Ukrainian leaders have vowed to retake all territory occupied by Russia, prompting a debate over what would be necessary for Ukraine to win and evict Moscow’s forces.
The answer is primarily military because Russia is only going to abandon its hard-won gains if its troops suffer catastrophic losses, military strategists say. Behind those talks about weapons and ammunition is a deeper political question as Ukraine’s battlefield fortunes rely heavily on the willingness of Western governments to continue their multibillion-dollar military assistance to Kyiv.
And pushing Russian forces out of the entrenched positions they hold in more than 15% of Ukraine’s territory will require an even greater flow of military support—possibly more than the West is willing and able to bear.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told The Wall Street Journal last Monday that the U.S. would support Kyiv in recovering territory Russia has grabbed since launching its large-scale invasion on Feb. 24, suggesting that Washington might not back Ukraine militarily in retaking areas that Russia seized in 2014, including the Crimean Peninsula.
Other Ukraine allies are adamant that Kyiv must win back all its lands.
“Anything less than a Russian defeat in Ukraine will embolden Moscow and other authoritarian powers,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström during a visit to Washington this past week.
Senior officials from Ukraine’s allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization predict the war likely will end at a negotiating table. But “what happens around that table is absolutely linked to the situation on the battlefield,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a recent meeting of foreign ministers in Bucharest.
“So it may sound like a paradox, but the reality is that the best way to achieve a lasting, durable peace in Ukraine is to provide military support to Ukraine,” he said.
That military support includes urgently needed air-defense systems to protect Ukraine from drones and missiles that Russia is using to demolish Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and threaten to spark a humanitarian crisis as winter sets in. Western governments in Bucharest pledged to deliver more equipment, and faster.
On the more traditional battlefield, Ukraine needs ammunition, weapons systems and more training for troops, as well as nonlethal aid such as medical equipment and body armor. Allies are providing all of those things, but not at levels Ukraine says it needs to achieve more success against Russian troops quickly.
Asked what Kyiv would require to prevail, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba declined to give specifics in Bucharest. “You cannot calculate the amount of weapons needed to win a war,” he said. But in the NATO meetings, which he attended, all allies agreed “that Ukraine has to receive everything that is needed to win,” he said.
A more fundamental issue, diplomats involved in the talks say, is what precisely the various parties mean by winning.
“The West has to ask itself a question: What is the end goal?” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said after the meetings.
He said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan had “a very good formula” when he said during the summer that Washington’s goal was to ensure that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine didn’t become a success for President Vladimir Putin, but a strategic failure instead.
“I don’t see a way for Russia to lose strategically and maintain occupied territories,” said Mr. Landsbergis. [Continue reading…]