For Ukraine’s president, fighting forces and citizenry, this war is existential, and every phase has been critical. Now, especially so. Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought a lightning end to the Zelensky government, but he’ll settle for a slow death if that’s all he can get. Unless the United States, NATO and other allies up their acknowledged generous support, a slow death is likely where the Ukraine war is heading.
Ukraine forces, with allied aid, stopped Putin’s initial attempt to seize Kyiv, sparing their nation from becoming a vassal to Putin’s regime. Then Ukraine used allied support to push the Russians back to their borders in most of Ukraine’s northern territories and to prevent Russia from breaking out of the annexed Donbas region. But the territory that Russia controls in the South, less Odessa, puts Putin in a position to slowly choke Ukraine’s economy while continuing to pummel Ukraine’s cities, civilians, industry, cultural sites and infrastructure. This is what winning looks like to Putin right now — and he is counting on it.
President Biden is right that this is a war the West must win. In public statements, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, have agreed. NATO leaders, too, have adopted similar positions. The allies are aligned in words, but words don’t win wars. Force wins wars.
In this phase of the war, what Ukraine needs is what is most difficult for the U.S. and the allies to deliver: consistent focus and sustained support. Focus is already beginning to dissipate.
Some are calling Ukraine the next “forever war.” And the calls for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations are growing. This, after just three months. Global inflation, supply chain issues and residual pandemic effects — all contribute to dissipating allied focus. In the U.S., the Jan. 6 Committee hearings, attention to increasing gun violence, and the coming midterm elections are reasons for some to put Ukraine on the back burner and for others to try to force negotiations too early. Either of these would benefit Putin and reward his aggression.
Sustained effort also is eroding. American support, as vital and massive as it has been, arrives in surges. The result has been a reactive, pulse-like flow of military arms, ammunition and equipment. Battlefield momentum needs a steady flow of logistics that anticipates the demands of fighting. “Just in time” or “almost on time” logistics inhibits operational momentum. Further, for some allies, the gap between announcements of support and delivery of that support is too large. [Continue reading…]