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Give Ukraine the tools

The United States should lead the way in providing assistance to “finish the job”

A Ukrainian soldier walks with children past destroyed cars in Bucha, Ukraine, earlier this month. Associated Press/Photo by Rodrigo Abd

Give Ukraine the tools

Every day, it seems, brings grim news of yet another Russian atrocity in Ukraine. Mocking the laws of armed conflict, Russian forces continue to target civilian populations in a scorched earth campaign shot through with barbarism. A Mariupol theater serving as a refugee shelter, the Kramatorsk train station, the suburban neighborhoods of Bucha—each now forever to be remembered for massacres of non-combatants by the Russian military and intelligence services. Some of these murders have targeted our fellow evangelicals, such as the dean of the Slavic Evangelical Seminary, Vitaliy Vinogradov, who was found dead in Bucha.

We should be horrified but not surprised. Such is often the “Russian way of war,” channeling the most vicious of Soviet traditions in its brutality. The past two decades of Vladimir Putin’s rule have seen similar gruesome methods by Russian forces in massacring civilians and destroying cities such as Grozny in Chechnya and Aleppo in Syria.

Russia now seems to be adjusting its battlefield strategy. Having failed to take Kyiv or topple the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Russian forces appear to be redirecting their assaults on eastern and southern Ukraine. Putin has assigned a new general, Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, to command the operation. Dvornikov’s record of leading Russian forces in Syria several years ago suggests he is capable and inhumane—a worrisome combination.

The Ukraine war will not end soon. Russia’s humiliating setbacks thus far show Putin’s many miscalculations—including about Ukrainian fighting effectiveness, Zelenskyy’s leadership, Western resolve in supporting Ukraine, and the Russian military’s corruption and battlefield ineptitude. But Putin is far from conceding defeat.

The longer the war drags on, the more suffering will be compounded—including civilian deaths, refugee displacements, and even a looming global food crisis as Ukraine’s expansive farm industry collapses, derailing grain supplies to much of the developing world. For both moral and strategic reasons, the United States and our allies should increase support for Ukraine in hopes of bringing about a victory—defined as the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine—as soon as possible.

The United States has in the past achieved significant successes by supporting others to do their own fighting against tyranny.

Now more must be done and done with dispatch. Specifically, the United States should lead our allies in providing heavy weapons to the Ukrainians, including fighter jets, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, and other munitions that can impose unsustainable costs on the Russian forces. More sanctions are needed, especially against Putin’s “palace economy” and European purchases of Russian oil and gas. The United States also should coordinate a massive information operation to bring the truth of the war to the Russian people, who otherwise remain captive to Putin’s propaganda machine. If this war is to be ended on favorable terms, it will not just be won in Ukraine but inside the Kremlin, and when Putin realizes his troops have lost on the battlefield and his people have lost confidence in him.

There are a few skeptics of U.S. support for Ukraine in isolated precincts of the right and left who fret that the United States is on the verge of sending our own troops to fight and thus stumbling into a war with a nuclear-armed Russia. This is something of a canard; no serious American voices are calling for, or even considering, a direct U.S. military intervention.

Rather, the United States has in the past achieved significant successes by supporting others to do their own fighting against tyranny. As I describe in a forthcoming book, this was the centerpiece of the Reagan Doctrine. President Ronald Reagan’s strategy for victory in the Cold War included providing arms and funding to anti-communist forces fighting against Soviet-backed communist regimes in Nicaragua, Angola, and Cambodia—and in the case of Afghanistan, fighting against the Red Army itself.

World War II also echoes in the present moment. The U.S. Senate has just passed a lend-lease package of military aid for Ukraine, modeled explicitly on America’s lend-lease aid to Great Britain in its lonely stand against Nazi Germany in the war’s early years. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill cherished this U.S. support. On Feb. 9, 1941, he broadcast a speech to the British people that expressed gratitude to the United States but included a further appeal. His country had survived the four-month bombing onslaught by Nazi Germany known as the Battle of Britain. Though the British prevailed in that battle, the war was far from over, and Britain still stood alone in Europe against Hitler’s war machine.

Churchill resolved to press the fight, but his country desperately needed more weapons and economic aid. His words then to America might well be said by the Ukrainians today: “Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

William Inboden

William Inboden is professor and director of the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida. He previously served as executive director and William Powers Jr. chair at the William P. Clements Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. He has also served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House, and at the Department of State as a member of the Policy Planning Staff and a special adviser in the Office of International Religious Freedom.

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