As fatigue grows and morale wanes in Ukraine, defeat is a real possibility
The Russian invasion of Ukraine recently passed the one-year mark and I fear the country is on the verge of losing to Russia.
As someone who has visited Ukraine multiple times on humanitarian missions, my last trip convinced me that the country is at a pivotal moment. Morale is slipping. I could see it in the eyes of the children. More importantly, I could hear it in the voices of their leaders, who continue to say all the right things but lack the same conviction as before.
The United States, NATO and our European Union allies have been propping up Ukraine to fight a proxy war, but the effort amounts to doing half a job. The failure of the United States and NATO to provide the necessary support, including modern military equipment, is a major issue. It seems the majority of the equipment being supplied to the Ukrainians came out of a Cold War-era military museum. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting the Russians with Leopard tanks, only a handful of which are modern and Soviet-era Miyokan-Gurevich (MiG) fighter jets that are over 30 years old. By the time U.S. Abrams tanks reach Ukraine in eight to 10 months, as U.S. officials have stated, the war could well be over. We need to send the Ukrainians modern fighting hardware yesterday. Where is the urgency?
While the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just a year old, the nation has been in almost continual conflict since 2014, when Russian-backed separatist movements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine declared independence, and the Russian government annexed the Crimean Peninsula. As the Ukrainians approach a decade of death and chaos, President Putin knows that the Russians will win a war of attrition.
Ukrainian cities are systematically being pounded into rubble. Critical infrastructure totally destroyed or rendered inoperable. Over 10 million Ukrainians have crossed the border or fled their country. The loss of population, death and destruction has left the people, especially its children, emotionally devastated. Time is one commodity the Ukrainians don’t have.
Ukraine isn’t just losing its present and past, it is losing its future too.
In a war that has often seen both Ukrainian parents sent off to battle, it is children that are left vulnerable. According to the United States Embassy in Italy, about 25 percent of Ukrainian armed forces are female, 60,000 in regular positions and 5,000 on the front lines. Putin has exploited this dire situation by deporting more than 10,000 Ukrainian children back to Russia for indoctrination. Organizations like the “Children of War” have documented the heartbreaking stories of children who are being forced to leave their homes and country, not knowing if they will ever see their families again.
Putin’s potential war crimes compare to the Nazis’ indoctrination efforts during World War II, where foreign children were torn from their families and abused to turn them into perfect Aryans. Ukrainian children are being taught to hate Ukraine and see Russia as the savior. This situation is not only a tragedy for the children and their families but also for Ukraine’s future. Children are the future of any country, and Ukraine is losing a significant part of its future. Who will rebuild Ukraine after the war is over?
To compound matters, China’s intervention in the conflict, in any form, will help buoy Russian resolve and rearm. Last week, President Putin and Premier Xi met and pledged that there are “no limits” to their friendship. The effect of China’s declaration on the battlefield and on morale is devastating to the Ukrainians. China’s involvement ups the ante in the eyes of other nations, eroding long-term Ukrainian support. And it is already having a practical effect on the battlefield. While our efforts to arm the Ukrainians are taking the slow boat to China, Xi has taken a rocket ship to Russia. According to The New York Times, China has been providing drones to Russia to assist in their war efforts in Ukraine.
But there is a ray of hope. Ukraine has been preparing a counteroffensive that could change the course of the war and lay the groundwork for a settlement. After the prolonged battle for Bakhmut, Russian forces were considerably weakened. As a result, there is a possibility of launching an offensive now, before they have the ability to mobilize again. But this will be difficult, the Russians are well dug in and have had ample time to prepare for a potential Ukrainian offensive. Committed to a war of attrition, Putin has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice both troops and military hardware. Ukraine must identify and exploit Russian vulnerabilities and act decisively.
For this battle to succeed, Ukraine needs everything, everywhere, all at once.
The United States and its allies need to send the Ukrainian military modern weaponry, including more Patriot missiles and many more Leopard 2 and Abrams tanks, and do it today. The fall of Ukraine would bode ominously for the future of Europe and the United States. We need to send a message to the Russians and the Chinese that the civilized world will not back away from this existential challenge.
This is not only about Ukraine, but it is also about the future of democracy around the world. If Russia is allowed to turn Ukraine into a proxy state, it will embolden Xi to do the same with Taiwan. This is unacceptable, and it is up to the international community to take a stand.
The world, and especially Europe, has lived through the horror of appeasement and must awaken to what is at stake in Ukraine. The time to act is now, and we must act decisively to prevent Ukraine from falling to Russia.
Earle Mack is a former United States ambassador to Finland. He is a partner with the Mack Company, a real estate development and investment firm, and a trustee of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an interfaith partnership of business and religious leaders promoting freedom, democracy and human rights in countries around the world.
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