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Putin’s historic mistake in Ukraine has weakened global perceptions of Russian power while forcing Russia to fight a full-scale war it cannot win.

To be clear: Russia is losing the war it started against Ukraine thanks to military support from the West. Now, NATO should provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with the offensive firepower and air defense Ukraine needs to end it.

Apart from general mobilization or the nuclear option, Russia has run out of cards to play in Ukraine. Diplomatically, Russia is isolated even among its regional allies. Economically, Russia is the most sanctioned country on Earth. Militarily, Russia has failed to achieve all of its stated objectives. Given its failures on the battlefield, Russia has increased its attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure – the electrical grid and water distribution system – with the aim of punishing civilians, exhausting Ukrainian resolve, and weakening public support for the war.

Russia’s strategy of inflicting collective punishment on Ukraine is doomed to fail. There is no historical precedent where citizens pressured their government to sue for peace because an invading army was conducting aerial bombardments against civilian targets. During The Blitz, Britain’s resolve was strengthened by Nazi Germany’s relentless bombing of London that killed more than 40 000 civilians. During the Bombing of Tokyo, Japan continued resisting despite the U.S. firebombing the city and killing more than 80 000 civilians. Similarly, the majority of Ukrainians support the war effort and reject negotiating with Russia. A cold winter is a pain they are willing to endure in solidarity with the Ukrainian Armed Forces fighting to liberate the occupied territories and defeat the oppressor.

Millions of Ukrainians are without electricity, heating or running water in the middle of winter because of Russia’s terror bombingMaintenance crews work around the clock to restore Ukraine’s electrical grid between Russia’s missile barrages. Doctors in Lviv and Kyiv are forced to perform complicated surgeries with only headlights to guide them. Residents of apartment buildings leave food supplies and hygiene kits in elevators for their neighbors who get trapped during the power outages. The situation is unbearable for civilians residing in the free cities of Ukraine. 


Nevertheless, circumstances are exponentially worse for soldiers on the frontline in towns like Bakhmut. There, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are fighting in trench warfare conditions reminiscent of World War 1 – except with deadlier weaponry and more sophisticated technology. Despite the difficulties faced and the sacrifices made by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Ukraine has been the recipient of generous military assistance packages from NATO.

Russia’s estimated losses as of December 3, 2022 include roughly 90,600 military personnel, 2,917 tanks, 5, 886 armored combat vehicles, 1,906 artillery systems, 280 fixed-wing aircraft, and 210 air defense systems. As brilliantly argued by Timothy Ash, it has only cost the U.S. 5.6% of its annual military budget to decimate Russia’s conventional armed forces. This pales compared to the trillions of dollars in military expenditures that the U.S. has invested to deal with Russia over the last 8 decades.

Evidently, NATO military assistance has altered the course of the war in favor of Ukraine.

In April 2022, Ukraine won the Battle of Kyiv. Then, Ukraine ended the Siege of Chernihiv, won the Battle of Sumy, and sunk the Moskva – the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet. In May 2022, Ukraine won the Battle of Kharkiv. In September 2022, Ukraine launched a counteroffensive and liberated more than 6000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory in the Kharkiv Oblast. In November 2022, Ukraine liberated the city of Kherson after 8 months of occupation. Although NATO military support has enabled Ukraine to liberate its occupied territories, the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not have the military superiority required to end the war.

To help Kyiv end the war, NATO should improve the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ offensive firepower. 


First, the U.S. should provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with ATACMS. These long-range surface-to-surface missiles with a range of 190 miles would enable Ukraine to reach high-value military targets and logistics centers in Russia and Crimea while avoiding a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.

Second, Washington and its allies should increase artillery shell production capacity to wartime levels. While Ukraine was firing 6,000 to 7,000 artillery rounds per day in Donbas last summer, Russia was firing a whopping 40,000 to 50,000The U.S. only produces 15,000 artillery rounds per monthU.S. artillery stockpiles are running low because of ammunition transfers to Ukraine.

Nevertheless, there are still viable supplies available elsewhere. For example, the U.S. could negotiate an armaments transfer where Cyprus sends its Soviet equipment to Ukraine in exchange for NATO standard equipment. A U.S. brokered Cyprus-Ukraine equipment transfer could also bolster Ukraine’s air defense – its greatest vulnerability.

Helping Ukraine protect its skies is crucial for ending the war. A NATO-imposed no-fly zone over Ukraine is a non-starter for the West. Even so, there are alternate ways of improving Ukraine’s air defense and protecting its critical infrastructure from Russia’s terror bombing. For instance, Germany could agree to Poland’s proposal to move German Patriot Batteries to Ukraine. In addition, the U.S. could greenlight Poland’s offer to transfer its MiG-29 planes to Ukraine. While there is no shortage of choices at NATO’s disposal, these options are low-hanging fruit.

In the timeless words of Garry Kasparov, you cannot escalate self-defense. Russia is losing the war it started against Kyiv thanks to military support from the West. Now, NATO should provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with the offensive firepower and air defense Kyiv needs to end it. Ukraine has already accomplished more with less.

Originally published by 19FortyFive on December 3, 2023.

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