DANIEL VAUGHAN: As Russia advances, US leadership fails Ukraine

 January 30, 2023

Towards the end of last summer, Ukraine scored a series of shocking victories against the Russians. It was a thorough route. The Russian military was in disarray, protests formed in Moscow, and Russian mercenary groups were left scrambling. The United States and its western partners had a moment to flex that leverage and end the war. They did not take that option, assuming that the status quo would continue.

There was a moment for a post-Putin Russia that appears to have closed. I wrote at that time, "What contingency plans does the United States have in place to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, the end of the war, and an end to hostilities?" The answer is nothing. Because we're gearing up for a new round of increased hostilities, and Ukraine is on the defensive.

Ukraine has requested and is receiving an influx of tanks from the West. They need these vehicles because the Russian military has switched tactics to trying to grind out the Ukrainians. They need tanks for another reason: there's a fear that timing is running out for Ukraine.

Momentum shifts in Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal reports, "Behind the decision to sharply step up Western military aid to Ukraine lies a worry in some Western capitals that time might be on Russia's side." The Journal described a belief in the West that after those summer victories, Russia would seek to leave Ukraine and sue for peace. Starkly missing from the report are any actions those same leaders took to provide an exit ramp for Russia.

Now, the momentum is shifting. "Instead, officials in some capitals now fear the Kremlin, which is willing to keep throwing men and materiel into the war, could gain the upper hand in any lengthy war of attrition. Better, then, to give Ukraine more advanced weapons that could help it change the war's dynamic and overwhelm Russia's ability to fight."

Let's admit it's entirely possible for Ukraine to take this new weaponry and push the Russians back again. They've done it several times and could be successful again. But we need to be realistic about what we're expecting. We continue to expect a small, numerically outnumbered country to withstand a constant onslaught from a much larger Russian military.

Ukrainian people bear the full brunt.

It's clear at this point that Vladimir Putin does not care how many lives it takes to achieve his goal of complete subjugation of Ukraine. We're not asking Ukairne to survive a battle or two, we're asking them to eat through the entirety of the Russian military and Putin's resolve to continue throwing warm bodies and resources at the problem.

That is no small feat, and the human toll is very high.

A protracted conflict benefits no one. The belief among certain quarters of the West that we should use Ukraine to eat through the Russian military is understandable tactically but not ethically. The human loss of life here is very high, and we have a duty to see it limited. The damage done to both sides will have longer-lasting impacts the more we allow it to continue.

And we need to be honest about that last point: we are allowing this conflict to continue. Russia is the aggressor and the bad actor here, and there's no question about that. But the United States has yet to figure out an acceptable endpoint.

Russia switches to a grinding strategy.

The current situation, according to US and western leaders, is that "there is little sign of the sanctions grinding Russia's military to a halt or putting so much economic pressure on the Kremlin, always adept at crushing dissent and protest, that it saps domestic support for the war."

Everyone is looking for the next hammer to drop from the Kremlin: "Russia is looking to launch a new offensive in coming months, with better-trained conscripts filling out the ranks, ready for the kind of grinding battles that appear to have yielded gains for Moscow recently in the fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut."

The progress from last summer has evaporated. We've almost reverted to where we were before the war began. Russian forces are preparing for another advance, the US is flooding resources into the zone, and Ukraine is asked to bear the full brunt of Putin's wrath.

The U.S. needs a plan.

Having Volodymyr Zelenskyy before Congress to describe his country's accomplishments and bravery is great. He deserves the Nobel for holding his country together against such vaunting odds. But the United States does him and Ukraine a disservice by demanding they bear a constant human toll without finding an end to the conflict.

The best time to strike such a deal was last summer. American leadership did nothing and was content with watching Russian troops fall back. Now we have to send even more resources, ask more of Ukrainians and hope they can once again find a miracle while the West dithers.

American leadership needs to act more responsibly here. Human lives depend on it.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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