WAlthough Russian forces in Ukraine have been met with stiff resistance, President Vladimir Putin has launched a lengthy and violent military campaign to try and turn the tide. But if the United States and its Western partners can ramp up—and sustain—military assistance to Ukraine for the long term, Moscow may eventually lose the war—a virtually unthinkable outcome several weeks ago. Although diplomatic and economic measures are essential, the key to success is military aid.
The Russian military is facing what Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong called a “people’s war.” As Mao wrote in his book Protracted War, “the richest source of power to wage war lies in the masses of the people.” Mao argued that in a well-organized resistance effort, the invading force “will be surrounded by hundreds of millions of our people standing upright … and he will be burned to death.” While Mao was referring to China’s war against invading Japanese forces in the 1930s, he could easily have been describing Ukraine.
Russian forces faced strong resistance from traditional Ukrainian forces, and an army that was opposed to it. U.S. estimates that the Russian military suffered 10,000 to 15,000 deaths and between 30,000 to 40,000 casualties from Ukrainian forces (which includes wounded, killed and missing soldiers), have been corroborated by NATO and U.S. estimates. These losses include the use of Stinger anti-aircraft and Javelin anti tank systems and Bayraktar TB2 unmanned drones and many other lethal weapons, systems and weapons, most of which were sent by the West.
Putin is still committed to the wage of a scorched earth campaign against Ukraine. Numerous cities were destroyed by the Russian military, including artillery bars, unguided and guided missiles shot from an aircraft and long-range cruise missiles launched from naval ships. Putin is attempting to turn the tide of the war in Moscow’s favor, as he did in Syria in 2015 and Chechnya in 1999—despite inauspicious starts.
In both instances, the Russian military won. Moscow gained from both successful interdiction efforts that stopped weapons and material flowing to rebel fighters, the cowed population and information operations that were well-suited to a brutal military campaign. However, Moscow is not able to meet all these requirements today in Ukraine.
Russian forces have failed to stop the flow of weaponry and materials into Ukraine, intimidate Ukrainians and are losing the information war. Putin now has much to lose in Ukraine—including his legacy—if he fails to turn the tide of the war. So much is now at stake for Putin—with his military suffering staggering casualties, his economy in shambles, and his country increasingly isolated from the West—that he is likely to continue to escalate the war.
Moscow may lose the war against Russia if Washington and its Western allies are able increase the supply of weapons to Ukraine. Only if Ukraine has the capability to defeat the Russian military on-the battlefield, will economic and diplomatic efforts be successful.
The Ukrainian military’s stockpiles have repeatedly run low—and will continue to do so over the course of the war. “We didn’t have enough in the first place,” said Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.K., in late March. “Running out of weaponry will be seen in the week to come.”
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For Ukraine to stop Russian forces from seizing territory and holding it, they need sustained U.S.- and Western support. It is crucial to maintain territorial control. Russian forces were repelled by Ukrainian forces around Kyiv and Kharkiv. The Russians only have limited territories in the northern and eastern parts of Ukraine. They also captured territory around Donetsk and Mariupol. The West is providing military assistance to Ukraine in order to push back the Russian troops on the battlefield, and raise Russian blood and treasure costs.
Anti-tank weapons, anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air ballistic missile systems are just a few of the weapons and systems Ukraine requires. Additional S-300 long-range, surface-to-air, missile systems could be supplied by Greece, Slovakia and Bulgaria to help Ukraine target Russian planes. If Russia escalates the conflict, NATO and USA should provide additional fighter planes and attack helicopters as well as other platforms.
The ideal country for supporting a campaign against Russian troops is Ukraine. Ukraine is located 716 miles from Poland, Slovakia Hungary, Hungary and Romania. This border allows the West to continue to import weapons and other materials. Russia lacks the ground forces to effectively interdict this pipeline, and Moscow’s pinprick missile strikes in western Ukraine have failed to stop the flow.
The worst is likely to yet come. It is important for the U.S. to be prepared for Russian escalation. This includes more strikes on supply lines in west Ukraine, the targeting of civilian population, chemical weapons, other weapons of destruction and attacks against countries such as Poland, which are crucial to the weapons pipeline. But the U.S. and its partners can’t be intimidated by any of Putin’s actions and slow down the flow of weapons and material.
The U.S. should increase sanctions on Russia to complement its military effort and maintain political isolation of Moscow. In addition, the U.S. and its Western partners should increase efforts to break through the digital Iron Curtain so that Russia’s population knows the extent of the military, economic, and political damage caused by Putin. These are all important steps.
However, the key to preventing the Russian military capturing and holding the ground is to stop them. Moscow losing the war will make it weaker economically, politically and militarily, which could shift the global power balance in the favor of America and its democratic allies. It would represent a major victory for human rights and freedom.
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