As the Donbas region of Ukraine is poised to become the site of an armored showdown, Republican U.S. lawmakers have joined Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in questioning whether the Biden administration truly wants victory for Kyiv over Moscow.
Senators last week pressed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to explain during testimony why the Biden administration uses seemingly soft language when talking about war in Ukraine.
"You never once used the word 'win' or 'victory' in reference to Ukraine," said Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, while describing Austin's testimony. "Have the words 'win' and 'victory' been purged from the administration's vocabulary when it comes to Ukraine?"
"Doesn't it make sense to have, as our number one objective, imposing a strategic defeat on Putin?" said Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan. "I think that's the source of frustration for a lot of senators. We're not hearing that language."
The issue is heating up amid reports that Russia will refocus its efforts on the eastern Donbas region, after its troops stalled this month in Kyiv. Russia aims to fully seize Mariupol, which has been pummeled for nearly seven weeks. Russia is amassing troops for a renewed attack on the region, Zelensky said.
While Biden generally supports Ukraine in the fight against Russia, critics note, the American president may be hedging his bets in hopes that Kyiv would agree to concede pre-invasion postures to Moscow. In that scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin would retain control of Crimea, which his forces seized from Ukraine in 2014, and would occupy if not fully capture the Donbas region.
Zelensky in recent days has stepped up his pleas for more help from NATO — and has increased his criticism, saying that the alliance is frozen in fear.
"I'm no longer interested in their diplomacy that leads to the destruction of my country," Zelensky said Sunday on "60 Minutes," the CBS News program.
"This is not a movie, this is real life," Zelensky said. "Stop fearing the Russian Federation. We've shown we are not afraid."
The wartime president urged NATO to step up more than it already has done. "They have to supply weapons to Ukraine as if they were defending themselves and their own people," he said. "They need to understand this: If they don't speed up, it will be very hard for us to hold on against this pressure."
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan earlier on Sunday took the position that the White House is doing much to support Ukraine.
"We will continue to take every step we possibly can to help the Ukrainians succeed on the battlefield and to improve their position at the negotiating table and to make the Russians pay also through increasing costs of sanctions for what they are doing to the people of Ukraine," Sullivan said on CNN.
Sullivan's words didn't go far enough, according to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
"I wasn't satisfied with what I heard," Cheney said, appearing on the same program. "I think that it's crucially important that the United States be clear that we are absolutely committed to Zelensky's victory. We should not be talking about, as Jake Sullivan did just now, improving Zelensky's position at the negotiating table."
The U.S. needs to be much more direct about responding to war, she said.
"There should be no question that this is about getting to a negotiation or pressuring Zelensky to negotiate," Cheney said. "This is about defeating Russian forces in Ukraine. We ought to be moving much faster, much more quickly, recognizing that the Ukrainians now, given what they have been able to do and how long they have been able to fight and what they have been able to inflict upon the Russian forces, they need advanced weaponry."
Zelensky on Monday said that Russia will not stop unless the international community forces it to do so. Moscow is in the process of preparing tens of thousands of troops to reinforce its offensive in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky said via video to lawmakers in South Korea.
"Mariupol has been destroyed," Zelensky said. "There are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive."
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Just the News.