By the Editorial Board|Follow
August 23, 2023 at 6:45 a.m. EDT
Nearly half a million casualties, including almost 200,000 dead — that is the staggering toll to date of the slaughter by which history will remember Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lawless invasion of Ukraine. The estimates, by U.S. officials, are a running count as the war starts its 19th month this week. The numbers will surely climb.
No end to the carnage is in sight, and calls for a negotiated solution are wishful thinking at this point. As Mr. Putin invests in Russia’s war economy, he shows no signs of giving up his fantasy of Russian neo-imperial glory. That hard truth leaves the United States and its European allies with few appealing options, especially as Ukraine’s grinding military counteroffensive, launched in early June, remains far short of its goal: to evict Russia’s forces. Deeply entrenched in a miles-deep maze of defensive lines behind some of the most heavily mined terrain on Earth, the occupiers retain control of roughly 18 percent of Ukrainian territory.
According to a recent Post report, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Kyiv is unlikely to achieve its main objective this year: breaking south through enemy lines and reaching the Sea of Azov. The idea was to sever the occupied corridor through Ukraine that connects Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized illegally in 2014.
Washington’s intelligence assessments have been wrong in the past, specifically by overestimating the proficiency of Russia’s military and the competence of its political leadership, and by underestimating Ukraine’s resolve and resourcefulness on the battlefield. Reports from the front lines and from Russian military bloggers suggest that Ukrainian morale remains high and that badly led, poorly supplied Russian troops are increasingly desperate. Kyiv’s forces continue to make modest gains despite the daunting challenge of advancing against Russia’s fortified positions.
Still, the raw disparities of scale in this fight are not going to disappear. Russia’s huge advantages in population and weapons-making capacity are bolstered by Mr. Putin’s decision to mobilize the nation’s industrial might to sustain an indefinite war. The Kremlin, having intensified its propaganda and crackdown on political dissent, has all but eliminated public expressions of antiwar views. The war could continue for years — waxing, waning or frozen.
The West, despite having sent massive amounts of military aid, has not supplied Kyiv’s forces in a timely way with the advanced fighter jets, long-range missiles and tanks that Ukrainian officials have long pleaded for. Only now are Ukrainian pilots learning to fly U.S.-made F-16 jets, which have figured prominently on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wish list since the first months of the war. Delivery of the first of those jets, from the arsenals of Denmark and the Netherlands, is not expected until next year, too late to supply air cover for Ukrainian ground troops in their current push.
The reluctance of leaders in the United States and Europe to furnish arms on a timeline that might have improved Ukraine’s territorial gains this summer has triggered frustration in Kyiv and hand-wringing among top Western diplomats. “Had decisions been taken faster and with more anticipation on some of the weapons systems which we ended up sending, then probably the war would have taken a different path, and, in any case, we would have saved lives,” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said this week.
Faced with a long-term war of attrition, President Biden and European leaders need a two-track strategy that encompasses short- and long-term planning to ensure Ukraine’s sovereignty and survival. The short-term piece means maintaining support, as all of Ukraine’s major allies have pledged to do. With the current flow of U.S. assistance set to run out this fall, Mr. Biden has proposed a further $24 billion military and economic aid package, more than half of which would be for weapons, materiel and intelligence to sustain Kyiv’s forces.
It is critical that Congress approve that request even as an increasing share of the American public, especially Republicans, is souring on U.S. military aid. A bipartisan majority on Capitol Hill has embraced the idea that Mr. Putin’s war of aggression is a threat not just to Ukraine’s existence and its aspirations to join the family of free, democratic nations, but also to the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the event that Mr. Putin succeeds in subjugating Ukraine, there is reason to believe his next targets would include NATO front-line members that the United States is obligated by treaty to defend — not only with weapons but also with troops.
In the long term, Washington and its allies in the Group of Seven leading industrial nations — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan — have agreed to formulate military support programs meant to arm Ukraine to the point that the Kremlin would be effectively discouraged from conducting future aggressive acts. That “porcupine strategy” is designed to deter Moscow’s imperial aspirations over time. Concrete plans are needed to fulfill that promise.
