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Ukraine war

Why Americans are cooling on Ukraine

Zelensky with his wife Olena at the Nato summit in Lithuania. Omar Marques/Getty

You’d have to have a “very crimped view of statesmanship”, says Gerard Baker in The Times, not to have watched in “awed admiration” the performance of Volodymyr Zelensky these past 18 months. But even great men of history occasionally need reminding of the constraints imposed by “political reality”. The Ukrainian president’s “little tantrum” this week over Nato’s refusal to offer a clear path to membership is a case in point. You can hardly blame him for wanting to lock his nation into the West’s embrace. But Zelensky should know that American support for Ukraine is “a mile wide and an inch deep”.

Doubts about US military assistance are growing, “especially on the right”. In May last year, around 20% of Republicans thought America was doing too much to help; that number is now 44%, triple the proportion who say the US is not doing enough. Speaking to several well-connected Republican figures, I can understand why. While admiring Ukraine’s “steadfastness”, many are reluctant to join in the “gauzy encomiums” for the “most corrupt of all the post-Soviet states”. Some point out that, though they despise Vladimir Putin, the expansion of Nato in the early 2000s was an “unnecessary provocation”. Others say that the US is depleting its own military capabilities ahead of a potential conflict with China, a much scarier rival. Plus, of course, many Americans are sick of being expected to “defend Europe from other Europeans”. That strengthens the prospects for those Republicans – like Donald Trump – who want to “decouple the US from Ukraine”.