To Save Ukraine, Defeat Russia and Deter China

The future of the world order is at stake.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a video meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin, in Moscow, on December 30, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a video meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin, in Moscow, on December 30, 2022. (AFP / Getty)

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American intelligence officials are concerned that China is considering sending lethal aid to Russia. The West must increase the speed and scale of aid to Ukraine, to remind Beijing that it should stay out of a war Moscow is going to lose.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

More Than Warnings

Since the beginning of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against an innocent neighbor, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his diplomats have said many of the right things, warning against escalation in Ukraine, including the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, and reaffirming the principle of state sovereignty in international affairs. But China has also, of course, tried to provide support for a fellow authoritarian regime by continuing trade with Russia, criticizing Western sanctions, and in general pretending that Putin’s war of aggression—including his many crimes against humanity—is just another routine spat in the international community.

Now Beijing might be pondering a more aggressive move. CIA Director Bill Burns said over the weekend that China may be considering sending lethal aid (that is, artillery shells and the like rather than military gear or supplies) to Russia to help Putin’s forces, who are still floundering about in a bloodbath of their own making. Providing shells without more launchers might not help Russia very much in the short term, but it would be a provocative move meant to signal to the West that the authoritarians can and will support each other in attacks against their neighbors—an issue important to Beijing as it continues to covet Taiwan.

Burns indicated that the Chinese had not yet made a decision, and that the U.S. was discussing the possibility in public as a way of trying to warn them off. The Biden administration has been extremely savvy about releasing intelligence, and this seems to be yet another strategic leak.

We know what you’re thinking, the Americans are saying to China. Don’t do it.

It is time, however, for more than warnings.

A year ago, I was one of the more cautious supporters of aid to Ukraine. In those first chaotic weeks, I was heartened to see Ukrainian forces repel the invaders, but I knew that Russia had significant reserves. I was in favor of sending weapons, but I was mindful of the dangers of escalation, and especially the possibility that advanced Western weapons flooding into Ukraine would help Putin recast the conflict as a war between Russia and NATO. I worried, too, that Putin’s evident emotional state, characterized by delusions and rage, would lead him to take stupid and reckless measures whose consequences he himself would later be unable to control.

I think these were (and are) reasonable concerns, but Russia has escalated the violence despite the West’s measured approach. Putin remains as stubbornly delusional as ever, and he is sending thousands more troops into battles that have already killed or wounded some 200,000 men. A year of pretenses is over: The Russians themselves now know—as does the world—that this is Putin’s personal war and not, as he has tried to frame it, a campaign against neo-Nazis or shadowy globalists or militant trans activists. The West, meanwhile, has fully embraced its role as “the arsenal of democracy,” as it did against the actual Nazis, and Western arms, powered by Ukrainian courage and nimble Ukrainian strategy, are defeating Putin’s armies of hapless conscripts, corrupt officers, and mercenary criminals.

Now it’s time for the West to escalate its assistance to Ukraine, in ways that will deter China and defeat Russia. For example, the U.S. and NATO do not yet have to send advanced fighter jets to Ukraine—but they can start training Ukrainian pilots to fly them. To Russia, such a policy would say that things are about to get much worse for Putin’s forces in the field; to China, it would say that our commitment to Ukraine and to preserving the international order we helped create is greater than Beijing’s commitment to Moscow. As the Washington Post writer Max Boot noted last month, the Chinese president has an interest in helping a fellow autocrat, but he is also “an unsentimental practitioner of realpolitik” who “does not want to wind up on what could be the losing side.”

Putin thinks he can wear down the Ukrainians (and the West) through a protracted campaign of mass murder. The Biden administration has ably calibrated the Western response, and NATO has ruled out—as it should—any direct involvement of Western forces in this war. But if Putin remains unmoved and unwilling to stop, then the only answer is to increase the costs of his madness by sending more tanks, more artillery, more money, more aid of every kind. (We could also reopen the issue of whether we should provide longer-range systems, including the Army’s tactical missile system, the ATACMs.)

