How We Can Save Ukraine

Biden is well positioned to prevent a Russian invasion, but the U.S. needs to act quickly.

By Seth Moulton

“What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.” John F. Kennedy’s famous description of Nikita Khrushchev’s attitude toward Berlin applies to Vladimir Putin and Ukraine today. But this time Washington has misjudged the threat. We need to recalibrate our strategy.

The U.S. would be lucky if Mr. Putin honestly wants to negotiate. He’s moved more than 120,000 troops into position for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Putin comically refers to the military buildup as a “training exercise,” but there’s no mistaking the purpose of a force that size. And if such an invasion is successful, Ukraine could be only his first stop. Our nearby allies, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—and the thousands of American troops stationed there—could be next. That’s why I recently went to Ukraine to ensure the U.S. is prepared. But I found that Ukrainian and American plans aren’t properly aligned to deter Russian aggression.

At this point, U.S. options are limited. President Biden has already said he won’t send more troops. Mr. Putin, on the other hand, has almost every option open to him, from simply using this force for intimidation and extortion to mounting a full-scale Blitzkrieg-style invasion of Ukraine. But Washington still has a brief opportunity to deter Russia from taking drastic action. It would take a rapid readjustment of U.S. strategy.

As in 2014, when America failed to deter Mr. Putin’s Crimea offensive, Ukraine and the West are better prepared to respond to an attack than to prevent one. Ukrainian officials speak proudly of how their troops, veterans and ordinary citizens will organize a resistance and fight the Russians in the streets. I don’t doubt their sincerity or resolve—the Ukrainian people are tough, resilient and fiercely independent, despite Mr. Putin’s propaganda to the contrary. But if Russian forces overwhelm Ukrainian lines quickly, the resistance may be put down before it has a chance. America and Ukraine need to make it clear to Mr. Putin that Russian losses, for both his troops and his economy, will be too much to bear on day one. To that end, there are three things Washington must do.

First, dramatically increase the speed of weapons procurement for Ukraine, and do so publicly. Washington must clearly articulate to the world how the weapons we provide will force Mr. Putin to incur substantial losses of Russian troops right away, not merely over time. Weapons deployments shouldn’t be focused solely on the Eastern front, but rather on a broader set of threats to cities all over Ukraine. Antiship missiles, for instance, should protect cities along the Black Sea coast.

Second, organize effective sanctions. They must be targeted, powerful and widely agreed on in advance by NATO. Mr. Putin likely thinks he can survive Western sanctions, because the ones leveled before have been too broad and not supported by enough of our allies, allowing Mr. Putin and his oligarch friends to work around them This time, Mr. Putin needs to know that he’ll have trouble buying a soda five minutes after he invades, not that he might possibly face some financial consequences in the future after lengthy international debate. This is the only way for sanctions to be a real deterrent.

Third, clearly communicate the grave consequences of invading—not only to Mr. Putin, but to the Russian people. Russia has no problem spreading disinformation all over America; we should not hesitate to tell his people the truth. He seems to have bought into his own propaganda that most Ukrainians are pro-Russian and an invasion would come at a low cost. The truth is most Ukrainians value their independence and democracy and have been trying to formalize their relationship with the West by pushing for accession into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for more than a decade. With American military equipment and strong economic sanctions from the West, any fight with Ukraine would become painful and bloody for Russia. If Mr. Putin can’t hide from this reality, he may think twice about sending troops across the border. His domestic support has suffered from a weak economy and rampant Covid.

Some may have concerns about provoking Russia into escalation. But Mr. Putin is comfortable with provocations; he manufactures them whenever he pleases. We need to remind Moscow and the international community of his history of belligerence, proceed publicly along established lines of support, and not be cowed by the Kremlin’s response. Tiptoeing around Mr. Putin won’t prevent the worst; it’ll ensure it happens.

Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Biden has always worked on strengthening the NATO alliance rather than antagonizing it, and he confronts Mr. Putin rather than consoling him. This puts Mr. Biden in a good position to take decisive action to defend Ukraine. But he has to act now.

If there’s one lesson we should have learned from the past 20 years of war, it is that conflicts are much easier to start than they are to end. We need to stop this war before it begins.

Mr. Moulton, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts’ Sixth Congressional District.


  1. “Second, organize effective sanctions. They must be targeted, powerful and widely agreed on in advance by NATO. ”

    Wrong! Sanctions need to be placed on mafia land before he invades, not after. If the West hammered Muscovy with crippling sanctions, Putler will have two choices, he could invade and see the Russian economy destroyed, or he could remove his garbage from the whole of Ukraine, for sanctions relief. Either way, he’s a loser.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Well done for unblocking this article F1! I think it’s a good one and hopefully will be influential in Democrat circles. I read it to mean that he does want effective sanctions right now to fend off the invasion. Perhaps he wanted it to be ambiguous?
      Anyway, he seems a good guy. Ex-military and on the anti-socialist wing of the Dems.

      Liked by 3 people

      • I honestly believe that Putler overplayed his hand here. He tried to scare the West into capitulating, knowing that this worked in the past, but instead of capitulating, we are even seeing the Germans grow a bit of spine, on paper at least. All this chest thumping could have opposite effect, instead of NATO accepting Russian proposals, could see missiles in every NATO country bordering Russia, and hopefully Ukraine flooded with weapons of all types.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. May i remind that Biden did waiver sanctions on NS2, while Ted Cruz wants to restore them. It is Ted, not the hair-sniffer, who took the initiative. Dems are all alike, they never go into harsh criticism with their own men and women. The article is too merciful with Biden, who produced the biggest fuck up in US military history in Afghanistan. He must be prevented from producing another one, in Ukraine.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. “Biden is well positioned to prevent a Russian invasion, but the U.S. needs to act quickly.”
    You cannot expect this loser to do anything concrete and especially quickly. His entire term, thus far, has been a chain of disastrous events. I believe that he will thoroughly screw up here too, as he did in every other undertaking since he took office.
    Of course, I would love to be proven wrong!

    Liked by 3 people

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