A plan of attack for Ukraine 

Ukraine map getty ck

Moscow’s war on Ukraine is at an inflection point. 

Just when the world feared Ukraine was on the brink — and as aid from the U.S. stalled in Congress — Russia pulled out all the stops. Fortunately, it failed to get very far. Russia advanced marginally in eastern Ukraine but simultaneously experienced major setbacks by air and sea.

The question now is whether the fresh arrival of vital weapons and munitions will help turn the tide in this crucial conflict. 

Unpleasantly surprised by Washington’s $61 billion aid passage, Moscow doubled down on its year-long offensive in Kharkiv, on the reasonable assumption that Russian gains would very soon be harder to come by. Subjecting the city to a truly horrific bombardment, Russia pounded Kharkiv until the allies gave Ukraine a green light to use their weapons against targets inside Russia.

But  Washington put numerous restrictions on this long-overdue permission, including the refusal to let Kyiv use both the longer and shorter-range ATACMS. Still, this new freedom for Ukraine to strike and the renewed flow of American aid together mean more trouble ahead for Moscow.

So how can the U.S. and its allies take advantage of the current situation?  

This question has greater urgency because we are just weeks away from the Washington NATO summit and the 75th anniversary of the organization’s founding. It would constitute a major embarrassment if Russian forces were still advancing, if only by inches, as the alliance convened to celebrate its diamond jubilee. A new U.S.-NATO strategy is needed to augment renewed aid shipments, as Ukraine has a more than modest chance of turning this war around for good. 

Since the end of World War II and the creation of NATO, the U.S. has been not only the leader of the democratic world but often the initiator of its most important policies. But this pattern has not consistently held since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. While the Biden team deserves credit for taking the lead in framing the policy against Russia’s invasion, it has since proceeded with an overabundance of caution.  It is once again time for American leadership.  

We need to share the bullhorn with France, match the UK’s lead on targeting inside Russia, and push the Germans to mirror the rest of the top tier of allies by providing long-range missiles. We must ride herd on the whole of the alliance, while adjusting our own Ukraine strategy accordingly.

The president should start by making a high-profile address, drawing a line in the sand on his core theme:  saving democracy, fighting populism, keeping the Alliance vigorous and united, all aimed toward ensuring that Ukraine is victorious. Allies must draw a line in the sand at Kharkiv and Chasiv Yar: No more Avdiivka-style losses.

The administration did well getting the initial aid package to Ukraine pronto, but it must now overhaul both our political will and our own aid provision, while pushing certain allies for specific aid they have been either slow or unwilling to offer. In order to reverse conditions in Kharkiv, hold all lines, blunt the impact of Russian glide bombs and begin planning for a major counter offensive — led by the F-16 fighters beginning to arrive in theater — the following strategy must be U.S.-spearheaded.  

Western allies should swiftly heed their consultations with Ukraine in order to supply specific, vital weapons, including at least seven more Patriot missile defense batteries (President Biden promised five more batteries “relatively soon”), along with other systems such as the Samp-T; scores of more Storm Shadow / Scalp / ATACMS; and Germany’s Taurus missiles. In addition, allies must expedite training for Ukrainian pilots and send more F-16s (primarily from the U.S.) and third-generation fighters (from France, Sweden and the European Union), and send much more ammunition across the board.

More than anything else, the U.S. should lead by lifting all remaining restrictions on allowing Ukraine to use Western weapons on targets inside Russia by the end of June. This, plus additional de-mining and electronic warfare equipment, will prove essential for the success of the coming Ukrainian counter-offensives; if the weapons arrive in a timely fashion, these could begin ahead of schedule later this year. 

Biden should invite Chancellor Olaf Scholz for a full state visit in Washington, where the president can put the gentle squeeze on him for Taurus missiles. He could point out that we acceded to the Germans’ wish for Abrams tanks ahead of their Leopards; now we have led with long-range ATACMS, so now they need to do their part. We can sweeten the deal by dangling behind-the-scenes support to EU allies in favor of Ursula Von der Leyen in her worthy bid to again lead the EU. 

With the White House leading the way, our strategic aim must be to help Ukraine win. We can expedite this by helping Ukraine achieve reachable gains, such as cutting the land bridge connecting Russian-occupied Donbas to Crimea. This might well force Russian troops to evacuate the south mainland and raise greatly the costs of Moscow’s occupation of Crimea. 

This would be seen as a major blow to Vladimir Putin’s war effort and might well shake his regime even before the counter-offensives.  It would be a triumph of American national security policy, and a plus for the president heading into the election. It would also burnish American leadership.  

The stakes for the U.S. and our European allies could not be higher. The time to act is now. 

John Herbst is senior director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council and a former ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Jeffrey A. Stacey is a former official in the Obama administration and author of “Integrating Europe” and “Full Spectrum Warfare.” 

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