To stop the war, arm Ukraine to the hilt
Сonsequences of explosions in Ukraine in the first days of the war (Photo:Володимир Зеленський/Telegram)
A year after Russia launched its full scale invasion of Ukraine, the media are awash with war analysis articles and opinions.
Many of them will confidently state that the “war in Ukraine” has already lasted 365 days, when in fact the Russian invasion and war started with Moscow’s seizure and occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, some 3,291 days ago.
Part of the reason the sudden attack on Ukraine by Russia on Feb. 24, 2022 was so surprising and shocking to many in the West is that the war, which had been grinding on for eight years, was of fairly low intensity, and had largely disappeared from the international headlines.
Certainly, the initial invasion of Crimea on Feb. 20, 2014, with its drama and also absurdity (think of the “Little Green Men” — obviously Russian soldiers but claimed by the Kremlin to be local “separatists.”) was big news for the first couple of years.
But after Russia’s occupation of parts of the Donbas and second round of Minsk accords in 2015, the war settled down into stalemate — a few deaths from shelling every week is not big news, so the world moved on.
The media’s response is understandable; less so the response of the West’s governments.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea and parts of the Donbas, as well as its earlier war and occupation of parts of Georgia in 2008, was a direct and dangerous challenge to the post-Second-World-War international order, to the inviolability of the sovereignty and borders of independent countries, and to international law. It was a bold restatement of Russia’s imperialist agenda.
The West’s response should have been swift, strong and resolute. Harsh, tearing sanctions should have ripped across Russia’s economy; the Kremlin should have been isolated, condemned and vilified; and Ukraine should have seen the same level of support, politically and financially, that it has received in the last year.
But the West’s response was instead slow, weak and wavering. The Kremlin artfully used the Minsk process, which it knew Ukraine could never agree to fulfill, and which it had no intention of fulfilling itself, to deflect responsibility for the war from itself, and to lull Western states like Germany into the feeling that getting back to “business as usual” was possible.
The Kremlin saw the West’s response as weakness, and was convinced that it would be able to press on when the time came.
Thus the West’s response has led directly to the much direr situation now, with the biggest war in Europe since the Second World War, complete with atrocities, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and a massive refugee crisis, raging across Ukraine and threatening to spill over its borders.
Ukraine needs a full suite of weapons to end Russia’s brutal invasion quickly
The Russian full-scale invasion and war in Ukraine should not have come as a shock or surprise to anyone. The large buildups of troops on Ukraine’s borders started months earlier, as did a hardening of the Kremlin’s rhetoric on Ukraine. The United States signaled the Kremlin’s intentions well in advance of Russian tanks rolling over the border.
What confused some, including myself, was the relatively small size of the Russian invasion force. Even people closely following events in Ukraine and Russia did not gauge correctly how high the Kremlin was on its own hubris and propaganda — it had expected little real resistance, and had hoped to execute regime change in Kyiv within days.
The Ukrainian military, however, was not taken by surprise, having carefully planned for years for a full-scale invasion. That enabled it to put up such a robust defense of Kyiv that Russia was soon defeated, and it retreated from the north and center of the country within just over a month.
The Kremlin, in contrast, was astonished by Ukraine’s fighting prowess, as were many experts in the West, who at best had expected a swift defeat of Ukraine by conventional means and then a long, bloody insurgency.
However well it had prepared, Ukraine still knew very well what it lacked — air defenses, tanks and fighter jets. Pleas for supplies of these from its Western friends came from the very first days and weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
It was again time for the West to respond swiftly, strongly and resolutely, but again it failed.
While the West has been resolute in its verbal support for Ukraine, action in the form of military support has been slow in coming. It seems as if Ukraine has had to squeeze each new delivery of arms from its allies after each new escalation and atrocity by Russia — modern air defense only started coming in October and November, after Russia started its vicious campaign to destroy civilian infrastructure and deny Ukrainians heat, power and water during winter.
The West has deterred itself from arming Ukraine fully due to fears over “escalating” the war. Meanwhile, the Kremlin goes ahead and does the escalating itself.
It is to be hoped that U.S. President Joe Biden’s historic visit to Kyiv on Feb. 20 marks an end to this dithering and hand-wringing over Western military support for Ukraine. Ukraine needs a full suite of weapons to end Russia’s brutal invasion quickly, liberating Ukrainian land and freeing Ukrainians from the grip of a fascist police state, a dictatorship. Tens of thousands of lives are at stake — they will be lost if the war is allowed to grind on for years longer.
The lesson of the beginning of the war, of Crimea and the Donbas, should not have had to be relearned. It was also the lesson of the Second World War — do not appease dictators, as they will see it as weakness and be encouraged to go further. Each step taken by a tyrant causes greater damage. Each further step is harder to stop, and costlier to reverse.
Arm Ukraine swiftly, strongly and resolutely, and put an end to this war before it reaches its tenth year.
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