By Luke Coffey*
On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine for the second time in eight years. While many assumed that the war would be short, a stiff Ukrainian defense halted and then successfully counter-attacked against the Russian advances on Kyiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv. After capturing Kherson, Russia’s main advance from occupied Crimea in the south toward Mykolaiv also stalled. At the time of writing, Ukrainian forces are beginning a counterattack in that region and are located approximately 12 miles outside Kherson city center.
Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov coastline, fell to the Russians on May 22 after Ukrainian forces made a heroic last stand in the Azovstal iron and steel works. This capture allowed Russia to create a land bridge from the Russian Federation to occupied Crimea. Mariupol’s capture also turned the Sea of Azov into a Russian lake.1 In the Donbas, which is arguably Russia’s main effort at this stage of the war, Russian troops have made limited advances at a very high cost in equipment and manpower. In late June, Russian forces capturedSievierodonetsk after weeks of heavy fighting, leaving Russia in control of Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast.
Ukrainians are currently defending a front line that is approximately 1,250 miles long—this is equal to the straight-line distance from Washington, DC, to Houston, Texas. Russian public opinion still supports the war.2 While Russia’s advancements in the Donbas have been slow and costly, there is no indication that Moscow will stop its offensive anytime soon. President Vladimir Putin knows that his legacy rides on Russia’s victory or defeat in Ukraine.
The Stakes Are High
After almost five months of fighting, two things are clear. First, Russia is not meeting its intended military objectives that it planned to achieve by this point in the campaign. Yet Moscow also has no plans to give up. Second, this war will be long and measured by years, not months. Policymakers in the West must start preparing to support Ukraine for the long term.
Ukraine is in a national struggle that will determine its geopolitical future: the county will either be a firm member of the Euro-Atlantic community or become a Russian colony. The outcome of this struggle will have long-term implications for the transatlantic community and the notion of national sovereignty in the twenty-first century.
Ukraine represents the European idea that each country has the sovereign ability to determine its path, choose its leaders, and decide with whom it has relations. No outside actor (in this case, Russia) should have a veto on a country’s membership or closer relationship with organizations like the European Union or North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In many ways, the war in the Donbas will decide the future viability of this idea and the transatlantic community.
It is in America’s interest that Ukraine remains independent and sovereign and that Kyiv can choose its destiny without outside interference. The implications of the war’s outcome for America are not limited to Europe:
- China is watching the war in Ukraine closely. Russia is China’s junior partner. A weakened or defeated Russia means a weaker China. Beijing is also watching how Western powers support Ukraine, so a strong and victorious Ukraine makes Taiwan stronger too. Some have suggested that the US should sacrifice its security interest in Ukraine to focus on the threat from China. The choice between security in Europe or security in the Indo-Pacific is a false dichotomy. In terms of US national interests, these two regions are intimately linked.
- The war has economic implications for Americans at home. If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spreads to other parts of the continent, the conflict would have greater implications for the US economy. The economies of Europe and North America account for approximately 45 percent of the global economy. Last year, the US and Europe were each other’s largest export market.3 Forty eight of the 50 states—including the Pacific Ocean states of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii—exported more to Europe than to China in 2021.4 Year after year, the US and Europe are also each other’s top source of foreign direct investment. Europe’s security and stability, which Russia now threatens, brings untold benefits to the US economy and, by extension, the American worker. So what happens in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv could ultimately affect Kansas City, Orlando, and Louisville.
- The war could cause hunger in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The MENA region relies heavily on wheat and other food stuffs from Ukraine and Russia. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the Russian navy has blockaded Ukrainian ports and halted critical exports of wheat and other food stuffs to the rest of the world. On numerous occasions in the past 50 years, spikes in food prices have led to instability, rioting, and revolution in the MENA region. The 1977 food riots in Egypt5 and the 2011 Arab Spring are two great examples. The rallying cry for protesters across much of the Arab world during the Arab Spring was “bread, freedom, and social justice.”6 If Russia continues its blockade, there is a genuine threat of hunger and instability in parts of the MENA region. This is not in America’s interest.
A Long War
Russia is a top geopolitical adversary for the US. For Americans who believe in strong and secure national borders, the primacy of national sovereignty, and the right to self- defense, support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression is natural. Considering America’s other geopolitical concerns like a rising China, a healthy economic relationship with Europe that benefits the American worker, and instability in the MENA region, US support for Ukraine is an imperative.
During the early days of the war, Russia pursued a strategy that tried to rapidly capture Ukraine’s major cities while decapitating and replacing Volodymyr Zelinskyy’s government.7 After the original strategy failed, the conflict transitioned into a war of attrition.
