America must embrace the goal of Ukrainian victory

By | May 11, 2022

Alexander Vindman writes:

For years before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Ukrainians had been growing frustrated with U.S. leadership. A former high-level Ukrainian official described U.S. policy to the country in this way: “You won’t let us drown, but you won’t let us swim.” Washington has earned this mixed reputation in the decades since Ukraine broke free from the Soviet Union in 1991. Although Ukraine saw the United States as an indispensable partner and greatly appreciated U.S. security and economic assistance, many Ukrainians were aggrieved that the United States remained reluctant to more fully and forthrightly support them in the face of Russian provocations and aggression—even following Ukraine’s pivot toward the West after the tumult of 2014, when protests toppled a pro-Russian government in Kyiv and Russia responded by annexing Crimea and invading the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. With few exceptions, Ukrainian pleas for increased military aid, greater economic investment, and a concrete road map for integration with Europe fell on deaf ears in Washington. The Ukrainians could not understand why the U.S. national security establishment continued to privilege maintaining stable relations with Russia—an irredentist and revanchist authoritarian state—over support for Ukraine, a democratic state that had made important strides in weeding out corruption and implementing democratic reforms.

In the two months since Russia attacked Ukraine, the United States has thus far lived up to this ambivalent reputation. It has committed aid to Ukraine in fits and starts and has sought to avoid an escalation with Russia at the expense of more uncompromising support for Ukraine’s defense. But Washington can and should do more. The United States can shore up regional stability, global security, and the liberal international order by working to ensure a Ukrainian victory. To achieve this goal, Washington must finally abandon a failed policy that has prioritized trying to build a stable relationship with Russia. It needs to discard the desire—which seems to shape views on the National Security Council—to see Ukraine ultimately compromise with Russia for the sake of a negotiated peace. And the United States must give Ukraine the support it needs to bring this war to a close as soon as possible.

Thus far, the National Security Council has stubbornly refused to end its policy of incremental assistance and adopt a strategy for supplying continuous aid to Ukraine. Such elevated support could prove to be a deciding factor on the battlefield. As it stands, the United States has missed one opportunity after the other to help precipitate a decisive Ukrainian victory and stop Russia from making gains in the Donbas. Instead of foreclosing the possibility of a Russian success, Washington’s strategy of metering incremental military aid to Ukraine—based on a flawed assessment of the risk of escalation and the potential consequences of a Russian defeat—has provided Moscow with the time and space to continue its war, even as it now shifts to defending the territory it has seized since February 24. [Continue reading…]

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