Confronted with scarce choices in Ukraine, the US and its allies are getting ready for a protracted warfare
Placeholder when loading item promotions
The United States and its allies are preparing for an ongoing conflict in Ukraine, officials said, while the Biden administration is trying to deny Russia victory by providing military aid to Kyiv while it seeks to mitigate the destabilizing effects of the war to alleviate world hunger and the world economy.
President Biden’s announcement this week of an additional $1 billion in security aid to Ukraine, the largest single tranche of U.S. aid to date, was the latest testament to Washington’s determination to ensure Ukraine put up an uphill battle over eastern Donbass -Region can survive. European nations including Germany and Slovakia presented their own shipments of advanced weaponry, including helicopters and multiple missile systems.
“We’re here to dig our spurs,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said after summoning dozens of nations to Brussels to pledge greater support to Kyiv.
The decision to supply Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated weapons such as anti-ship missiles and long-range mobile artillery — capable of destroying significant military assets or penetrating deep into Russia — reflects a growing willingness in Western capitals to concede an unintended escalation with Russia take risk.
The support appears to have emboldened the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which this week pledged to retake all of Russia-controlled Ukraine, even areas annexed by Moscow long before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion.
But analysts say that despite the surge in outside aid and strong morale among Ukrainian troops, Kyiv and its supporters can hope for little more than a standoff with Russia’s far larger, better-armed military. Unlike Moscow’s failed attempt to capture the capital, Kyiv, the Donbass battle exploited Russia’s military strength, allowing it to use artillery strikes to smash Ukrainian positions and gradually expand its range.
The Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin doesn’t care if he’s acting for his cause
Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO who now chairs the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said the deadlock on the battlefield leaves the United States with a clear choice: either continue to help Ukraine, a potentially bloody status quo to sustain, with the devastating global consequences this entails; or cease support and allow Moscow to prevail.
“That would mean feeding Ukraine to the wolves,” Daalder said, with a view to withdrawing support. “And no one is ready for that.”
A senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe ongoing international deliberations, said officials in the Biden administration had been discussing the possibility of a protracted conflict with global spillovers even before February, when US intelligence suggested that Putin was preparing for an invasion.
The Biden administration hopes that the new weapons, on top of successive waves of sanctions and Russia’s diplomatic isolation, will make a difference in an eventual negotiated end to the war and potentially reduce Putin’s willingness to continue the fight, the official said.
Even if that reality doesn’t materialize immediately, officials have the stake to ensure Russia can’t gobble up Ukraine — an outcome officials believe could encourage Putin to invade other neighbors or even attack NATO members — as described so highly that the government is even willing to accept a worldwide recession and increasing hunger.
Already the war, which is amplifying the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, has plunged the global economy, which is now expected to suffer years of low growth, into renewed crisis. It has also exacerbated a global food emergency as fighting drives up prices of staple foods and cripples Ukraine’s grain exports – which typically feed hundreds of millions of people a year – and pushes about 44 million closer to starvation, according to the World Food Program .
“While it’s certainly challenging – we’re certainly not glossing over it – in terms of how to navigate these stormy waters, our guiding principle is that if Russia can meet its maximalist demands, the outcome is really bad for the United States, really bad for our partners and allies and really bad for the global community,” the State Department official said.
She was raped in Ukraine. How many others have stories like yours?
On Friday, Ukrainian forces tried to defend dwindling areas under their control in Severodonetsk, a strategic city in Luhansk province that Pentagon officials expect will soon fall.
In a sign of how Western weapons have the potential to draw the West deeper into the war, a US defense official confirmed Friday that a US-made Harpoon anti-ship missile had hit a Russian tugboat in the Black Sea. For the first time, as part of Biden’s latest weapons package, the United States announced it will provide mobile harpoon launchers to Ukraine.
The long-standing ambition of Ukrainian leaders to become more integrated with Europe drew closer to reality on Friday when the European Commission recommended that Ukraine be made an official candidate for European Union membership. Zelenskyy hailed what he called a “historic decision,” even though membership may be years away.
“The Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “We want them to live the European dream with us.”
Putin, who lashed out at the West in a speech on Friday, said he had nothing against the idea of Ukraine joining the EU, but also warned that “all the tasks of the special operation will be fulfilled,” as the Kremlin calls the invasion, and said his country could use nuclear weapons if its sovereignty was threatened.
NATO leaders are expected to announce new deployments in Eastern Europe at a summit in Madrid in late June, underscoring what Western nations are calling a radically changed security outlook.
Before this meeting General Mark. A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has defended the need to stop Russia, equating the suffering of civilians in Ukraine with what Nazi Germany inflicted on Europe. But he has also warned that while Moscow faces chronic problems in its Ukraine offensive, including leadership, morale and logistics, the numbers in eastern Ukraine are “clearly in Russia’s favor”.
The prospect of a final deal seems remote as Putin appears undeterred and likely to pursue what analysts describe as a strategy of seizing the entire Donbass region and then offering a ceasefire that would freeze Russia’s control of that and other areas.
“My concern is that Russia, on the one hand, and the Ukrainians and their partners, on the other hand, have fundamentally incompatible goals,” said Samuel Charap, Russia expert at RAND Corporation. “As a result, the Russians are putting more and more pressure on us and we are giving more and more.”
Many experts believe the war is likely to escalate into a lower-intensity conflict or a situation like that on the Korean Peninsula, where North-South fighting was halted by a 1953 armistice without a formal end to the war. A heavily militarized border was developing between the two Koreas, with occasional flare-ups, and is a scenario some analysts predict could materialize between Ukraine and Moscow-controlled parts of its territory.
“I don’t think Putin or Zelenskyy can continue for years at the current level of combat,” James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral and former supreme commander of NATO, said in an email. “Certainly for a few months, but unlikely years.”
As the conflict continues to unfold, discussions are encouraged about what compromises the United States may have to make on either its larger foreign policy goals or its massive military budget. The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday increased the defense budget by $45 billion, citing inflation and the war in Ukraine, bringing the projected bill for the next fiscal year to $847 billion.
Stacie Pettyjohn, director of defense programs at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said the war continues to devour the bandwidth of senior US officials who could be devoted to long-term planning and modernization. In the past, officials have cited crises such as the multi-year war against Islamic State as factors delaying a planned focus on China.
“They have to constantly engage with Ukraine because the situation is evolving and imminent, and we have to provide the assistance we can and figure out how to support the Ukrainians,” she said. “But that means they don’t have the time and attention to move forward with these other issues that are really important and these long-term changes that would be necessary if the US is to really turn its attention and focus to the Pacific.”
The Biden administration has vowed not to pressure Kyiv into accepting concessions to solidify a solution to the war. Officials point out that even if Zelenskyy were inclined to cede large parts of Ukraine’s territory, he could face a Ukrainian revolt if he accepts Moscow’s terms.
“Our job isn’t to define those terms,” Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at a think tank event Thursday. “Our job is to give them the tools they need to put themselves in the best possible position.”