If there was anything Republicans were anxious to prove in their last-ditch semi-defense of Donald Trump during the closing moments of the House impeachment hearings, it was that No Ukrainians Were Harmed In Making This Film. That is, that Trump’s decision to delay forwarding military assistance to Ukraine by 84 days (or by 50, or 55, or 60, as various Republicans claimed) had not actually resulted in anyone dying. This was, America was reminded by an exceedingly huffy Rep. Doug Collins, not a decision that put anyone at risk.
Except for the way it put everyone in Ukraine at risk. And the way it signaled to Vladimir Putin that he had a green light to carry on with his plans to dismantle Europe, rebuild the Soviet Union, and destroy that pesky idea of liberal democracy.
As NBC News reports, Ukraine’s five-year effort to hold back invading Russian forces has cost the lives of 13,000 people and left nearly 430,000 children displaced, orphaned, or otherwise traumatized. Meanwhile, the ever-shifting border has left 2 million people ringed-in by land mines and military forces. Against that backdrop, any sign that support from the United States is weakening is seen not as a temporary delay, but as an existential threat.
By making it clear that U.S. assistance was predicated on Ukraine’s willingness to jump through political hoops and announce decidedly partisan support for Trump, bipartisan support for Ukraine has been placed in genuine risk. As NBC notes, Trump has “exposed the cracks in the West’s response to an emboldened Russia, inflicted permanent damage on Ukraine and heightened the risk of Moscow extending its influence in the country.”
The major factor that’s keeping Russian tanks from rolling into Kyiv is not Ukrainian forces on the ground in the Donbass; it’s the impression that behind those Ukrainian forces is an American commitment to expanding democracy. And it’s that basic assumption that Trump not only delayed—he destroyed it.
Republicans have been quick to criticize Democratic leaders in the House for daring to point out Trump’s efforts to extort action from Ukraine. They’ve repeatedly pointed out that Ukrainian officials, literally under the gun from the Russian side of the border, refuse to complain about Trump’s actions. Not, of course, because making such a complaint would immediately have the entire Republican Party waving starter flags for Russian heavy armor brigades, but just because they … No. Wait. It’s the tank thing.
From the moment Trump dispatched Rudy Giuliani to begin Operation Suborn Perjury, he didn’t just put Ukraine at risk—he also inflicted permanent damage on Ukraine, on the United States, and on the greater effort to defend democracy against authoritarian rule.