WASHINGTON — When President Biden signed a modern Lend-Lease Act on Monday, 81 years after the original version pointed the way to World War II, he pushed the United States even deeper into a new war in Europe that is increasingly an epic battle with Russia. despite his efforts to define his limits.
Recent days have highlighted how involved the United States has become in the conflict in Ukraine. In addition to the new loan program, which waives time-consuming requirements to send weapons to Ukraine, Mr. Biden has proposed $33 billion more in military and humanitarian aid, a package that Congressional Democrats plan to increase by another $7 billion. He sent the first lady for a secret visit to the war zone† And he provided intelligence that helped Ukraine to… kill a dozen generals and sink the flagship of Russia†
But even after two and a half months, Mr. Biden is still concerned that the United States appears to be waging the proxy war that Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin says it is. While Biden publicly sends aid and signed the loan-lease bill on camera, he was outraged off-camera over leaks about US intelligence aid to Ukraine that led to the deaths of Russian generals and the sinking of the cruiser Moskva. out of concern it would provoke Mr Putin into the escalation Biden has been vigorously trying to avoid.
After reports in The New York Times and NBC News about the intelligence, Mr. Biden called Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III; Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence; and William J. Burns, the CIA director, to punish them, according to a senior government official. That seemed to be where Mr Biden drew the line – providing Ukraine with weapons to shoot Russian soldiers was OK, providing Ukraine with specific information to help them shoot Russians was best kept a secret and not made public to public.
“There is a constant balancing act the government is trying to achieve between supporting Ukraine and ensuring it can defend itself militarily while being deeply concerned about escalation,” said Alina Polyakova, the chair of the Center for European Policy Analysis and a specialist on Russia policy.
“It’s getting more and more untenable to keep up with this kind of hand-wringing,” she added. “It is probably more effective to say that this is our policy and that we will address and manage the potential escalation responses we see from the Kremlin.”
From the beginning of the war, the government tried to analyze its response and decide which weapons could be called defensive and therefore acceptable to send to Ukraine and which could be called offensive and therefore should not be delivered.
But the line has shifted with the administration in recent weeks shipping increasingly sophisticated military equipment and more openly express his ambitions not only to help the Ukrainians, but also to defeat and even weakened Russia† After visiting the war-torn capital Kiev two weeks ago, Mr Austin stated that “we want Russia to be so weakened that it is not able to do the kinds of things” it has done again in Ukraine, while Nancy Pelosi said during her own subsequent trip to Kiev that America “will support Ukraine until victory is achieved”.
Some senior government officials said Biden was right to be cautious about prodding Putin too openly, as the consequences of an escalation with a nuclear-armed Russia are too devastating to be risked.
“Putin wants us to turn it into a proxy war,” said Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser to two presidents who now works at the Brookings Institution. “Putin is still telling people outside of Europe that this is just a replay of the Cold War, nothing to watch here. This is not a proxy war. It is a colonial land grab.”
Michael A. McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia now at Stanford University, said there was a difference between clandestinely helping Ukrainian troops defeat Russian troops and showing off. “Yes, Putin knows we are providing intelligence to Ukraine,” he said. “But saying it out loud helps his public narrative that Russia is fighting the US and NATO in Ukraine, not just the Ukrainians. That does not serve our interests.”
Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia and author of a book on US relations with Mr. Putin, said that too openly about what the United States was doing in Ukraine is the effort to turn China, India and other countries against Russia. could undermine . “It’s not a good idea for global public opinion,” she said. “They should do what they do, but not talk about it.”
McFaul said he also believed it undermined the Ukrainians, making them appear dependent on the Americans, a concern Mr Biden reportedly shared in his calls to his security officials, who were the first reported by Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman†
But others said the administration has been too cautious about letting Russia set the rules of the conflict — or rather Washington’s guesswork as to what would escalate Russia. No one in Washington really knows the line not to be crossed with Mr Putin, and instead the United States has just made assumptions. “Do we have a conversation about red lines with ourselves?” asked Frederick W. Kagan, a military scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Because I’d rather think we are.”
The result, he added, is that it is too slow to provide what Ukraine really needs. “They’ve done an amazing job of getting things done in a relatively timely manner,” Mr Kagan said of the Biden administration. “But there seems to be a certain brake on the timeliness of our support, driven by this kind of analysis and self-negotiation, that’s a problem.”
The legislation Mr Biden signed on Monday reflected the historic echoes and reversals of the current war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original Lend-Lease Act in 1941 to help the British fend off Nazi aggressors in World War II, and it was later expanded to help other allies, including the Soviet Union.
Now Moscow will be on the other side of the arms channel, as the modern version, called the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, will send weapons and equipment not to Russian soldiers, but to those fighting against them.
“Every day Ukrainians pay with their lives,” Biden said in the Oval Office when he approved the legislation. “And the atrocities that the Russians are engaged in are just beyond comprehension. And the cost of the fight is not cheap, but giving in to aggression is even more expensive. That’s why we’re staying here.”
Biden signed into law the same day Russia celebrated Victory Day, the 77th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s Allied defeat, a feat facilitated in part by the original Lend-Lease Act.
“This day should be about celebrating peace and unity in Europe and the defeat of the Nazis in World War II,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “And instead Putin is twisting history, changing history, or trying to change it, I would say, to justify his unprovoked and unjustified war.”
The loan program came as Democrats in Congress moved quickly to consider the $33 billion aid package proposed by Mr. Biden and indicated they would significantly increase it. While Republicans pushed for more military spending, Democrats pushed for an equal increase in humanitarian aid, pushing the price tag to $39.8 billion, according to two people familiar with the proposal who previewed it on Monday. condition of anonymity.
Ms. Pelosi and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, spoke by phone with Mr. Biden on Monday as they finalized details of the proposal, one of the people said. House leaders want to discuss the measure on Tuesday.
The rise reflects a striking consensus in both sides to pump massive amounts of money into the war against Russia, even as lawmakers remain deeply divided on domestic spending. In March, Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, and Mr Biden has warned those funds will run out quickly without new legislation.
However, it was not clear whether Republicans, whose support would be needed in the Senate, agreed with the details of the proposal. A Republican spokeswoman on the Senate Appropriations Committee said no deal had been reached, but talks continued.
Democrats plan to pass the package separately from the government’s emergency response to the coronavirus, which has become entangled in an election year dispute over immigration restrictions.
“We cannot afford any delay in this crucial war effort,” Mr Biden said in a statement. “Therefore, I am willing to accept that these two measures are implemented separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can come straight to my desk.”