Elon Musk and team create harmonious tune for Putin on Twitter

On my 2022 trip to Kyiv, I met Stas Aseyev, a Ukrainian journalist who had spent two and a half years in a secret, illegal prison in Donetsk, where he was tortured, electroshocked, placed in long solitary confinement and subjected to mock executions.

His crime?

Working as a stringer for the US-funded Radio Liberty, writing dispatches about life in the Russian-occupied territories.

Stas was among the lucky ones.

He was released in December 2019, scarred and malnourished, as part of a prisoner exchange instead of serving his full 15-year sentence, issued by the bogus “Supreme Court of the Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Stas’ story encapsulates why Ukrainians fight.

Russia’s war is not about territory or Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fears of Ukraine in NATO.

As he told Tucker Carlson last week, Putin does not believe Ukraine is a real nation.

This is a war of annihilation, in which Ukrainians — increasingly looking to the West and making real progress in building democratic institutions — are left with a choice between fighting or being assimilated into a Russian dystopia.

Nobody brought up Stas’ story or Putin’s interview in the online Ukraine discussion Elon Musk and David Sacks hosted Monday night on Twitter/X Spaces.

Instead, joined by three Republican senators opposing assistance to Ukraine — Ohio’s J.D. Vance, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Utah’s Mike Lee — the panel sketched essentially an alternative version of the universe.

In their world, US assistance to Ukraine serves only as a “fertilizer for the ego” of Washington elites, “adding fuel to the fire” without doing any favors to the Ukrainians, who would be better off trying to strike a deal with Putin.

There was an opportunity to end the war, all participants agreed, during the negotiations in Turkey in March 2022.

In their recounting, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s gung-ho rhetoric during his Kyiv visit encouraged Ukrainians to fight on, without a credible path to victory.

Let us leave aside the fact it was around the same time the news of mass killings of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha came out — more than 400 of them found in basements shot point blank, often with their hands tied behind their backs.

There was no indication then, as there is none now, the Kremlin is interested in anything short of a “de-Nazification and de-militarization” of Ukraine — i.e., its end as an independent country.

The online event was replete with cognitive dissonance.

On one hand, Vance recognized, correctly, just how “stressed” our defense-industrial base is, leaving us vulnerable to a conflict in the Indo-Pacific.

Of course, most appropriated funds have been spent in the United States to replenish our stocks and place contracts for modern weapons systems while older ones are being transferred to Ukraine.

At the same time, however, Johnson wondered: If we are going to spend $60 billion to help Ukraine, can’t we just spend less on other items in the Pentagon budget?

Much of the conversation revolved around corruption and “blank checks” to Ukraine’s leadership, ignoring the scrutiny from three US inspectors general, European Union institutions and the World Bank — just to name a few.

Thanks to GPS trackers, we know that Western weapons systems have invariably reached Ukraine’s front lines instead of the black markets.

America’s financial assistance to Ukraine, meanwhile, has been modest compared with the contributions of European nations.

And it was Lee and his allies this week who thwarted efforts at amending the supplemental bill in the Senate, thus killing Sen. Dan Sullivan’s (R-Alaska) proposal to drop the financial, nonlethal part of the assistance.

For the three Republican senators and their tech-savvy hosts, it was obvious that Russia, a country with a smaller gross domestic product than Italy, would not lose the war in Ukraine.

“No way in hell,” Musk said.

Americans should think twice about what the emerging conventional wisdom on the right means.

If the United States is unable or unwilling to sacrifice 5% of its defense budget (mostly spent at home) to teach Putin a lesson in Ukraine, then we may as well forget about geopolitical competition with China and start taking Mandarin lessons.

Dalibor Rohac is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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