This is Iain Martin’s weekly newsletter, exclusively for Reaction subscribers.

When the Russians hit Chernihiv on Wednesday with three cruise missiles it underlined the extent to which Ukraine has been let down by its allies who have failed to send enough of what was needed to protect the country.

As President Zelensky said after the attack, which killed 18 and wounded 60, including three children: “This would not have happened if Ukraine had received sufficient air defence equipment and if the world’s determination to counter Russian terror had been sufficient.”

He is right. For months, in Washington, Congress has squabbled about whether or not to send to more military support to a Kyiv shouting, pleading for more munitions and air defence help. Divided EU countries have continued to argue about how much is enough, with some countries such as the Czech Republic organising help and others dawdling, or worse.

In Britain, it is election year and a government – twenty points behind in the polls – which started the crisis strongly in 2022 now seems to have decided under Rishi Sunak it would rather talk about anything else other than war in Europe.

Meanwhile, the robust Czechs have sourced hundreds of thousands of shells for Ukraine, from countries such as South Korea that will not supply direct to Ukraine.

Last month, the Czech foreign minister, Jan Lipavský, explained his government’s reasoning: “We have a direct experience with 40 years of being a satellite of Moscow, being a country which was invaded in 1968 by Russian tanks to curb the Prague Spring… No one really wants to bring back those times, and I have to say that the population is very sensitive to that.”

Next door, the Slovaks elected a Russia friendly populist as President earlier this month. Peter Pellegrini is an ally of Robert Fico, the equally Russia friendly Prime Minister. Pro-Russia forces control the unicameral parliament in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, a country that borders Ukraine. Fico, who has described Putin as “unfairly” demonised, wants an end to aid to the war in Ukraine and peace talks with Russia.

It is in this highly dangerous environment – with Europe divided and Ukraine at risk of being overrun this year by Putin’s forces – that Congress finally voted on Saturday to approve a $61bn package of aid to Ukraine, alongside aid to Taiwan and Israel.

Explaining his decision to allow a vote, and with many on his own side calling for his head because they want to stop aid to Ukraine, the Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson looked as though the intelligence briefings he had been given about the threat from Putin had scared him.

If Putin is not stopped the risk is he will continue to march through Europe, he said.

“This is not a game – it’s not a joke,” Johnson added. “I’m willing to take personal risk for that, because we have to do the right thing, and history will judge us. This is a critical time right now – a critical time on the world stage.”

European leaders welcomed the vote releasing new aid, which will be approved shortly by the Senate, although Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland, was more blunt and said he hoped it is not too late.

American friends tell me that rather than complaining it is not enough, or better late than never, Europe should “take the win” after the Congressional vote. And they have a point. Johnson has shown political courage in defying many on his own side in Congress.

But it may already be too late and while America has done a lot, it has not been enough on Ukraine. For example, the F-16 fighter aircraft which could have helped will only arrive in June, more than two years after Ukraine requested them. Sixty are now due.

A distracted Biden administration has been so worried about avoiding escalation that it became nervous of the Ukrainians hitting the Russians too hard. That fear is rooted, it seems, in the administration having so many threats to worry about, whether that is a potential renewed conflict between South and North Korea, China menacing Taiwan, and the Iranian regime (embarrassed last week by its thwarted attack on Israel) stepping up its attempts to secure nuclear weapons to wipe democratic Israel from the map.

Viewed from Europe, we don’t have the luxury of viewing Ukraine as another conflict, however. It is a war in Europe, with a democracy, a friend and neighbour being invaded.

If Kyiv falls this year, and that is possible, what happens then? Those calls from countries such as Slovakia and Hungary for surrender and peace talks will grow louder and may even be backed by a bigger European power such as Germany, though President Macron says Ukraine’s allies would have to step up with ground troops.

On my first visit to Washington in a while last week, it seemed to me as a transatlanticist and admirer of America that the gap in understanding between Europe and America is getting wider again.

First, the economic gap between Europe, the UK and America is really visible now. Yes, I know Washington is not America, and San Francisco and New York are a mess, but the difference in growth and GDP per capita mounts up, year on year until once again America looks like the future and we look rundown.

Although the US has major political difficulties, and its debt pile is now $34.6 trillion, it is leading the technological revolution, has plentiful cheap energy and is outgrowing Europe. As Americans say, it is in the suburbs where the difference with the UK and much of continental Europe is most obvious. Americans are unhappy with the cost of living, but the suburban American enjoys a higher standard of living and much better, larger properties.

Yes, the GDP per capita numbers are skewed in the US’s favour by being measured and counted in dollars, still the key global currency. Even so, politics aside the US fizzes with possibility, growth and innovation compared to here. 

(Incidentally, if you want to play around with the GDP per capita numbers, the IMF has a great by country interactive graphic that goes back in current prices to 1980 on its site here.)

Second, the message at various meetings in Washington with policymakers and smart thinkers was that there has been a lag in understanding in the US on how seriously imperilled Ukraine is and what needs to happen to prevent defeat. Perhaps this is understandable when the preoccupation is the looming presidential election on November 5th which will, incredibly, somehow, be a rerun between Biden and Trump.

My conclusion, and sorry to be ominous, is that this aid for Ukraine could even be the last such major package from the US. The electoral cycle and the direction of travel in the US are not in Ukraine’s favour. In the vote in Congress on Saturday, more Republicans voted against aid than in favour of it, by 112 to 101.

What a change in little more than a decade. In the Obama era, it was the Democrats who were originally in favour of warmer relations with Russia while the mainstream Republicans warned about Putin’s intentions. During the 2012 election, Mitt Romney was mocked by President Obama: “When you were asked, ‘What’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America,’ you said ‘Russia.’ Not al Qaeda; you said Russia… And, the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Romney, the lost president, got it absolutely right and Obama got it wrong. At the time, supposedly sophisticated opinion hailed Obama on Russia just as it hailed the even more wrong-headed Angela Merkel in Germany. The appeasement of Russia during her tenure turned out to be an epic miscalculation.

Today, Ukraine’s allies in Europe should say thank you for this aid package, but start building a coalition of the willing across Europe composed of those countries prepared to construct the next aid package, and the one after that, and the one after that, knowing that an America under Trump, or some unhelpful dispensation in Congress, will be at best intermittent in its support.

For the European coalition of the willing we can subtract Hungary and Slovakia and add in Britain, one of the key countries in the European pillar of NATO. Together, the Poles, Britain and France and their allies will have to do it and find the money next year. Assuming, by then, it is not too late.