Here's What Else the U.S. Can Do for Ukraine
Send tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft systems, helicopters and perhaps U.S. military advisers, for Ukrainians are fighting on behalf of all of us
Ukraine’s apparent sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, is a huge setback for Russia, a tremendous gain for civilization, and a moment for all of us to ponder next steps.
This may be the most important naval loss since World War II, for the Moskva was a 611-foot long ship with a crucial mission. It was three feet longer than the General Belgrano, the Argentine ship famously sunk by Britain during the Falklands War in 1982. The Moskva provided air defense to the rest of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and its loss will make it more difficult for Russia to seize Odessa or other Ukrainian cities on the coast; the sinking also leaves Russia’s other vessels more vulnerable.
The sinking of the Moskva underscores what a public service Ukraine is doing for the rest of the world, and why the United States and other countries should do even more to help Kyiv. Traditionally, the way the United States competed with Russian militarily was by spending additional tens of billions of dollars a year, but now for much modest sums the Ukrainian military is inflicting devastating damage on Russia’s military capacity.
A new single guided missile cruiser like the Moskva would cost close to $1 billion in the United States (it would be a much better ship). Replacing the Moskva won’t cost Russia anything near that much, but it will still be a burden — and in the meantime, its Navy will be weakened.
Ukraine is also suffering setbacks — Russia seems close to an important final victory over Mariupol — but it’s noteworthy that Ukraine has also been destroying and seizing Russian tanks and artillery pieces, to the extent that Ukraine may now have more tanks than when it started the war. Ukraine has been shooting down Russia’s Su-34 fighter planes, significantly degrading its air force.
Russia will be far less able to mount an assault on, say, Estonia or Latvia than it would have been a couple of months ago, and the beating it is taking may also traumatize the Russian general staff the way Vietnam traumatized American military officers. The upshot may be a Russia that is less adventurous and less inclined to bully neighbors from Georgia to Moldova, let alone wade into Syria or NATO territory.
Ukraine’s bold showing, and the international support for Ukraine, may also make China think twice or thrice before taking military steps against Taiwan. Any reduction in the risk of a U.S.-China war over Taiwan is a tremendous gain.
So we should be supporting weapons transfers to Ukraine not only because that’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s a cost-effective way to degrade Russia’s military capabilities and thus a way of making peace more likely in the coming years.
The Biden administration has in general done an excellent job, I believe, of providing weapons and support to Ukraine without taking steps (such as a no-fly zone) that would risk escalation. I continue to worry about Russia using chemical weapons or even a tactical nuclear weapon, and I’m glad President Biden is concerned about escalation and trying to reduce that risk.
Yet given the stakes, I think we can still do more. Mike McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, argued in The Washington Post:
The flat and empty steppes of the east will make it harder for the Ukrainians to use the hit-and-run tactics that have served them so well until now. Now they have an urgent need for tanks, including first and foremost Soviet-era T-72s (which can be supplied by several of NATO’s former Warsaw Pact member countries), as well as other armored vehicles. They also need long-range artillery amply provided with 152-millimeter and 155-millimeter shells, multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), air defense systems such as S-300s, anti-ship missiles to defend coastline cities and MiG-29 fighter aircraft. After six weeks of fighting, Ukraine also needs replenishment of every sort of equipment — from helmets to bullets.
I would add that the U.S. can also provide drones of every kind and long-range anti-ship missiles, as well as with Soviet bloc Mi-17 helicopters that Ukrainian pilots know how to fly. The U.S. is sending these weapons (we have sent 16 of the helicopters that I know of, and that’s terrific), but we can send more and better weaponry.
We can also begin training Ukrainians in using American anti-aircraft systems, helicopters and other advanced weaponry. It’s true that this training takes time and these weapons systems raise complex issues of logistics and spare parts, but it would be helpful for Russia to know that the longer this war goes on the better Ukraine’s weaponry will get.
Admiral James Stavridis tweeted this suggestion:
(I’m wary of Admiral Stavridis’s suggestion to use offensive cyber, because of our own vulnerability when Russia retaliates, but I’m with him on his other suggestions.)
Supplying more hardware to Ukraine is not risk-free, of course. Russia has protested the supply of weapons, and it might target supply convoys or — by accident or on purpose — strike supply lines on NATO territory in Poland. That would be a major escalation that would risk a NATO-Russian war. But the risk seems worth it to me, and the alternative of allowing Ukraine to be defeated is also enormously risky.
Let’s also make sure that we’re fully supporting Ukraine with intelligence, including real-time targeting information.
Eliot Cohen, a veteran military strategist, goes further in an article in the Atlantic. He notes that Russia had military advisers in North Vietnam, so why not send some American military advisers into Ukraine? And in World War II, American pilots known as the Flying Tigers, not officially part of the U.S. Air Force, flew missions in China against Japan; might something like that be possible today? I tend to think that a small number of advisers on the ground is doable but that a 2022 version of the Flying Tigers is not, but it’s a discussion worth having.
The United States can also do more diplomatically. The U.S. can reopen the American Embassy in Kyiv, and it can send Vice President Harris or Secretary of State Blinken to Kyiv.
The Secret Service would be horrified, but President Biden should also consider a meeting with President Zelensky on Ukrainian territory. If Kyiv appears too dangerous, the meeting could be held in Lviv (a short drive from Poland) or Chernivtsy (a short drive from Romania) and only publicized after it is over and Biden is out of Ukraine. Such a meeting would send an important signal of support the the valiant Ukrainian people.
The bottom line is that Ukraine has done astonishingly well so far, but the war isn’t over and the likely loss of Mariupol will be a setback. If Putin manages to defeat Ukraine in the Donbass, that will be a failure not just for the Ukrainian people but for peace worldwide. We should make sure that when historians look back, they will say that we did everything we could to ensure that the outgunned, outnumbered forces of Ukraine had every chance — for they are fighting on behalf of all of us.