China must be warned away from assisting Russia, because so much more than the freedom of Ukraine is at stake in this war. Chinese aid would be yet another sign that the authoritarians intend to rewrite the rules—or at least the few left—that govern the international system of diplomacy, trade, and cooperation constructed while the wreckage of World War II was still smoldering. Many Europeans, who are closer to the misery Russia is inflicting on Ukraine, understand this better than Americans do.

Americans, for their part, need to think very hard about what happens if Russia wins—especially with an assist from the Chinese. They will be living in a North American redoubt, while more and more of the world around them will learn to accommodate new rules coming from Beijing and Moscow. The freedom of movement Americans take for granted—of goods, people, money, and even ideas—would shrink, limited by the growing power of the world’s two large dictatorial regimes and their minor satraps.

Some Americans may wonder why we should risk even more tension with Russia. The fact of the matter is that we no longer have a relationship with Russia worth preserving. We do have a common interest—as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War—in avoiding a nuclear conflict. We managed to agree on that interest while contesting hot spots around the globe for a half century, and we can do it again.

Americans who ask “What does any of this mean to me?” will find out just how much it means to them when things they want—or need—are provided only through the largesse and with the permission of their enemies. We knew this during the Cold War, and we must learn it again. We should ignore the pusillanimous Putinistas among the right-wing media. Instead, the United States and its allies must make the case, every day, for Ukrainian victory—and send the Ukrainians what they need to get the job done.


Today’s News

  1. Britain and the European Union agreed to a deal that would end the dispute over post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland.
  2. Severe thunderstorms in the central U.S. caused tornadoes and extreme winds in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, injuring more than a dozen residents and leaving thousands without power.
  3. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that gives him control over Disney World’s self-governing district.


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Evening Read

A painting of a woman writing is superimposed with a glitchy computer effect.
Arsh Raziuddin / The Atlantic. Source: Getty

A Chatbot Is Secretly Doing My Job

By Ryan Bradley

I have a part-time job that is quite good, except for one task I must do—not even very often, just every other week—that I actively loathe. The task isn’t difficult, and it doesn’t take more than 30 minutes: I scan a long list of short paragraphs about different people and papers from my organization that have been quoted or cited in various publications and broadcasts, pick three or four of these items, and turn them into a new, stand-alone paragraph, which I am told is distributed to a small handful of people (mostly board members) to highlight the most “important” press coverage from that week.

Four weeks ago, I began using AI to write this paragraph. The first week, it took about 40 minutes, but now I’ve got it down to about five. Only one colleague knows I’ve been doing this; we used to switch off writing this blurb, but since it’s become so quick and easy and, frankly, interesting, I’ve taken over doing it every week.

Read the full article.

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Joanne Imperio / The Atlantic

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I’ll be leaving you with my Atlantic colleagues here at the Daily for the rest of the week while I do some traveling. One of the places I am headed is Salem, Massachusetts, where I’ll be giving a talk. I have a sentimental attachment to the city because my Uncle Steve, whom I wrote about here, ran a diner there, Dot and Ray’s, that was a local institution for decades. (I think Dot and Ray were the previous owners.) For me, not only was Salem in the 1960s and ’70s a cool town with an amusement park; it meant all the fried chicken and clams and hamburgers and ice cream I could eat. To visit Uncle Steve and Aunt Virginia was always an epic outing, especially because they got all the Boston TV stations with stuff like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits on them.

But if you’re visiting New England and looking for places outside of the usual Boston tourist spots, you should visit the Witch City (not that there’s anything wrong with walking the Freedom Trail in Boston, which every American should do if the chance arises). Yes, the Salem Witch Trials kitsch can be a bit much, but the trials were an important part of American history, and the house where they took place is still there, along with a museum. There’s much more to Salem, however, including a fine maritime and cultural museum and a seaport. (And don’t forget the clams.)

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.