Friday, Sept. 29, 2023|
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Russian President Vladimir Putin told a gathering in Vladivostok last week that his country had “not lost anything and will not lose anything.” He may be less certain of decisive victory today.
An offensive by Ukraine’s armed forces has made spectacular progress, retaking more than 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) of lost territory, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and reversing gains that took Russia months to achieve. Whatever happens next, there’s no question that the charge has been a major strategic and operational defeat for the Kremlin. Allied nations must help Ukraine make the most of it.
Much is still changing on the ground. But Ukraine’s victories in the northeast have stretched the Russian army thin and forced it back from key command points and supply depots, including the crucial logistics hub of Izyum. More troops will need to be pulled from other regions to replace exhausted local forces, leaving vulnerable spots that Ukraine is likely to exploit. The scale of the losses has prompted unusual dissent even among prominent pro-Kremlin voices. And then there’s the scramble to replace the huge amounts of weapons and equipment the retreating forces have left behind.
Such battlefield success should provide significant momentum and a much-needed morale boost for Ukrainian forces. Crucially, it has also demonstrated impressive military leadership, planning and the ability to use Western weapons and supplies to good effect, not only for defensive purposes but for offense — whether that’s US long-range rocket systems taking out ammunition dumps or the use of radar-targeting missiles to deter Russian air defenses.
This is the moment for the West to step up.
As a start, weapons deliveries need to accelerate. Washington last week announced an additional $675 million package of hardware, including ammunition for high mobility artillery rocket systems (or HIMARS), anti-armor mines, howitzers and more. Such supplies have proved highly effective. But munitions are being consumed at a staggering rate — Ukraine estimates daily expenditure of artillery rounds per gun at triple that recorded by the British Army’s artillery during World War I. Steady rearmament could well prove decisive in this conflict.
Next, the allies must continue to hold the line on trade and financial sanctions and close what enforcement loopholes remain. Europe has made admirable progress to prepare for a long winter without Russian energy, and much suffering may yet lie ahead. But Ukraine’s striking successes in recent days should help disgruntled publics see that their sacrifices aren’t in vain.
It’s certainly fair for Western countries to worry about these expenses and hardships. Yet helping Ukraine capitalize on its gains is manifestly in their best interests. Not only could it hasten negotiations to end the war, but it sends a powerful message to adversaries worldwide — not least China — about the West’s willingness to present a united front and endure significant costs to protect its way of life.
Of course, Putin isn’t defeated yet. The land that Ukraine has regained this month is only a fraction of what Russia occupies, and the Kremlin has other options, including assaulting power and water supplies, launching cyberattacks, or even accepting the risk of an air campaign. Russian forces will continue to threaten a disaster at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. And mass mobilization may still be in the cards — though it would effectively concede that Putin’s “special military operation” has so far failed.
However the conflict unfolds from here, it’s key to remember that any war ends at the negotiating table. The West should ensure that Ukraine is in a position of strength when it gets there.
— Bloomberg Opinion
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