Putin’s attacks will not demoralize Ukraine
Just over three months after the successful Allied landings on D-Day 1944, Nazi Germany began firing V-2 rockets at Britain. The overwhelming majority targeted London. Adolf Hitler’s objective was straightforward. It was clear that Germany was losing the war, and the rockets, against which there were no direct defenses, would serve either as a silver bullet that would somehow reverse the course of the war or as a weapon of revenge to terrorize the British public.
The so-called “buzz bombs” were frightening, but they did not halt the Allied advance. Nor did they fundamentally undermine British morale. As Winston Churchill put it in a speech to Parliament when, after two months of official silence, he first publicly acknowledged the V-2 attacks, “The use of this weapon is another attempt by the enemy to attack the morale of our civil population in the vain hope that he may somehow by this means stave off the defeat which faces him in the field. … I am sure the House, the press, and the public will refuse to oblige him in this respect.”
The same could be said about Vladimir Putin’s indiscriminate missile attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian population centers, as well as infrastructure facilities. The attacks are an expression of his revenge for the explosion on the Kerch Strait bridge linking the Crimea peninsula to Russia that Putin considered his baby; he drove across the bridge on the day it opened in 2018. Additionally, like the V-2 buzz bombs, the missile attacks are intended to undermine Ukrainian morale, and in so doing, somehow reverse the course of the war, which has witnessed ongoing Ukrainian penetration of previously Russian occupied territory.
Putin’s missile attacks are unlikely to bring a halt to Ukrainian advances any more than the negligible impact that the V-2s had on Allied progress in 1944-45. Ukraine has suffered from attacks on civilian housing, hospitals and public buildings throughout the course of the war. As with Churchill’s characterization of the British response to the missile attacks, if anything, the Russian strikes have hardened Ukrainian resistance and have had no impact on the people’s morale.
What could affect Ukrainian progress would be a slowing down of both American and allied military assistance. The Ukrainian Defense Contact Group of some 50 countries pledged this week to send more weapons — notably, urgently needed air defense systems — to the beleaguered country. Germany, which recently had slowed down its shipment of armaments to Ukraine, this week sent the first of four IRIS-T SLM air defense systems that it had promised to Kyiv. It has promised three more of these systems and should deliver them post haste. Indeed, for its part, Washington is expediting the shipment of NASAMS short and medium air defense systems to Ukraine.
At the same time, however, both Berlin and the Biden administration should reconsider their hesitancy in responding to Kyiv’s urgent pleas for armor. Tanks and other armored systems are crucial for maintaining the momentum of Ukraine’s operational and tactical successes against Russian forces that are increasingly suffering from both logistical bottlenecks with resulting ammunition shortfalls and poor military leadership and troop morale. Germany has agreed to replenish several NATO allies, most recently the Czech Republic, with upgraded Leopard 2 tanks and armored recovery vehicles to offset transfers by these countries of their own armor to Ukraine. But the government of Olaf Scholz has not transferred any of its own tanks directly to Ukraine; it is time it did so. As should Washington, which likewise has dragged its heels regarding transferring heavy armor to Ukraine.
The Biden administration has generally made the right moves regarding Ukraine, beginning with its decision to release intelligence of an impending Russian invasion that countered the Kremlin’s attempts at a disinformation campaign. Yet, in the matter of supplying Kyiv with increasingly powerful arms, the White House has tended to move too slowly — before ultimately making the right decision to meet Kyiv’s needs.
With winter coming on, and operations likely to be far more difficult, the administration should not hesitate both to push allies such as the Germans to transfer heavy armor to Ukraine, and to accelerate its own efforts and do the same, so that, whatever the Kremlin’s desperate efforts to terrorize the Ukrainian people, the ongoing progress of their military will not be slowed.
Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.