NATO membership for Ukraine, which would offer the ultimate security guarantee, is not in the cards as long as the war rages. Still, Ukraine’s allies should be weighing other postwar security arrangements. If and when the war ends, one template for Washington to consider is its commitment to South Korea, a country that has prospered, to the benefit of the United States and the global community of free nations, through decades of hefty American security assistance. A similar approach might eventually promote stability in Eastern Europe.
Mr. Putin’s only hope for victory lies in ending Western aid for Ukraine, a goal he hopes Donald Trump would advance if he were elected to a second presidential term. History’s clear lesson is that rewarding such a dictator’s aggression will invite only more of the same. Part of laying the groundwork for a sustained commitment to Ukraine will be for Western leaders to explain to their voters why it is necessary.
The Post’s View | About the Editorial Board
Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.
Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy); Lee Hockstader(European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman(global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; Mili Mitra (public policy solutions and audience development); Keith B. Richburg (foreign affairs); and Molly Roberts (technology and society).
Opinion On the debate stage, a fight to save Ukraine — and the GOP
By the Editorial Board|Follow
August 24, 2023 at 6:05 p.m. EDT
The GOP debate stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)
If you could hear it over the hooting from the live crowd, the back-and-forth on whether the United States should continue supporting Ukraine was the clearest and most important clash of the first Republican presidential debate, reflecting substantial division among Republican voters themselves.
The good news is that only two of the eight GOP candidates onstage in Milwaukee on Wednesday night raised their hands when asked whether they oppose any more funding for Ukraine’s war effort. The bad news is that, along with former president Donald Trump, they’re ahead in the polls.
With public opinion in flux, this is a crucial moment for leaders with experience and sense to explain to voters why the Ukraine commitment is necessary. Some candidates did that. Those on the other side, whether out of conviction or in hope of attracting votes, failed to meet the moment, showing bad judgment, lack of experience or both. The consequences could reach far beyond Wednesday’s debate stage.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis presented a false choice between defending democracy abroad and securing the southern border. He said he’d get Europe to pay to help Ukraine instead.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a first-time candidate with no foreign policy experience, said it’s “offensive” that some of the other hopefuls onstage made “a pilgrimage to Kyiv” to visit Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, arguing that assisting Ukraine is “driving Russia further into China’s hands.”
In an interview with Tucker Carlson that aired during the debate, Mr. Trump called for an immediate end to the war.
Others on the podium exposed these positions as dangerously naive. Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, explained that the U.S. commitment has not been unreasonably large, pointing out that the United States has spent less than 3.5 percent of its defense budget supporting Ukraine and that 11 European countries have contributed more as a share of their gross domestic product. Moreover, she said, if the United States turned its back on Ukraine, China would become more inclined to invade Taiwan.
Former vice president Mike Pence said it is better for Ukrainian troops to do the fighting with American money and materiel rather than waiting for an emboldened Russia to invade a NATO member, which would compel the United States to put boots on the ground.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christiestressed the moral imperative for the United States to act, saying the Russians have abducted more than 20,000 Ukrainian children — more than would fill the basketball arena in which they were debating. “They’ve gouged out people’s eyes, cut off their ears and shot people in the back of the head,” said Mr. Christie, “and raped the daughters and the wives who were left as widows and orphans.”
Ms. Haley, Mr. Pence and Mr. Christie deserve credit for explaining with moral clarity why countering Russian President Vladimir Putin is in the United States’ national interest, rebuking the isolationism that defined Mr. Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP. Whether these voices of reason prevail in the Republican primaries will determine whether one of the country’s two major parties will turn its back on decades of U.S. international engagement, promising gains that would not materialize and failing to account for the risks this turn would bring.
Generations of Americans have defended freedom. In our time, Ukraine is the front line. America’s 2024 election is shaping up to be one of the most important battles in Ukraine’s war for national survival. As the campaign proceeds, it is critical for those on the right side of this issue to continue to speak forcefully — and for Republican voters to listen.