We Must Continue to Stand With UkrainePosted: December 27, 2022
“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”—Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress on 21 December 2022
As we celebrate the holidays and look toward a new year, it is important to remember that the war in Ukraine continues. This is day 307 since the Russian invasion in February. Fierce fighting continues in eastern Ukraine and the entire country is subject to air raids from missiles, drones and artillery. While the Ukrainians continue to fight with courage, tenacity and ability, they are still outnumbered and with fewer technologically advanced weapons than their Russian counterparts. It is a a brutal war.
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he will send 500,000 additional troops to the Ukrainian front. Such numbers are staggering and could easily overwhelm the Ukrainians on the ground. That is until we pull back the curtain and it reveals that most of the 500,000 are conscripts off the street and, literally, convicts recruited from prisons throughout Russia. They are sent to fight with little or no training and often suffer from lack of adequate weapons, winter clothing and food. Such is the Russian way of war. Even their most vaunted Army units are in trouble as outlined by a recent article in the Washington Post. The “200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade” was considered one of the most elite units in the Russian military. Originally tasked with protecting the nuclear missile submarines of the Russian Navy based in the far northern Kola Peninsula, since the end of the Cold War, the “200th” was often tasked to take on some of the Russian military’s toughest assignments. Last February, they were among the lead elements of the invasion tasked with taking Kharkiv. Since then, their staggering losses of experienced personnel and of state of the art equipment leaves them, in the estimation of several European intelligence assessments, in such a state that it “cannot be considered a fighting force.”
The Russians are losing the ground war. Unfortunately, Mr. Putin is determined to continue the fight. His goal seems to be the total obliteration of Ukrainian culture, quality of life, and the civilian population. In the dark of winter, the fighting on the front will continue with heavy casualties on both sides while attaining only minor tactical advantages. Operationally and strategically, the winter fighting will remain stagnant.
The result? Nearly daily Russian terrorist attacks on civilians in Ukraine. If he cannot win on the battle field, Mr. Putin will punish the civilian population. Terrorism is the only way to describe the continued attacks on schools, hospitals, museums, power stations and water plants. Mr. Putin is determined to destroy the will of the Ukrainians to resist. Clearly, he has never studied history if he believes that a reign of terror descending from the skies will turn the tide of war. He obviously never studied Britain’s response to the intense bombing of World War II, his own nation’s resistance in that same war to the Germans in Leningrad or Stalingrad, or countless other stories of a determined population strengthening their resistance to tyranny while under relentless attack.
Mr. Zelenskyy was in Washington D.C. last week to convey directly to the U.S. Congress and to all of us as citizens that Ukraine will not fall to Russian aggression. They are unwavering in their determination. But they need continued help from the U.S. and NATO and Mr. Zelenskyy was here to make sure that we do not get weak-kneed in our support. With the swearing in of a new Congress in January, numerous MAGA Republicans are pushing to end, or at least severely restrict, the aid we send to Ukraine. (Incredibly, some are open admirers of Vladimir Putin — their view of a strong and effective leader.) For the time being, our support of Ukraine continues thanks to the Omnibus Bill passed by the House and Senate as they headed out the door for the holidays. The all encompassing bill (ostensibly a 1.7 trillion dollar spending bill, it is packed with numerous amendments addressing everything from tax law to the Electoral Count Act of 1887) included 45 billion dollars for Ukraine. Thus Mr. Zelenskyy’s statement that this is not charity, it is a fight for the rule of law and the sanctity of democracy. I agree with him.
