Oval Office on April 20. (Oliver Contreras/Sipa USA via Getty Images)

Democrats have generally supported continuing to arm Ukraine, but the House Progressive Caucus sent Biden a letter in October asking him to negotiate a settlement to the war. After heavy criticism from fellow Democrats, the letter was withdrawn and blamed on a staff error.

Last week, a bicameral group of Republicans sent Biden a similar letter. House members, including Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., have vowed to “audit” Ukraine aid while also promulgating conspiracy theories about the conflict that mirror Russian misinformation.

Passage of the new measure in the House is no sure thing. Before a full House vote, the resolution must first be approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The panel is chaired by Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, a strong supporter of helping Ukraine. His office did not respond to a Yahoo News request for comment.

The Biden administration has said it will stand by Ukraine indefinitely, but domestic political realities could frustrate that vow, especially if a Republican averse to foreign intervention wins the White House in next year’s presidential election.

Officials in both Kyiv and Moscow have watched closely for signs of fractures in the international coalition supporting Ukraine, as well as in Washington’s own resolve to spend billions of dollars on the conflict. Bipartisan resolutions like the ones introduced this week could help ease Ukrainian anxieties about how committed the United States remains to expelling Russia from territory it has illegally seized.

This story was updated April 26 with the Senate resolution.