The Biden administration’s reluctance to provide Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons critical to its defense comes at a high price. Russia now controls a quarter of Ukraine and is gradually pushing west. Unless the US changes policy, Russia will continue to seize more territory in Ukraine and may be emboldened for future conquests.
The war has been developing since Vladimir Putin’s invasion in February. The smaller Ukrainian military was initially able to repel Russian advances and inflict heavy casualties. Heavy resistance uncovered serious problems of logistics, morale, training, corruption, and leadership and control within the Russian ranks.
But the conflict has entered a new phase. The Russian military has since improved its logistics, using artillery, missiles and airstrikes to wear down Ukrainian forces. Focusing their campaign on eastern and southern Ukraine, Russian forces have now captured the Lugansk Oblast and are moving toward cities like Sloviansk and Bakhmut in the Donetsk Oblast.
Ukraine likely could not have stopped Russia’s initial push without the more than $7 billion in arms America has sent so far, in addition to supplies from other allies. But these weapons, mostly short-range weapon systems, are no longer sufficient. As war rages on – and changes – the needs of the military also change. To retake territory from entrenched Russian forces, Ukraine will need a more sophisticated combat aircraft fleet (retiring F-15 and F-16), advanced drones (MQ-1C), MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems, and main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. It’s not the quantity of weapons that matters, but the type of weapons and how they are used.
Think of the Soviet-era Ukrainian Air Force. Combat losses in the past five months have cost at least 35 fixed-wing fighters from an original fleet of fewer than 150. With fewer aircraft available, each aircraft has to endure more missions and wears out faster. Without supplies from the West, Ukraine could lose the ability to defend its airspace and attack Russian ground forces.
Still, the Biden administration is reluctant to loan additional gear for two main reasons — both of which are unconvincing.
First, some officials fear that supplying Ukraine with more advanced weapons could provoke an escalation spiral leading to direct conflicts between Russia and NATO countries. But Putin’s move to take over a sovereign, democratic nation that had done nothing to provoke military aggression was already an escalation. Russia has used virtually every conventional weapon in its arsenal against military and civilian targets, deported hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens to Russia, and blocked Ukrainian grain from world markets. Ukraine is now simply trying to defend itself, and if it is not provided with the means to do so, such efforts will be virtually impossible.
That is why Mr. Putin is trying to stir up fears of an escalation. If the West is too scared to intervene, it is free to run amok. That’s why the Obama administration did virtually nothing after Mr. Putin seized Crimea, opened a front in eastern Ukraine in 2014, and intervened in Syria in 2015. Knowing that the US has a propensity for self-deterrence, he has now rattled his nuclear saber on Ukraine. But America should not give in to the threat; that will only motivate Mr. Putin to do it again. Instead, Washington should help unite world opinion, beginning in the United Nations General Assembly, on the consequences of breaking the nuclear taboo. Mr. Putin will be deterred when he understands that using nuclear weapons would mean the destruction of Russia’s economy through even tougher international sanctions, pariah status and international pressure to oust him.
The second concern holding back the Biden administration is that it will take too long to train Ukraine’s armed forces on more sophisticated weapons systems. That too is out of place. The war in Ukraine began eight years ago when Russian troops illegally seized Crimea. There is little prospect of it ending any time soon, especially as Ukraine is determined to regain full territorial integrity and Russia is keen to erase Ukrainian national identity.
In addition, training schedules have been inflated. Based on our conversations with current and retired US Air Force officials, a Ukrainian pilot who can now fly Soviet-era aircraft competently today may need as little as two to three months of training to fly US F-15s and F-16s to the air-to-ground -Use to fly missions. Ditto for Ukrainian drone pilots looking to fly US-made MQ-1C Gray Eagles. The sooner training for more advanced systems can begin, the better.
The cost of US delay is growing every day. Russian successes on the battlefield will whet Mr. Putin’s appetite for further military adventure and weaken deterrence. The risks are not limited to Europe either. American reluctance also sends a signal to China that Washington and its Western partners may well hesitate if Beijing pounces on Taiwan. There is little time to lose.
Mr. Jones is senior vice president and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author, most recently “Three Dangerous Men: Russia, China, Iran, and the Rise of Irregular Warfare”. Mr Wasielewski is a retired Paramilitary Operations Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency and a Templeton Fellow in National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
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Appeared in the print edition on July 21, 2022.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/putins-deterrence-succeeds-as-the-west-holds-back-in-ukraine-russia-weapons-invasion-war-military-11658354478 Putin’s Deterrence Succeeds as the West Holds Back in Ukraine