Published: 14:51, April 19, 2024
Ukraine risks Afghanistan fate
By Song Luzheng

As conflict with Russia drags on, US finds it unworthy to maintain support for Zelensky

Firefighters work at the site after a missile attack in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 21, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

‘If the US Congress doesn’t help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war.” This message by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been repeated recently amid battlefield setbacks and losses.

Ukraine has managed to survive its conflict with Russia thus far only by relying on advanced weapons and technical support from the United States and Europe, both of whom are now keen to reduce their heavy burden.

The US Senate passed a $95.3 billion foreign aid bill with assistance for Ukraine and Israel in February, but the Republican-led House of Representatives has yet to bring it to a vote. In December, Republicans in the Senate blocked a bill to provide emergency spending to support Ukraine.

After more than two years of conflict, Russia is finding it difficult to achieve its strategic goals through its special military operation in Ukraine, while the latter is unlikely to reclaim more territories.

For the US, its support for Ukraine has become a political hot potato. Washington has indeed benefited from the conflict, especially in terms of profits for the military-energy complex. From a strategic standpoint, the conflict has breathed new life into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and put Europe under Washington’s yoke, but at the cost of European strategic autonomy.

However, the gains may not offset the US’ losses globally. The US has failed to achieve its strategic goal of swiftly defeating Russia through unprecedented sanctions, so it could then focus on other areas, such as countering China.

By supporting Ukraine to continue fighting and weakening Russia, the US certainly was not expecting to see the Russian economy rebound to a growth of 3.6 percent last year and expand this year.

Russia’s resilience has caught the US off guard. Faced with deteriorating external conditions, Russia has built closer economic relations with the Global South, and moved politically closer to China. Through its successful transition to a wartime economy, Russia has effectively countered Western sanctions and even gained an advantage on the battlefield.

The US must also deal with the fact that its measures “to encircle and contain” China have not produced the desired results.

As a neutral party in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, China has positioned itself as an upholder of justice and fairness. China’s economy grew by 5.2 last year, in stark contrast to the US’ 2.5 percent and the EU’s mere 0.5 percent, despite their large-scale stimulus policies.

To add to the US’ woes, Palestinian militant group Hamas, and Houthi rebels in Yemen, took advantage of the situation, by hitting Israeli and America’s vulnerable spots in the Middle East. Worse, the US’ unconditional support for longtime ally Israel in the Gaza conflict has attracted widespread criticisms around the world.

All these factors are pointing to one possibility — that Ukraine may suffer the same fate as Afghanistan. The two countries share two similarities at least.

First, neither side in the conflict is in a position to achieve a decisive victory, which leaves Ukraine — like Afghanistan — akin to a bottomless pit for its US supporters’ resources.

Second, the US has far more important challenges to deal with than sticking to its original goals in the conflict.

The US abandoned Afghanistan primarily because its strategic objectives, namely counterterrorism and establishing a pro-American government in central Asia, were not met. As the Taliban militants grew stronger, the Afghan government supported by the US turned into a liability — ultimately leading the US government to abandon Afghanistan.

Considering the great difficulties in achieving the US’ strategic objectives through Ukraine, it is highly likely that Ukraine may end up becoming a disposable pawn like Afghanistan.

Although Europe is not withdrawing its support of Ukraine yet, it may still be not enough to stop Ukraine from becoming a second Afghanistan.

Just like Afghanistan, Ukraine offers the same lesson for the world again: under the existent US-dominated international order, small countries often become pawns or sacrifices of hegemonic Western powers.

The author is a political scientist based in France and a research fellow at the China Research Institute of Fudan University. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.