What Ukraine needs from the West now
In the war in Ukraine, Ukraine is winning, and it can push Russia out if Washington steps up its support now. The White House needs to stop pretending that we are doing enough. We are not. The constant refrain from Kyiv is that we are giving them enough to survive but not enough to win. Let’s give them enough military and economic support to ensure victory over Moscow as soon as possible.
Contrary to a growing chorus of Republicans who are opposed to aiding Kyiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t going to stop in Ukraine. The truth is that it’s far cheaper to stop him in Ukraine than in Poland or the Baltics. Second, a peaceful, secure and prosperous Europe makes us richer and more secure. We do not want a massive land war that engulfs Europe ever again. Third, and perhaps most compellingly, we cannot look away when civilians are tortured and brutally killed for being Ukrainian. This is genocide.
Over the recent weeks, Moscow has shown its weak hand. Putin has no good options remaining. He wants to make this winter the coldest and darkest in Ukraine’s short independent history. Russia sent dozens of rockets and drones aimed at civilian targets and energy infrastructure to make the country unlivable. Moscow is losing on the battlefield, so Putin is resorting to attacking children and grandmothers. It seems he wants to scare the civilian population into leaving the country, sparking a massive refugee crisis in Europe and sowing chaos in Ukraine and Europe.
The West knows that Putin has little left but idle threats. He’s running out of missiles, so he’s sending in cheaper Iranian drones. Now is the time to send Ukraine all of the weapons it has requested — and then some. President Biden and his team seem to think that the exercise to send weapons to Ukraine is an endless debate. It’s not. Every single day that we don’t send long-range missiles means more innocent children will die, or they will be forced to hide in their bathtubs and basements as Putin wantonly attacks their apartment buildings.
The White House is afraid of stepping over Putin’s invisible red line that will cause him to escalate. They couldn’t be more mistaken. In my view, Putin isn’t going to attack NATO or the United States. And he’s not going to use nuclear weapons on a NATO country. There’s very little chance he’ll use them in Ukraine either.
So, what would make a difference in Ukraine now? Kyiv has begged for ATACMS, long-range missiles that can hit targets 190 miles away. We should send them along with tanks, armored vehicles, more ammo, and more HIMARS rockets and rocket launchers as soon as possible. It’s also time to return to the discussion of planes. We must help Ukraine close its skies as soon as possible. The longer the war goes on, the more U.S. taxpayers will have to shell out in reconstruction dollars.
Biden has been woefully uninspiring when it comes to explaining why Americans must sacrifice for a country 5,000 miles away. It’s not quite as bad as when President George W. Bush asked Americans to go shopping after 9/11, but it’s close. Recent polling shows that Americans believe that we should support Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” and Biden’s response keeps getting stronger and stronger. But he needs to articulate a vision and ask Americans to sacrifice during the upcoming winter months as Moscow invariable uses energy as a weapon.
Make no mistake: Weapons alone won’t win the war. Economic assistance is just as vital. Ukraine is running a $5 billion to $6 billion budget deficit every month, and it cannot keep its state services afloat without temporary help from the West. Ukraine is not a failed state. Ukraine pays its pensions on time. I would rather ride on the Ukrainian railways than Amtrak any day of the week. Its hospitals and schools are open, and its banking system works smoothly. The European Union pledged 9 billion Euros to help Ukraine make it through the year, but it has only sent 1 billion Euros so far. German finance minister Christian Lindner, who won’t sign off on the paperwork, is the principal obstacle. Here’s where the Biden administration has been too soft when it comes to the Germans. There’s no need to return to the ugliness of the Trump administration days, but it’s time to push Berlin to fulfill the EU’s pledge. In addition, Germany is also blocking other EU countries from transferring weapons to Kyiv, and this needs to end pronto. A phone call from national security adviser Jake Sullivan to his German counterpart would likely fix this problem.
As the West sends weapons and budgetary support, ordinary Americans can help in small and large ways. Schools in Ukraine can only reopen if they have a bomb shelter, and many do not. Only 3,000 schools reopened in September. Retrofitting schools with bomb shelters only costs $15,000 in a village and $50,000 in a city. American communities can work together to help reopen schools. The Kyiv School of Economics has launched an initiative to reopen Ukraine’s schools, and American donors can receive a tax-deduction for their gifts to this trusted university.
Winter will not be easy. Help Center Ukraine USA, a distribution site in New Jersey, is looking for generators, heaters, socks, sleeping bags, thermal underwear as well as other winter necessities, and this organization will deliver these items to needy families. Weapons, financial support and other aid will ensure the defeat of Putin and his criminal war. This isn’t the moment to go wobbly, but to show him that Ukraine and the West have just begun to fight.
Melinda Haring is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.