The war in Ukraine is not some far off, obscure war where the average American could probably not even find it on a map (of course the average American isn’t very good about locating places on a map of the United States). It is nothing less than a line in the sand that western democracies will not see the post World War II world order go up in flames. Ukraine is the first attack on European soil since the 1940s where one country is determined to take over another through military force. The West either believes in supporting democracy or all democracies will be threatened. The Baltic States, Finland, Norway and Sweden certainly understand the stakes due to their borders with Russia. Polish history makes them very aware of the dangers of this Russian threat. This is the biggest test yet as to whether we in the U.S. and NATO believe what we say or whether we are going to look away. Our domestic politics sometimes obscures this point. But if we do not help Ukraine, we may as well tell the world that we are no longer a world player, and China would certainly be glad to hear that as they continue to threaten a peaceful Taiwan.
The size and scope of our support is growing as the conflict continues. The U.S. and NATO are walking a fine line in trying to keep Ukraine in the fight and capable of defending themselves without expanding the war into the rest of Europe. In November, a missile landed in Poland near the Ukrainian border and killed civilian workers. It turned out to be a Ukrainian air defense missile gone astray, but it raised serious concerns as it exemplified a possible Russian provocation. President Joe Biden declared that we will defend every inch of NATO territory. What if the next “stray” missile is Russian and we have the intelligence to support the fact that it was not accidental? Such a scenario will severely test NATO resolve and engender debate as to the appropriate response. (Most likely the response would be measured and on a similar scale, such as a cruise missile slamming into the launch site from which the missile came. The problem, of course, is that a miscalculation or misunderstanding the intent can quickly lead to a massive escalation.)
I have at least two recommendations to move our country’s support of Ukraine to a new level. One is to declare Russia a terrorist state. There is no question that they meet the criteria. The torture, rape, abduction and murder of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers are war crimes. Mr. Putin’s order to indiscriminately bomb cities and towns along with the deliberate targeting of humanitarian facilities are terrorist activities. Car bomb or exploding drone? No difference. To do so incurs certain legal and international actions and the West is not certain how the Russians might respond, as well as concern over the second and third order impacts on our other friends or allies. At this point, it is necessary. Make the proper diplomatic preparations and then do it.
The second game changer would be to give the Ukrainian military offensive weapons. The U.S. and NATO are reluctant to do so in fear that the Russians would see it as provocative and a possible act of war should they be used against the Russian motherland. It is a risk worth taking in my opinion. Through training, effective intelligence to monitor their use, and other measures to modify the weapons the West can minimize the chances that the Ukrainians would misuse the weapons. The rationale for supplying them is that as long as Russia has safe havens for their missile launching aircraft, drones and ships, they run no risk and can fire at will to destroy Ukrainian cities. Bringing Russian logistics hubs, training centers, and bases in occupied Ukrainian territory into the war raises the stakes for the Russian military and contributes to the unmistakable decline in Russian morale. It could help to convince more Russian soldiers to defect or go home (thousands already have), and the increased destruction of the Russian military could lead to increased unrest in Russia, including some in the government that do not want to see their military and economy destroyed because Mr. Putin has some kind of crusader-like vision quest for Ukraine. It is worth the risk.
I am sure that efforts already are under way to curtail third party efforts to supply Russia. Most notably, Iran is sending armed drones in vast numbers for the Russians to use against Ukrainian cities. There is also open source reporting that North Korea is probably supplying Russia with artillery and ammunition for use in the war. The U.S. and other nations have the means to make this too painful for those countries to continue their support. To date, China has not helped Russia militarily. Diplomatic efforts must continue to ensure that they do not do so.
As it is, Mr. Biden promised to send a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine. This is a very advanced air defense system. It will take time for the battery to arrive and for the Ukrainians to get properly trained in its use. Some have criticized the decision as being provocative and could lead to an escalation by the Russians. Not so. As Mr. Biden pointed out, it is a defensive weapons system. It won’t be used unless the Russians continue to attack Ukraine.
To me it is not only important from a geo-strategic viewpoint for the U.S. to continue to support Ukraine. It is in our national interests to help them. It is not an act of “charity” or done at the expense of our own citizens. It is absolutely a case of pay me now or most certainly we will be paying much more later, including with the blood of our sons and daughters.