Opinion | Give Ukraine the Weapons It Needs

Opinion | Give Ukraine the Weapons It Needs

Ukrainian troops use advanced High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to attack Russian targets in Oblast, Ukraine, July 4.


Cover Images/Zuma Press

As Russia closes in on full control of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, the debate about the war’s future course is intensifying. Optimists believe that a fully equipped Ukrainian army could halt Russia’s advance and drive its army back to the pre-Feb. 24 line of demarcation.

Kori Schake,

director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says that Ukraine can win the war if the U.S. accelerates its efforts to get them what they need. “We just need to slam the gas pedal on the floor and help them succeed as fast as possible.” Pessimists believe that even if the Ukrainians get everything they’ve requested, they won’t be able to dislodge the Russians from the territory they have won. This debate is largely irrelevant, because no one really knows how much more success Ukraine would have if it had all the weapons it wanted.

In the first stage of the war, Ukraine’s ability to thwart Russia’s strike on Kyiv and Kharkiv surprised many experts. In the second stage, Russia’s ability to regroup and execute a more focused offense defied the predictions of observers who thought that its early losses of men, materiel and morale had dealt the invasion a fatal blow. Recent Russian successes, capped by the surrender of Lysychansk, are tempting policy analysts and political leaders to lurch from the premature exuberance of the war’s early weeks to exaggerated gloom today.

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These mood swings should not affect U.S. foreign policy. A Ukrainian counteroffensive may fail, but if we withhold what the Ukrainians need to have a chance of succeeding, we will ensure that they fail. And if they fail, there is no reason to believe that

Vladimir Putin,

who sees himself as a 21st-century Peter the Great, will stop in Ukraine. As Mr. Putin once instructed a group of geography students, “The borders of Russia do not end.”

The U.S. owes President

Volodymyr Zelensky’s

government a chance to win this war, on which Ukraine’s survival and the West’s security depend. We must give the Ukrainians what they need, when they need it.

Mr. Zelensky believes that delaying a counteroffensive until 2023 would be a costly mistake, and he is right. If Russia pauses its offensive at the end of the summer, as many military experts believe it must to resupply its forces and harden its defensive positions, it would be much harder for Ukraine to regain lost territory. A long cold winter would endanger Ukraine’s supply lines, and limited energy supplies could weaken Europe’s resolve to stand by Ukraine, strengthening those who want the Ukrainians to concede territory for a peace that might not last. As

Jake Sullivan,

President Biden’s national security adviser, summarized his conversations with Mr. Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader “was very much focused on trying to ensure that Ukraine is in as advantageous a position on the battlefield in the next months as opposed to the next years.” According to a French official, Mr. Zelensky told the Group of Seven that “Ukraine will negotiate when it is in a position to, that’s to say, when it will have re-established a strong position.”

To have the best chance of carrying out a successful counteroffensive, Ukraine will need to neutralize Russia’s advantage in long-range artillery, which it has used to devastating effect in the Donbas region. The Himars multiple-rocket mobile launch system is the best option. The U.S. has already sent Ukraine four of these systems, with another four on the way. Early battlefield reports suggest that Ukrainians have proved to be apt students and are using Himars to great effect. We should send Ukraine another 50 systems as soon as possible, while expanding and accelerating the training needed to operate this sophisticated equipment. (Some experts argue that a shortage of appropriate rockets would limit the utility of the additional Himars, at least in the short term.)

In addition, we should send the Ukrainian army advanced drones to bolster its intelligence gathering and its ability to attack Russian command centers. America should intensify its efforts to refill Ukraine’s stocks of ammunition and artillery shells that have been depleted by months of intense fighting. Working with our allies, the U.S. should give Mr. Zelensky’s government the estimated $5 billion a month that his government will need to maintain basic services during the economic collapse the invasion has created.

According to a recent report from the Atlantic Council, “the race to resupply will be critical for both sides.” The U.S. and its allies must make sure that Ukraine doesn’t lose this race. Mr. Biden must end his cautious approach, which has shaped the flow of equipment to Ukraine thus far, and give Mr. Zelensky the means to mount an effective counteroffensive this fall.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews military analyst Seth Jones. Images: AP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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