A year ago it was hard to imagine that Ukraine and its allies would be in such a strong position today.
President Biden traveled to Kiev this week to dramatically symbolize US support for Ukraine “for as long as it lasts” and then to Poland for a speech praising NATO’s strength and resilience West underlined.
Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, delivered a lengthy speech in which he repeated tired talking points in an attempt to convince the Russian people that keeping conquered Ukrainian territory is somehow an existential matter for Russia.
Hundreds of thousands of Russian men flee forced “mobilization” into the Russian war machine. Putin’s army is stuck in Ukraine. And in a vain attempt to flex his muscles two hours before Biden’s speech, Putin ordered the testing of an ICBM, which blew up. Talk about a bad day for a bad boy.
But the news isn’t all good. Moscow’s war of aggression is far from over, and much remains to be done. The Biden administration’s leadership has been commensurate with the challenge but not robust. Putin expects Western support for Ukraine to wane over time. Should that happen he could secure victory in his current difficult circumstances.
While polls show that a majority of Americans still support sending Ukraine the more than $50 billion in military and economic aid the United States is currently providing, that number is falling.
At its heart is the rise of geopolitically challenged activists on the fringes of both parties (but particularly among Republicans) who ignore the dangers Putin’s policies pose to America.
The White House must make a bipartisan effort to explain to the American people that the Kremlin’s aggressive policies target NATO members, which means defeating Putin in Ukraine is the smart and economical way to protect our security and… to defend our prosperity.
A Putin victory in Ukraine would result in a significant increase in US defense spending to strengthen NATO’s east. Senior Republican senators are already making this case. But only the supreme commander enjoys the rowdy pulpit to educate the public.
This rhetorical clarity must be accompanied by bolder administrative policies.
Beginning with its initial decisions to arm Ukraine shortly before the February invasion, Washington has been slow to send the right weapons systems in sufficient numbers. The government was deterred by the great Putin swindle from proposing red lines that might induce him to use nuclear weapons, even though such “red lines” have been crossed with impunity.
For example, when Ukraine attacked targets in Russian-held Crimea and when it continued its counteroffensive in Russian-“annexed” Donbass and Kherson last fall.
Unfortunately, this shyness persists. Ukraine needs three things: tanks, advanced Western fighter jets, and long-range missile launchers. While America and its allies and partners have recently decided to send tanks, the number – 100+ – is helpful but not critical, and for some reason many of those tanks will not arrive this spring or summer. Robust policies would triple that number and ensure a timely arrival for an offensive this year.
Look long term
Meanwhile, the United States is still saying “no” to the F-16s and long-range fire like ATACMS. Deploying ATACMS would immediately end Moscow’s bloody offensive in Donbass. Combined with F-16s, A-10s (and other advanced Western fighters) and more tanks, they would make it likely that Ukraine could sever the land bridge from Russia through Russian-held Donbass to Crimea this year.
This would force Russian troops in southern mainland Ukraine to retreat to Crimea and pose a huge logistical problem for Putin to supply the Russian military and occupation authorities there. It would also create a major political problem for the Putin regime in Russia.
Wringing hands on the background is not a sign of sophistication, but of indecisiveness. Dribble the guns Ukraine needs to put Putin on its back is the same. Biden is proud of his foreign policy skills. Now his big moment is on the historical stage to secure his reputation as a statesman.
John Herbst is Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and former US Ambassador to Ukraine under George W. Bush.
https://nypost.com/2023/02/23/now-is-the-time-for-us-to-fully-commit-to-ukraines-war-against-russia/ Now is the time for the US to fully commit to Ukraine’s war against Russia