No American president or policymaker can define “winning” for Ukraine. As the ones paying a high price in life and limb, Ukrainians are the only ones who should be able to define what winning the war against Russia means. However, for as long as Ukrainians are willing to defend their homeland, US policymakers’ baseline planning assumption for “winning” should be the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty inside its internationally recognized borders, which includes Crimea. Until the Ukrainian government states otherwise, this is the definition of “winning” that the US and its allies should use for developing a strategy to help Ukraine fight Russia.
Policymakers need to understand that the war in Ukraine will last years, and they need to start planning accordingly. To date, US and allied support to Ukraine has had a major impact on the fighting, but more needs to be done. The US should:
- Work with NATO members to create a “Train Today for Tomorrow” program. The US should provide all the equipment that Ukraine needs to defeat the Russian invasion. This includes long-range fires to strike military targets inside the Russian Federation, fighter jets, advanced air defense systems, armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), anti-ship missiles, and main battle tanks. In recent months, indecisiveness from the White House has prevented the US from transferring more capable and advanced platforms to Ukraine. When the US does eventually approve such platforms for transfer, Ukrainians need several more weeks of training before they can use the equipment on the front lines. The US should start training Ukrainians on advanced weapons systems thatit does not currently have plans to provide—such as the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system, F-16 fighter aircraft, and others. This way, if the White House finally decides to supply Ukraine with these systems, Ukrainians will be ready to operate them immediately.
- Develop a systematic program to repair, refit, and replace equipment provided to Ukraine that Russia destroys or damages during combat operations. The US and its partners have provided Ukraine with hundreds of armored vehicles and indirect fire systems. Inevitably, Russian forces will destroy or damage some of these during the war. As combat continues, much of donated equipment will need to be repaired or replaced. While the US can train Ukrainians to perform field maintenance, sustainment maintenance will likely have to occur in neighboring NATO countries like Poland and Romania. The US should work with partners to establish logistics readiness centers to repair and maintain Ukrainian equipment.
- Starve Russia of spare parts and munitions as much as possible. Ukraine is running low on Soviet-era and Russian-made munitions and spare parts. With economic sanctions starting to bite, Russia’s ability to replenish stockpiles will become increasingly difficult, too. The US should approach countries around the world that use Soviet-era and Russian military hardware with a deal they cannot refuse. This deal would convince them to sell or transfer these spare parts and munitions to Ukraine. For countries that are reluctant to support Ukraine, the US should convince them to at least not sell or transfer these supplies to Russia.
- Create a NATO Training Mission–Ukraine (NTM-U). As its main goal, NTM-U should train new recruits for the Ukrainian military. Ukraine does not have a recruitment problem, but it lacks enough resources to train recruits. The British have pledged to train 10,000 Ukrainian troops every 120 days.8 While this is a good start, the assistance will be insufficient for Ukraine to maintain the troops levels required for a protracted war of attrition. The US should work with London and Kyiv to assess Ukraine’s short-term and long-term manpower goals for the war. Then the US and UK should work withother likeminded allies to rapidly scale up a training and equipping program for the Ukrainian military to meet these manpower goals.
- Create a Russian Technology Exploitation Cell (R-TEC). Ukrainian forces have captured some of Russia’s most advanced electronic warfare equipment, air defense systems, and main battle tanks. The US should bring together the best and brightest military strategists, engineers, scientists, and representatives from the defense industry—from both sides of the Atlantic—to analyze this equipment. Based off what they learn, the R-TEC shouldin the short term rapidly tweak or modify, when possible, existing Western platforms to be more effective against Russian weapons systems. In the long term, it should develop new platforms that Ukrainians can use to defeat Russian equipment more effectively.
- Help Ukraine care for its wounded service personnel. Thanks to advancements in battlefield medicine after two decades of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US is well placed to share best practices with Ukraine. The US should lead efforts to open field hospitals in Hungary, Poland, Romania, or Slovakia while making US military facilities at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany available for wounded Ukrainians. In extremis, the US should consider providing long-term medical care and rehabilitation support in the United States to some of the most seriously wounded soldiers.
- Get more diplomatically engaged in the region using the GUAM format. The Organization for Democracy and Economic Development–GUAM is a regional bloc that encourages cooperation between Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. All four countries are important for advancing US national interest in the region. Russia is almost solely consumed by events in Ukraine andthe impact of economic sanctions. The US should take advantage of Russia’s unbalanced geopolitical equilibrium and engage more with groupings like GUAM. The last US-GUAM meeting at the foreign ministers’ level took place in 2017. Secretary of State Antony Blinken should immediately request to host a US-GUAM summit to boost cooperation between the US and GUAM countries.
