Renewed Russian Assault Underscores Moral Imperative for West to Arm Ukraine

Putin will maintain that Ukraine is not a legitimate country and had no right to secede from Russia or to exist as a sovereign entity at all and therefore Russia will have a perfect right to invade, completely smash and destroy, occupy, and annex it.

President Zelenskyy speaks from Kiev March 30, 2022. Image from video provided by Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

As the new Russian offensive in Ukraine gets under way, the Battle for the Donbas as President Zelensky calls it, the absolute strategic and moral imperative for NATO to increase Ukraine’s military capability becomes clearer every day.

The Russians appear to believe that they have an unlimited right to assault the civil population of Ukraine from the air at no risk to themselves and with no possibility for Ukrainian reprisals. They have set themselves the comparatively unambitious goal of conquering the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine on the presumption, which has not been tested but should not be discounted, that those people would prefer to be Russians rather than Ukrainians. 

They have in effect scaled down their original ambition of seizing all of Ukraine in a lightning strike, capturing the capital in a few days, installing a puppet government, and assisted by Ukrainian lethargy, taking over the whole country of 44 million people. Now the plan is to pose as liberators of the allegedly oppressed minority of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, attack on a narrow front in eastern Ukraine, and to soften up the adversary with intensive missile attacks upon the populated areas of Ukraine until it submits altogether. 

Mr. Putin will threaten the West with nuclear war and insolently and barbarously pound all Ukraine into a rubble heap until it surrenders. This scenario, if allowed to unfold, will be as great a defeat, and a more shameful one, than if Mr. Putin’s original plan had worked and the Ukrainians had not defeated and expelled the Russian army.

Russia is exploiting the still confidently anticipated cowardice of the West, having been disagreeably surprised by the determination of the West to assist Ukrainian ground resistance against Russia. The Kremlin’s reasoning is that having invaded Ukraine on the theory that it is not really a country, had no legitimacy, and implicitly would roll over like a poodle for the Russian army, and been defeated on the ground, they will reinvent their invasion as one confined to the likely less resistant Russian-speaking districts, but ostensibly in favor of that objective they will simply level the rest of Ukraine, if necessary with hypersonic missiles for which the West cannot now provide an adequate defense. 

Mr. Putin will officially continue to claim that Ukraine is not a legitimate country and had no right to secede from Russia or to exist as a sovereign entity at all and therefore Russia will have a perfect right to invade, completely smash and destroy, occupy, and annex it.

The Western nerve has failed so far, and the Western powers are congratulating themselves on the Ukrainians’ splendid victories on the ground and are quite effectively feeding supplies to Ukraine to meet the Russian army. But they are doing absolutely nothing to defend against or counter comprehensive Russian missile bombardment of Ukrainian civilian areas. And they are so far partially  intimidated with Mr. Putin’s threats of nuclear and chemical weapons and an escalation to world war. 

Now is the time when the West must refuse to be intimidated and recognize that Mr. Putin would have to be completely insane, something of which there is no evidence, to contemplate nuclear war. We have to devise and implement a strategy for assuring that Mr. Putin receives the Russian-speaking territories of Ukraine if they freely and legitimately vote for that option. (A phony Russian-conducted “referendum” such as the farce Mr. Putin perpetrated when he seized Crimea in 2014 will not remotely be acceptable). 

And we can assure that Ukraine will not join NATO as long as the guarantees of its new borders are given by Russia and all of the NATO powers and it is understood that if they are violated again, NATO will invoke clause 5 and be prepared to commit ground troops if necessary to repulse an invader.          

The issue of the Russian response to the secession of all of its other provinces has been awaiting resolution ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. The succeeding Russian regimes of Boris Yeltsin and Mr. Putin have not explicitly recognized the legitimacy of the secessionist countries. But Russia did, along with the major Western powers, guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan when they voluntarily gave up the nuclear weapons that they inherited from the Soviet Union in 1994. 

The Russians intervened heavily in Ukrainian internal affairs to promote the election of President Viktor Yanukovich in 2012 and when the (Western-encouraged) Orange Revolution overthrew Mr. Yanukovich (who speaks Russian and doesn’t really speak Ukrainian and would be Mr. Putin’s puppet president if he could install him), two years later, Mr. Putin responded by seizing the Crimea. 

There was no substantial Western response to that and that fact evidently whetted the ambition of Mr. Putin to take back all of Ukraine, make an example of the largest former Republic of the USSR apart from Russia itself, and write himself into the history books as another Peter the Great or Stalin, expanding the borders of Russia in Europe. 

Mr. Putin can accurately cite the broken promise of Secretary of State Baker that NATO would not go “one inch to the east of Germany” if Germany were reunified. And as Crimea had been Russian until former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, gave it to Ukraine in 1954, Mr. Putin did have a legitimate claim, but he had and has no claim to crush and absorb into Russia all of Ukraine.

The fact that Russia has a claim on the Russian-Ukrainians if that is their wish must not be allowed to justify this  outrageous attempt to swallow the whole country, especially if and when it degenerates into an unlimited air campaign to shatter Ukraine with missiles into a Stone Age moonscape. NATO is justified in supplying Ukraine with everything that it needs to repulse this invasion that is still aimed at the entire country. 

The Russian government implicitly believes it has the right to kill as many Ukrainian civilians as it wishes, as it did in the Russian administrative district of Chechnya and in Syria where it was supposedly assisting the legitimate government of that country. 

Ukraine, though it has not until very recently been particularly effective at self-government, has functioned as an independent state with general recognition for over thirty years, and participated as an ally in the Afghanistan War. If Russia persists in a mortal campaign of missile-destruction, the weapons and training the West will have to provide will include offensive weapons to disincentivize Russia from operating a perpetual shooting gallery and missile target practice on civilians throughout Ukraine.                   

President Biden will have to stop his meaningless incantation about defending “every square inch of NATO territory,” the Pentagon’s hapless spokesman John Kirby will have to be reprogrammed out of thinking warplanes to defend Ukraine airspace are “escalatory” and no one should listen to the fools claiming this is all a conspiracy of bi-partisan U.S. military-industrial war-lovers, or anything justifying acting like our hair was on fire with shrieks of imminent nuclear war.  

Russia is not remotely a comparable nuclear power to NATO as the Ukrainian Army has just demonstrated. It has a GDP smaller than Canada’s and has already committed 85 percent of its land strength to an unsuccessful invasion of what is now a foreign, sovereign country. This war can be settled so that Mr. Putin gets something but Mr. Zelensky ends up with an assured independent country, probably having disgorged its renegade Russian elements — a victory for both sides and certainly a victory for the West. But we will not get there if Messrs. Biden and Blinken continue to hide under their ornate desks when Mr. Putin speaks of escalation.

The excellent training and weapons that the West has provided has contributed importantly to a splendid Ukrainian victory in the first phase of this war. But we should be under no illusions that this could still become a crushing defeat for the West if we do not bolster Ukraine’s ability to respond in kind to the Russian ability to terrorize Ukraine with missiles, including hypersonic missiles against which the United States does not have an adequate defense. 

The New York Sun

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