In Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, momentum is with Ukraine. The United States must lead an effort to immediately give President Volodymyr Zelensky everything he needs to strike a serious blow against Russian forces to drive them back and force Putin to terminate this war.
That means more of the weapons NATO members have been providing, like Javelins, Stingers and ammo, and different kinds like fighters, killer drones and the tanks Zelensky has begged for. The distinction between escalatory and non-escalatory weapons in Ukraine’s defensive war is in the eye of the Russians, and America should stop hamstringing the Ukrainians by imposing that distinction. Now is the time to hit the gas and allow Ukraine to truly go on the counteroffensive.
The Biden White House is reportedly pushing hard for Ukraine to take an agreement. A peace agreement ought to be the aim of all nations backing Ukraine, but it must not be peace at any cost. The aim should be a peace that is as close to a just and lasting peace as possible, and that means setting up Zelensky to have greater leverage over the outcome. This leverage will be possible once Ukraine truly levels a counteroffensive that takes significant Russian casualties and degrades the Russian forces bombarding Ukrainian cities.
The fog of war is thick, and Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine is dynamic, but there are indicators that the war is at an inflection point, with Ukraine making significant gains against Russia. Ukrainians have not only blocked the Russians from a quick, decapitating military victory, but they have also held onto control of major cities, and now they have retaken the Kyiv suburb of Irpin and the town of Trostyanets. Now is the time to provide Ukraine with more and with different military weapons systems to mount a counteroffensive against Russian forces. The longer this war goes on, the worse it is for Ukraine and Russia.
Zelensky has begged NATO for needed equipment — to no avail. “You have thousands of fighter jets! But we haven’t been given any yet,” he told the alliance via video last week. “You have at least 20,000 tanks! Ukraine asked for 1% — 1% — of your tanks to be given or sold to us.” He also requested missile-defense and anti-ship systems.
The Ukrainian president also put paid to the idiotic distinction between offensive and defensive weapons: “Ukraine needs military assistance — without restrictions — as Russia uses, without restrictions, its entire arsenal against us,” he said. “We want to survive.” And Ukrainians can’t survive unless they can defend themselves against the Russian onslaught — and they can’t stop the onslaught without going on offense.
Just peace coalition
President Biden’s overseas trip to meet NATO leaders at that summit was an enormously missed opportunity to lead the bloc of the alliance that is most serious about helping Zelensky win a strategic victory for his country and the West. This bloc includes Britain, Poland and the other countries in NATO’s eastern front, or what I call the “just peace coalition.” While Biden went on in his speeches about the unity of the NATO alliance, the truth is that the NATO alliance is divided over the degree to which countries ought to back Zelensky. This degree is measured in willingness to provide more and new kinds of lethal aid and greater amounts of it on a very short timeline and willingness to truly crush the Russians economically — all of which are necessary for the Ukrainians to secure a just peace.
Now the United Kingdom will provide Ukraine armored personnel carriers among other forms of more lethal aid, a remarkable boost for Ukraine. And Poland still leads the way in pushing for the delivery of the old Soviet fighter jets, the MiGs. Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, was part of an administration group readying a plan to get Ukraine the MiGs — and his boss Biden personally vetoed it, fearing it would provoke Putin and thus handing the dictator a win.
Poland’s ambassador to the United States, Marik Magierowski, recently made the correct and compelling point that so many in Washington seem determined to miss: It is not realistic for Poland to deliver these MiGs to Ukraine without the public backing and collaboration of the United States — it must be multilateral to dissuade Russia from retaliating outside Ukraine’s borders. Telling Poland it can go ahead and make the sovereign decision to send the MiGs without US collaboration is dishonest because it is unrealistic, and it is also dangerous for the entire NATO alliance, because if Russia does make the terrible miscalculation that it could attack Poland, then NATO will be at war with Russia.
Magierowski also said that allies should close sanctions loopholes to retaliate against Russia economically. The Biden administration’s announcing it will do this while making the hard pivot with the “just peace coalition” to infuse Ukraine with greater military might at this time might give Zelensky just what he needs to force Russia back and compel Putin to finally end the terrible offensive, leave behind an independent Ukraine and take a deal rather than escalate this war to a point Putin will conclude he cannot find an acceptable offramp.
While the other countries in the alliance back Ukraine in various ways, they are unwilling or reluctant for a variety of reasons to provide the kinds of weapon systems Ukraine is demanding and are stonewalling unified, full-bore economic retaliation against Russia for its unprovoked, brutal war against sovereign Ukraine. At this point, full alliance consensus could prove deadly and risks the “just peace” that Zelensky could achieve if only given the means to do it. Jake Sullivan said, “Ukraine can win this fight if we help them win this fight.” His boss should listen. To do this we must stop straddling the blocs in the alliance, go hard, lead and empower Zelensky now.
Rebeccah Heinrichs is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.