‘Russia thinks they can just wait us out’: US must be ironclad on defending Ukraine, security experts say
Stars and Stripes February 17, 2023
WASHINGTON — Continued military aid for Ukraine to help beat back invading Russian forces is necessary to ward off a new era of tyrannical aggression and the U.S. must make Russian President Vladimir Putin understand the West won’t give up the fight, a panel of security experts said Friday.
“[Western aid] is critically important,” said Emily Harding, the deputy director of the International Security Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “As much as Ukraine is doing amazing things in this war, they cannot arm themselves for a long fight.”
The think tank held a panel discussion Friday on the war in Ukraine as it approaches its one-year anniversary on Feb. 24. Since Russian forces began their attack nearly 12 months ago, the U.S. has provided billions of dollars in weapons and equipment to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Over time as the fighting has grown fiercer and the Ukrainians needs to fight off the Russians have become greater, the U.S. has expanded the types of weapons it has provided, including the Patriot air-defense system, long-range precision rockets, armored assault vehicles and tanks. Ukrainians have even requested fighter jets as they prepare for an expected Russian offensive in the spring.
Michael Vickers, who was the undersecretary of defense for intelligence for four years during former President Barack Obama’s administration, said the top priorities for U.S. should include sending more long-range bombing equipment such as the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS.
“It’s number one on my list,” Vickers said. “We also ought to be giving them more of what they have if we’re going to win this.”
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden agreed for the first time to give Ukraine long-range small-diameter bombs, but Vickers said sending ATACMS would greatly expand long-range capabilities for Ukraine. Biden, however, has yet to yield to Ukraine’s request for U.S. fighter jets. The country has planes of its own, but some can’t fly and none of them are as sophisticated as American-made F-16s, F-18s and F-35s.
Vickers said it’s important for the United States and its Western allies to drive home the message that they won’t get tired of defending Ukraine. If support for Ukraine weakens, it would only encourage Putin and other dictators to take territory that they want by force, the panelists said.
“We need to be in this to win it and really make it clear, rather than, ‘We’re with them as long as it takes, but we hope they get this over with soon,’” Vickers said.
Russia’s expectation is we will tire of the war, Harding said.
“[Russia] thinks they can just wait us out,” she said. “They think they can drive wedges into the West and that, eventually, we’ll lose patience with this kind of conflict. Any signal that we send that we are not in it for the long fight just lends credence to their hope that they can wait us out.”
Since the war began, some polling has shown most Americans support defending Ukraine, but the majority could be shrinking as the war drags on. The experts said Friday that type of dwindling support is precisely what Putin wants. Many Western experts and officials have said Putin’s goal is to create a new version of the former Soviet Union, a superpower that controlled much of Europe. That desire, the panelists said, could keep the Ukraine war going into 2024 or longer.
“Putin’s objectives haven’t changed. So, we need to show him that … not only can’t he achieve [those], he going to lose more,” Vickers said. “The only way that Ukraine can really lose is if the West, led by the United States, gives up. Then I think it would have far-reaching consequences.”
Some U.S. officials and experts, including former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, have stated their support for continuing U.S. military aid to Ukraine in recent weeks and have said weapons and equipment should be sent quicker because a slow, drawn-out process only gives Russia time to regroup and plan.
“We have done sort of the right things, and we have said sort of the right things, but what we haven’t really seen is a sense of commitment, of urgency and scale,” said Eliot Cohen, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS. “What I would like to see us do is full commitment, that we’re in this to win and to really defeat Russia.”
He said any fears that U.S. support for Ukraine could provoke Russia into expanding the war are unfounded.
“The escalatory argument is ridiculous,” said Cohen, a foreign policy adviser for former President George W. Bush. “What exactly are the Russians going to do that they haven’t already done? They’re going to begin, what, attacking Ukrainian power plants? The only kind of escalation that would be meaningful would be nuclear weapons. There’s a whole bunch of very, very good reasons why the Russians would not do that. So, this is just one of those cases where we have been deterring ourselves.”
Biden is scheduled Monday to travel to Poland, which borders Ukraine on the west, to mark the one-anniversary of the war. He’s set to give a speech in Warsaw on Tuesday and spell out how the U.S. will “continue to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the White House said.
While in Poland, Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and other regional leaders before returning to the United States on Wednesday.