The Ukrainian people are making great sacrifices to fight against the Russian war machine, and their resistance helps the free world. As NATO leaders meet this week in Brussels, now is the time for the alliance to repay that courage by stepping up its support for Kyiv.
“Ukrainian forces defeated the first Russian campaign of this war. This campaign aimed to conduct airborne and mechanized operations to seize kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and other major Ukrainian cities in order to force a change of government in Ukraine,” concludes the Institute for the Study War (ISW) based in Washington in a Saturday analysis. “Russian forces continue to make limited advances in parts of the theater, but it is highly unlikely that they will be able to seize their objectives in this manner.”
It is a remarkable achievement. Contrary to the predictions of Western intelligence services, Ukraine’s military and burgeoning civil defense forces fought the Russian invaders to a stalemate. The easy victory that Vladimir Putin planned to install a puppet government was thwarted, albeit at great cost in lives lost and cities in ruins.
Yet Mr. Putin is showing every sign of a continuation of his campaign of bombing and starving cities. The rape of Mariupol should be a permanent scar on Russia, like Stalin’s 1940 murder of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in the Katyn Forest. Europe hasn’t seen anything like it since World War II. ISW says the Russians are digging around towns as if planning a long siege. Civilian casualties are not accidental. They are central to the dictator’s war strategy.
Mr. Putin hopes to break the morale of the Ukrainians and sooner or later kill President Volodymyr Zelensky to deprive Ukraine of its charismatic leadership. Russia also hopes to shatter NATO’s resolve by issuing nuclear escalation threats while flooding Western Europe with millions of refugees – at least three million so far.
As NATO meets, the temptation in Brussels will be to seek a way out of the war. The Washington Post is replete with reports, clearly informed by US officials, worrying that Mr. Zelensky does not appear to have an “endgame” for the war. The risk that the conflict will continue is that the will of the Biden team and NATO will weaken and that at some point they will pressure Ukraine to settle.
This is exactly the wrong message to send to Ukraine and Russia, and NATO leaders should be signaling the opposite this week. The top priority is to increase arms deliveries to kyiv, especially air defenses against long-range missiles and high-altitude aircraft from Russia. Ukraine also needs more Turkish drones which have been effective against Russian tanks and artillery.
Leaders should also ban talk of giving Mr. Putin an exit road other than a complete withdrawal from Ukraine. He can take this exit at any time. But if he refuses, then the Western goal should be to inflict as much pain as possible on Russia as a lesson to Mr. Putin and any other country that might try to conquer its neighbors.
This means following Mr. Zelensky’s example of what Ukraine is prepared to accept. Ukraine has won the right to determine what concessions, if any, it can live with. The Ukrainian president has already taken NATO membership off the table, but understandably refuses to concede Russian control over Ukrainian territory. No one in the West should pressure him to agree to such terms.
The United States and Europe can also increase sanctions pressure on the Kremlin. Sanctions on Russian energy sales are still not in place, though they hurt Putin’s war funding the most. Sanctions relief for Russia shouldn’t even be on the table until Mr. Putin withdraws his tanks and concedes Ukraine’s right to be an independent state.
What should be on NATO’s agenda is why Western intelligence misjudged the war. The CIA did very well in anticipating Mr. Putin’s invasion, but it vastly overestimated his army’s ability to conquer Ukraine. This pessimism may have convinced President Biden that more military aid sooner would not have made a difference. Congressional intelligence committees should investigate.
Ukraine’s courageous resistance gave the West an opportunity to push back against Russia and show the world’s authoritarians that democratic states can unite in a just cause. As Margaret Thatcher once told George HW Bush, now is not the time to waver.
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