Friday, April 19

Yes, Ukraine needs weapons. But what if supplying them could prove catastrophic? | Rajan Menon

The United States and some of its Nato allies – Britain, Poland and the Baltic trio – have been the most vigorous in insisting that Ukraine must, for moral and strategic reasons, receive the weapons it needs to fight Russian aggression.

The moral case, strengthened by Ukrainians’ valiant resistance and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Churchillian wartime leadership, is that Ukraine is the victim, Russia the aggressor.

Ultimately, even Germany, which had been reluctant to arm Ukraine, was persuaded by this portrayal. It felt Ukraine 1,000 anti-tank and 500 anti-aircraft missiles and changed its policy prohibiting other members of the alliance from transferring German-made weapons to Ukraine.

By now, Ukraine is receiving arms and equipment from many other countriessome of whom aren’t in Nato.

The gist of the strategic case is that failing to resist aggression invites more of it. Poland and the Baltic states have a particularly strong stake in driving this point home, as a glance at a map of east-central Europe makes evident: if Ukraine comes under Russia’s sway, they will be vulnerable.

The United States has been arming Ukraine and training its troops since 2015 and provided it $1.5bn in military support even before the war. With Ukraine now fighting for survival, there is strong, bipartisan support in Congress for extending even more help. On 11 March the Senate approved a spending bill, passed earlier by the House of Representatives, containing the $3.5bn in military aid for Ukraine requested by President Joe Biden.

The White House had taken bold steps even earlier. Two days after the Russian invasion the president authorized $350m in emergency military assistance to Ukraine. By early March the US had arranged for 17,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles to reach Poland and Romania for overland delivery to Ukraine.

Also Read  Studying health inequalities has been my life's work. What's about to happen in the UK is unprecedented | Michael Marmot

Confidence runs high that with more firepower Ukraine will, at minimum, blunt the Russian offensive and be in a strong position whenever the bargaining over the terms for ending the war begins.

Those who believe this can point to compelling evidence: western training and weaponry have unquestionably helped Ukraine destroy a lot of Russian armor and aircraft.

Hence their confidence that more Javelins will improve Ukraine’s ability to destroy Russia’s tanks, that additional Stinger anti-aircraft missiles will cause even more Russian warplanes to fall from the skies, and that counter-battery radars will locate and demolish deadly Russian artillery.

Yet amid the moral outrage and depth of animosity toward Putin, the risks of pouring arms into Ukraine should be considered carefully and dispassionately.

Providing Ukraine even more arms may well produce the results its proponents anticipate. It could, on the other hand, impel Russian commanders to subject Ukrainians to even greater pain. They have already experienced enormous suffering because Russia, as the Office of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) has noted, routinely hits civilian buildings.

If the war becomes even more brutal, Ukraine may keep resisting, but then the number of Ukrainians seeking refuge in other countries, now 2.6 million (the largest proportion is in Poland), will dream.

With Warsaw and Krakow, its two largest cities, overwhelmed by the influx, Poland has already appealed for help. A continuing exodus from Ukraine could strain the economies and social fabric of its neighbors, especially if the war drags on, preventing refugees from returning home.

Also Read  the picaresque hidden behind solidarity with refugees

Furthermore, Russia may not stand by, allowing the West to fortify Ukraine’s army. Putin might order his generals to bomb the supply routes from Poland and Romania, the Nato countries that have the longest borders with Ukraine.

On 11 March, after not having bombed them since 24 February, the day the war started, Russian aircraft took aim at military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine. Lutsk lies about 60 miles from Poland’s border, in Volyn province, which adjoins it. The city of Ivano-Frankivsk is located north of the Romania’s border, and the eponymous province of which it is part adjoins Romania. On 13 March, a barrage of Russian cruise missiles hit the Yavoriv military base, which is in Lviv province and less than 30 miles from the Polish border.

These attacks are a signal from Putin that he won’t stand by while the west beefs up Ukraine’s army, which has already provided a tougher nut to crack than he anticipated, and were accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov’s warning to the United State that Russia would regard arms “convoys” into Ukraine as “legitimate targets”.

The United States and its allies may face unexpected countermoves from Russia and what they do in response could widen the war if Putin, in turn, raises the stakes. If the tit-for-tat spills over into Poland or Romania, whether intentionally or not, the stage could be set for a Nato-Russia confrontation, with nuclear weapons lurking in the background. Some experts are confident that arming Ukraine won’t widen the war, but if they’re wrong the consequences could prove catastrophic.

Also Read  Gragera threatens the socialist Pedro Miranda with denouncing him for slander in plenary

And what if Ukraine starts losing? Will Nato cut his losses, thereby emboldening Putin? Or will it up the ante, risking a clash with Russia?

None of these scenarios may materialize. Putin may prove prudent and risk averse. Then again, this war has shredded many assumptions that prevailed before it began.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *