As Russia’s war against Ukraine enters its sixth week, the script has turned. Russia’s advance has stalled, and Ukraine now wants to go on the offensive to drive Russian forces back from the conquered country. But the country needs US and NATO help, and it seems the Biden administration is reluctant to provide those weapons and intelligence.
In her press briefing on Wednesday, White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said no fewer than eight times that Vladimir Putin made a “strategic blunder” or “mistake” or “mistake” with his invasion. That’s the White House line suggesting the West is winning against the Russians.
But that certainly sounds like a premature declaration of victory. Its forces are still bombing Ukraine’s cities and have gained more territory. Mr Putin could still emerge with a strategic advantage in the medium to long term if he strikes a truce that leaves Russia in control of a large part of Ukraine.
The peace terms Russia is demanding in the negotiations suggest that such consolidation in eastern Ukraine and a long-term occupation is now Russia’s goal. He will have won the long-awaited “land bridge” between Crimea and Donbass. Mr. Putin could claim victory, pause for a few years while he rearms, continue trying to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and otherwise cause political, cyber, and other difficulties for a Western-leaning Ukrainian government.
That’s why Mr. Zelensky now wants to go on the offensive. The more territory his forces can reclaim, the stronger his country will be at the negotiating table. The experience of Russia’s behavior in Georgia in 2008 and in eastern Ukraine in 2014-15 is that Mr Putin does not give up a territory once his troops have occupied it. The result is another “frozen conflict,” with the country it invaded weaker than before and more vulnerable to more Russian mayhem.
Ukrainians need heavier weapons to go on the offensive, including tanks and fighter jets like the MiG-29, which Poland wants to supply under the political guise of NATO. It also needs information on Russian troop movements and vulnerabilities in the east. Now it’s time to help Ukraine go on the offensive. There are more frequent reports of demoralized Russian forces, including defectors who took equipment.
But in a private briefing on Capitol Hill this week, government officials continued to resist bipartisan pressure to provide heavier weapons. The claim is that they won’t do much in the conflict, but Ukrainians are in a better position to judge that. Dispelling entrenched tank battalions with infantry armed with Javelin man-portable anti-tank missiles is much more difficult than with tanks or planes that can strike from above.
The concern among Ukrainian supporters on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon is that the Biden administration does not want Ukraine to go on the offensive. She wants a negotiated solution as soon as possible. France and Germany, the doves in the NATO coalition, are in a similar position. They fear that Mr Putin could escalate again if Russia suffers even greater losses, and perhaps in more dangerous ways, that draw NATO squarely into the war. In a sense, Mr. Putin’s threats define the limits of US aid to Ukraine.
But the US and at least some NATO countries will not be able to ignore Ukraine, even if there is a ceasefire or a frozen conflict. Mr. Zelenskyy will have to sell any agreement to the Ukrainian public, who will not be willing to give up territories after thousands of innocent people have been killed. Ukrainians will demand security guarantees from the West so that they are not vulnerable to future Russian attacks.
One idea worth considering is a mutual defense pact like the US has in the Pacific with Australia and Japan. After all Ukraine’s casualties, Mr. Zelenskyy will not settle for Putin’s non-aggression pledge, and President Biden should not lean on him to do so.
Throughout this conflict, the Biden administration has been slow and reluctant to give Ukraine the weapons and intelligence support it needs. Pressure from the public and from Capitol Hill forced his hand. Now that Russia is on the defensive, it’s time to keep up the pressure to truly achieve a strategic victory for Ukraine and NATO.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/let-ukraine-go-on-offense-against-russia-vladimir-putin-joe-biden-nato-volodymyr-zelensky-11648761217 Let Ukraine go on the offensive against Russia