- Enhance European energy security. Every barrel of oil and cubic foot of natural gas that Europeans get from somewhere other than Russia will make the continent safer. While the immediate priority for the US is arming Ukrainians, Washington should work with Europe to develop a new energy strategy. The recent agreement between the EU and Azerbaijan to increase natural gas exports from the Caspian Sea is a great first step, but the West can do more. For example, it can (1) encourage the construction of a Trans-Caspian Pipeline to bring natural gas from Central Asia to Europe while bypassing Russia, (2) explore energy possibilities in the Eastern Mediterranean region, (3) increase US domestic oil and gas production for export, and (4) bolster the Three Seas Initiative to improve energy connectivity in Eastern Europe.
- Work with NATO to open a Center of Excellence on State-on-State Warfare. For the past two decades, NATO has primarily focused on low-intensity conflict and counterinsurgency operations. The situation is now different. NATO’s recent Strategic Concept stated that “the Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”9 NATO members need to learn the hard-earned lessons from the war in Ukraine. Creating a Center of Excellence on State-on-State Warfare would be a good way to start this process. The Center of Excellence would provide an opportunity for allies to engage in meaningful dialogue and training on how to address the challenges associated with state-on-state warfare in the twenty-first century, using lessons from the fighting in Ukraine.
Time for Decisiveness
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serves as a reminder that there is no greater motivation to take up arms than to defend one’s homeland. The Ukrainians have proven to be brave and capable fighters. Ukrainian ingenuity on the battlefield has been unparalleled in recent military history.
Ukrainians are not asking for, nor do they want, US troops to help them fight Russia. All they ask for is the equipment, weapons, munitions, and financial resources required to give them a fighting chance. Providing Ukraine what they need to fight Russia effectively will not be cheap. However, the costs that American taxpayers incur to help Ukraine is money well spent and will pale in comparison to the cost of deterring a victorious Russia and an emboldened China on the global stage.
If steps are taken now, Ukraine will be better prepared for a longer conflict that will lead to a Ukrainian victory and a more stable transatlantic community. Now is not a time for dithering. It is a time for decisiveness.
*About the author: Luke Coffey is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute. His work at Hudson analyzes national security and foreign policy, with a focus on Europe, Eurasia, NATO, and transatlantic relations. Mr. Coffey was previously director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation from 2015 to 2022, in which role he oversaw and managed a team covering most of Heritage’s foreign policy and international affairs work. From 2012 to 2015, he was the Margaret Thatcher fellow at Heritage, focusing on relations between the United States and the United Kingdom and on the role of NATO and the European Union in transatlantic and Eurasian security.
Source: This article was published by the Hudson Institute (PDF)
- Russia’s desire to maximize influence in Eurasia can also help explain, at least in part, its determination to occupy Crimea and fully control the Sea of Azov. One of the two canals connecting the Caspian Sea to the outside world is the Volga–Don Canal, which links the Caspian Sea with the Sea of Azov. Russia has used the Volga–Don Canal to move warships between the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Azov. The ability to move warships from the Caspian region, which includes Central Asia, to the Black Sea (and vice versa) allows Russia to project power in an important area of the world while giving Russian policymakers flexibility and options when a crisis arises in the region.
- Peter Dickson, “More than Three-Quarters of Russians Still Support Putin’s Ukraine War,” The Atlantic Council, June 6, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/more-than- three-quarters-of-russians-still-support-putins-ukraine-war/.
- Daniel S. Hamilton and Joseph P. Quinlan, “The Transatlantic Economy 2021: Annual Survey of Jobs, Trade and Investment between the United States and Europe,” US Chamber of Commerce, March 24, 2021, p. vii, https://www.uschamber.com/assets/documents/transatlanticeconomy2021_fullreport_lr.pdf.
- Ibid, p. viii.
- 60 Minutes Overtime, “Egyptians Riot in the Streets in 1977,” CBS News, February 13, 2011, https://www.cbsnews.com/ news/egyptians-riot-in-the-streets-in-1977/.
- Sarah El Sirgany and Lina El Wardani, “‘It’s Getting Scary.’ How the war in Ukraine Plunged this Middle East Nation into Crisis,” CNN, July 8, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/08/business/ egypt-economy-inflation-mime-intl/index.html.
- Ravi Buddhavarapu, “Russia’s Failure to Achieve Major Goals in Ukraine Is ‘Quite Embarrassing,’ Ex-US Official Says,” CNBC, June 7, 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/06/07/russia-has- failed-in-first-100-days-of-war-says-ex-us-official-.html.
- Prime Minister’s Office, “UK to Offer Major Training Programme for Ukrainian Forces as Prime Minister Hails their Victorious Determination,” press release, June 17, 2022, https://www.gov. uk/government/news/uk-to-offer-major-training-programme- for-ukrainian-forces-as-prime-minister-hails-their-victorious-determination.
- “NATO 2022 Strategic Concept,” adopted by heads of state and government at the NATO summit in Madrid, June 29, 2022, p. 4, https://www.nato.int/strategic-concept/.