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Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The gruesome images of slain civilians in Bucha and other liberated towns near Kyiv have been met with furious rhetoric from Western politicians.
Yet there is only one way to stop Vladimir Putin’s forces from committing more hideous war crimes.
It is not by placing more sanctions on Russia (though they are welcome). It is not the suspension of Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council (it should be suspended from the U.N. General Assembly). And it is not “peace” talks that Putin permits primarily to fool some European leaders.
Putin can only be stopped if Washington and NATO allies provide Ukraine with all the weapons it needs to defeat Russian forces. The critical battles will happen in the coming weeks in eastern Ukraine, as soon as Russian forces recoup from being pushed back from Kyiv.
Yet the most critical weapons systems and vehicles have yet to arrive.
“How many Buchas have to take place for the West to do what we are asking?” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, asked plaintively at an emergency NATO meeting on Thursday.
That is the question NATO members need to answer — now.
In fairness, more Western weapons are pouring in every day, and the United States has committed $1.7 billion in defense aid to Ukraine this year.
Still, U.S. and NATO aid has ramped up much too slowly. In a bitter tweet, the anti-Russian chess star and opposition activist Garry Kasparov argues: “The issue with Western response hasn’t changed since Putin first invaded Ukraine in 2014: Horrified by what has happened, unwilling to act to stop it while it is happening, unable to plan so it doesn’t happen again.”
Each week, as NATO countries face more outrages by Putin, they up the ante with weapons delivery, but they always appear behind the need of the moment.
U.S. deliveries of Javelin anti-tank weapons and Stinger short-range anti-aircraft missiles have been essential in helping Ukraine hold off the Russians and remain critical. But the systems necessary to defeat Moscow in upcoming battles still haven’t arrived.
Ukraine has been unable to close the skies to the missiles and bombs that have ravaged Kharkiv, Mariupol, and other cities. Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Greece have Russian-made S-300 anti-missiles systems, but have not been willing to loan them to Ukraine unless the United States is willing to loan those countries comparable systems in the meantime.
Nor has Kyiv received the anti-ship missiles it needs, immediately, to help save the port city of Odesa, even though the United States, Norway, and Poland have such systems.
“The [U.S.] bureaucracy simply hasn’t been told that it’s wartime,” I was told by the former deputy secretary general of NATO, Alexander Vershbow. “The MiG 29s [airplanes] haven’t moved, long-range air defenses haven’t moved. It’s so frustrating. The pipeline of weapons is moving very slowly at a time when Russians are more vulnerable than they will be in a few weeks,” said Vershbow, also a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.
Indeed, as I have been speaking this week with Ukrainian friends and contacts in Kyiv, I have heard the same message over and over: “We are expecting Putin’s forces to come back here after they regroup in Belarus.”
That means the next few weeks are crucial, as Russian troops reorganize — and as many Russian soldiers, troops, and mercenaries move toward eastern Ukraine for a big land battle in the Donbas region. The Czech Republic has offered Ukraine desperately needed tanks, but Ukrainians worry whether they will get there in time.
The Ukrainians believe Putin’s current goal is to expand Russian occupation of big swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine, finally taking Mariupol and maybe Odessa, then enter into inconclusive peace talks that drag on for years. Ukraine would be left with a rump state, cut off from the sea, its infrastructure and economy destroyed, unable to join NATO or the European Union.
Flush with “victory” in Ukraine, Putin could then set his sights on territory in East European states and the Baltics, unconvinced that Washington would stand by their side.
On the other hand, a Ukrainian win in eastern Ukraine — a victory that delivers Russian troops another huge blow — would force Putin to rethink his strategy as his military flounders further.
But Ukraine can’t win unless we and NATO allies treat their war with Russia with the urgency we’d muster if U.S. troops were involved, giving Ukraine the tools for protecting their skies as well as winning land battles.
Indeed, Ukraine’s war is our war. If a vengeful, expansionist Putin, backed by China, is permitted to smash Ukraine, the United States will face a Eurasian alliance of dictators who believe they are tougher than Western democracies. And Russian war criminal Putin will almost surely challenge NATO forces (including ours) in the coming years.