Focus on what Ukraine needs to fight Putin’s reign of terror
President Biden concluded his forceful speech in Poland on March 26 with these words about Russian President Vladimir Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” I suspect that most Americans heartily agreed. After all, Putin has shown himself to be a pitiless mass murderer and war criminal.
The words set off a week of handwringing by Washington’s chattering class. Pundits across the political spectrum fretted that Biden was suggesting regime change, which might wound Putin’s tender feelings and cause him to escalate hostilities in Ukraine. Putin has shown that he needs no excuse to escalate the depravity of his war. He may have been lulled into the war by cowardly yes-men, but now that he is engaged there will be no limits on the criminality of his conduct.
Some commentators studied the nine words and noted that they did not actually call for Putin’s demise, particularly by U.S. action. President Reagan employed similar wording in denouncing Putin’s predecessors, giving hope to those on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Nineteen years ago, many politicos on both sides of the aisle were quite comfortable with President George W. Bush’s war to depose Saddam Hussein, despite convincing evidence that he did not possess any weapons of mass destruction. That was a time when people should have been nattering.
The most baffling part of the controversy was the redefinition of Biden’s words made by his nervous staff. Biden said what he said, not what his staff claimed he’d said. He was extremely ill served by his staff and found a need to correct the record just days later.
This needless drama diverted attention from the critical task at hand — making sure the Ukrainians immediately receive all the military and humanitarian support they so desperately need to carry on their fight against Putin’s forces. With the Russians momentarily knocked back on their heels, it is essential that the U.S. and NATO provide the war material the Ukrainians need to take advantage. That means a greater assortment of offensive weapons and much more of practically everything else.
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The Russian playbook calls for massed artillery fire, which has been used to great effect to level many villages and cities in Ukraine, causing thousands of deliberate civilian casualties. The intent is to terrorize the families of fighters and weaken their will to resist. Also, to flood millions of refugees into surrounding NATO countries in hopes of creating economic and social unrest in those countries.
Ukrainian forces must be provided with lots of long-range artillery and equipment to pinpoint and eliminate Russian artillery emplacements, as well as counter-battery radar and sophisticated drones, preferably with armaments. We should immediately provide the Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets and S-300 missile defense systems that Ukrainian President Zelensky has been requesting to reduce Russian dominance of Ukraine’s airspace.
The Russians appear to be focusing their efforts on taking and holding territory in the east and southeast portions of Ukraine. Tanks would be a great asset to Ukrainian forces in those areas. Zelensky has repeatedly requested them. They can and should be provided immediately.
Getting tanks, a great quantity of artillery pieces and ammunition, and every other implement of war across the expanse of this large country presents a huge logistical challenge. Hundreds of trucks and large quantities of fuel will be required to convey the supplies and equipment across the country to where they are needed. A good deal of the war material will be lost to Russian attacks on the way and need to be replenished.
Further, it appears that Putin is planning a protracted campaign to get what he wants — a large slice of Ukraine territory along the east side continuing down to Odessa in the south. He’s made it known that Syrian mercenaries who cut their teeth in his scorched-earth combat in Syria are being recruited to fight in eastern Ukraine. Putin has also made it known that he’ll be drafting 134,500 conscripts to bolster his ranks. He wants to at least give the appearance that he is in it for the long haul, and he may be if he does not run out of ready money to finance the war in the meantime.
Let’s get back to what the U.S. and NATO need to do to ensure that the Ukrainians get everything they need to prosecute their life-or-death struggle. Can we dispense with the political drama at home and provide every defensive and offensive weapon at hand to make sure Zelensky and his nation have a fair chance of survival?
Putin is going to do what he is going to do, and it does not advance our national interest to sit around wringing our hands about hurting his feelings. We must understand that he is going for broke and respond accordingly. Let’s not be in the position after the fact of regretting that we did not do enough for these courageous people.
Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho attorney general (1983-1991) and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is a regular contributor to The Hill.
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