McManus: Biden has a stake in Ukraine’s spring offensive
After a winter of hard but indecisive fighting, Ukraine is preparing for a long-promised spring offensive that officials hope will change the tide of the war against Russia.
The goal is to break Russia’s grip on southern and eastern Ukraine and convince Russian President Vladimir Putin that his war has become a lost cause.
US officials say if Ukraine succeeds, Putin may eventually agree to peace talks on terms acceptable to Ukraine. But if Ukraine fails, the conflict is likely to turn into a long war of attrition – and Putin has declared that in this scenario time is on Russia’s side.
The war also has a Western front in the domestic politics of the United States and its European allies, who have provided Ukraine with the military and economic aid it needs to survive.
If Ukraine succeeds, its Western supporters will feel vindicated. If it falls short, political support in the West will erode.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is not the only head of state to take office around one o’clock; President Biden too.
From a military point of view: “The longer you wait [launch the offensive], the harder it gets,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the Center for Naval Analyzes, last month. “The more time invested, the more Russian units can entrench themselves.”
Politically, too, time is not on Biden’s side. Public opinion in the United States and Europe has largely been supportive of Ukraine, but support has waned as the war has grown longer and more expensive.
Biden has frequently promised that the United States will support Ukraine “for as long as necessary” to defeat Russia. But that’s a promise he may not be able to keep — and not if he loses his anticipated re-election bid next year.
Experts say Ukraine’s military offensive could be weeks away. Much of the country is caught in a spring thaw that turns fields and country roads into a sea of mud—tough terrain even for armored vehicles.
Supported by new tanks and armored personnel carriers supplied by the West, Ukraine will attempt to drive Russian forces out of the southern and eastern parts of the country.
A possible target will be the Russian-held south-east coast, a land bridge connecting Russia to the Crimean peninsula that Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014. Separating the bridge “would have a dramatic impact on Russian morale and motivation,” said Douglas Lute, a retired army lieutenant general who served as the US ambassador to NATO.
Some of the Western equipment that Ukraine relies on is only now arriving: heavy tanks from Germany and Britain, and armored fighting vehicles from the US and half a dozen other countries.
The US and European Union are sending thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition from newly mobilized ammunition factories. And the US is deploying a new surface-to-surface missile, the awkwardly named Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb, with a range of about 90 miles — longer than the missiles Ukraine now has, but still only half as rich as one others that the country has requested .
That’s not enough, critics complain.
“We’re providing the systems they needed six months ago,” Lute said. “War is not a mathematical equation. You must deliver.
“Now is the time to give Ukraine what it needs to sidestep next year’s political calendar,” he added.
In fact, the US political calendar has already started.
Former President Trump has complained that American taxpayers are giving too much aid to Ukraine and suggested he would end the war in 24 hours by allowing Putin to “take over”.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chimed in, saying it was not in our interest “to become further embroiled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia.”
A poll sponsored by the Associated Press found that the percentage of Americans supporting military aid to Ukraine fell to 48% in February from 60% last May. Responses reflected a partisan divide, with Republicans increasingly opposed to Biden’s policies.
The outcome of the spring offensive is likely to continue to influence public opinion.
“If this turns into a grueling war with no end in sight, sustaining Western support will become much more difficult,” noted Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine.
Putin’s calculus is that he can outlast both Ukraine and the West – the longer the war goes on, the more Ukraine will suffer and the more weary Western voters will be.
It is therefore important that the US and its allies provide Ukraine with as much assistance as possible now, when it is most useful.
Yes, the war was costly – far more for Ukrainians, who lost lives and homes, than for American taxpayers.
But the best chance of bringing it to an early end – and avoiding a long and more punishing stalemate – is to make sure Ukraine has what it needs to convince Putin he can’t win.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2023-04-02/ukraine-is-preparing-a-spring-offensive-biden-has-a-stake-in-it-too McManus: Biden has a stake in Ukraine’s spring offensive