Ukraine burns. Republicans and Biden dither. And Russia's Vladimir Putin smiles.

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Two years after Russia launched its brutal invasion, Ukraine is now caught in a tug of war in American politics.

House Speaker Mike Johnson’s refusal to allow a vote on a bill to further fund Ukraine's military and Trump-aligned representatives' pledge to fight the legislation have enabled Russia to mount a renewed offensive and contributed to Ukraine's growing shortage of ammunition.

Republican opposition to the bill is driven in part by frustration over President Joe Biden's inability to secure the U.S. border with Mexico and by supposed fiscal prudence, although the proposed $60 billion package of military assistance is relatively small compared with the more than $700 billion the U.S. spends each year on defense.

Of even more concern, Republicans such as Sen. Mike Lee of Utah have clung to ideological talking points to deny further aid for Ukraine, arguing that the financial assistance amounts to a proxy war with Russia, which is ironic given that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been adamant that his invasion is intended as a proxy war with the West.

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Standing behind this opposition is former President Donald Trump, who said recently in South Carolina that he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO members who did not dedicate enough of their gross domestic product to their own defense.

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Beyond his longtime message that NATO countries should stop freeloading off the United States, Trump has raised an even more concerning point about Ukraine, claiming he could end the war within a day.

The threat is that Trump, if reelected this year, would negotiate directly with Russia and cut out Ukrainians from their own defense, as he did in his previous term with Afghanistan.

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While Biden owns the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the stage was set for such a drawdown of troops by Trump, with his administration negotiating directly with the Taliban over the heads of the elected Afghan government.

Such an approach may play to Trump’s self-perception as a born negotiator, and it also allows the former president to present himself as a realist working in America’s best interests. However, the fruits of such an approach were evident in Kabul, where the withdrawal of U.S. support without consulting the actual government of the country led to a spectacular collapse.

People stand at the memorial site for those killed during the war, near Maidan Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. Ukraine is marking two years since Russia's full-scale invasion with a somber mood hanging over the country. On the battlefield, Ukrainian troops are running low on ammunition as they hope for further Western aid. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) ORG XMIT: XSG101

One of the key lessons of Afghanistan is that the United States cannot negotiate its own immediate interests to the exclusion of those who are directly affected.

Ukraine would not collapse as Afghanistan did. But if Trump or Biden were to reach a separate deal with Russia, extracting the United States from underwriting Ukraine's war, Putin would have a free hand to continue his murderous ways.

Russia already has used U.S. political wrangling and delayed arms shipments to begin an offensive to wipe another town off the map and, with North Korean and Iranian support, has begun to aggressively target Kyiv and Kharkiv.

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Biden slow to deliver aid to Ukraine

That has come on top of continued dithering from the Biden administration on the composition of aid packages, with long delays in the delivery of Abrams tanks and F-16 jets. All of that has helped Russia to become entrenched in eastern Ukraine and make it less likely that Ukraine will be able to regain its own territories.

As a sovereign nation under attack, Ukraine needs military assistance from countries with a decided interest in stopping Russia from once again casting its shadow of oppression over Eastern Europe. The bitter anti-freedom caucus in Congress, combined with the snail’s pace of the Biden administration, have made it much more difficult for Ukraine to expel Russia.

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The worry for the years ahead is that “Ukraine fatigue,” a grave insult to those actually dying in Ukraine, will push Americans to attempt to institute a peace deal over the heads of the Ukrainians. Such an outcome would be the worst-case scenario for America, Europe and Ukraine – and the best-case scenario for Russia.

Christopher A. Hartwell
Christopher A. Hartwell

Christopher A. Hartwell is professor of International Business Policy at ZHAW School of Management and Law in Switzerland and professor of International Management at Kozminski University in Poland. He has written extensively on Central and Eastern Europe and has lived in Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Poland, as well as advising governments throughout the former Soviet space (including Ukraine).

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Trump, Biden abandon Ukraine? Russia's Putin counts on US fatigue