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Pressure on Iran can help Ukraine defeat Russia

As the world enters a new year, Vladimir Putin’s criminal war against Ukraine continues to grind away. Missiles rain down on Ukraine’s great cities — including the capital, Kyiv — and on its water and power infrastructure, as the blood-hungry autocrat seeks to hammer the country into submission.

As the deaths mount and Putin’s cruelty seems unshakable, the question rises: What can the US do next to aid Ukraine and preserve the postwar liberal order? It’s a critical question; the war seems to have reached a possible inflection point now that Ukraine has rolled back Russia’s advances in the east.

One key move touches a nexus of American interests: the effort to cut off Iran’s supply of drones to Russia, by blocking the flow of vital components Iran needs to make them. The US is also helping Ukrainians target drone launchpads in-country.

These are smart and necessary tactics. Offering more support to Iranian protesters, to ratchet up pressure against the mullahs, might also help.

As would bolstering the military might of the Ukrainian forces themselves. Despite the fulminations of some in Congress about aid to Ukraine, such aid is effective and advances our larger national interest, as it helps thwart Russia’s imperial ambitions in its near abroad. That’s why the near-$2 billion the US is spending on a package that will (among other things) deliver a Patriot missile battery — one of the best long-range air-defense systems — to Ukraine is a smart investment. 

An Iranian drone used by Russia in the war in Ukraine.
An Iranian drone used by Russia in the war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communications Directorate via AP, File

Patriots will help Ukraine fight back against Putin’s indiscriminate missile attacks (his main offensive tool now that his ground forces seem to be physically and morally hobbled). Biden should consider a bigger commitment to improved air defenses, like sending more than one battery, as well as getting out of the way as allies in Europe want to send along their own MiG fighters. 

Most important for Biden, however, is to remember that Putin cannot be trusted — not at the negotiating table and not even if a peace “agreement” has been concluded; he shreds deals with abandon. And Russia is still clearly committed to its political goal of controlling Ukraine. 

2023 will be a hard fight for the Ukrainians, as it was in 2022. Yet there are plenty of steps Biden can take to help them without triggering escalation. The real question is whether he and his team are resolute enough to stay the course. 

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