Bloomberg Editorial Board: Critical crossroads as Western resolve is tested by wavering support for Ukraine

In the face of mounting challenges, the unity that once characterised the West’s response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is showing signs of strain. Frustration over military setbacks and doubts about Ukraine’s battlefield prospects have led to hesitations in aid delivery. Yet, abandoning the effort now would compromise Western credibility and jeopardise the democracies supporting Ukraine. It’s crucial to acknowledge shortcomings, adapt strategies, and sustain long-term support, including providing weaponry, fostering defense-industrial capacities, and tightening sanctions against Russia. Failure is not an option in countering Putin’s unprovoked aggression and preserving global stability.

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Don’t Give In to Gloom About Ukraine: The Editorial Board

By The Editors*

Nearly two years ago, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine unified European nations, reinvigorated the trans-Atlantic alliance and forged a spirit of rare bipartisanship in Washington. Now that resolve is fraying. President Joe Biden’s administration and the European Union are struggling to deliver aid for Ukraine’s military and budget, with even some of the country’s staunchest supporters expressing doubts about its battlefield prospects and calling for negotiations to end the war.

This frustration is perhaps understandable, but it’s misguided. It ignores the enormous sacrifices Ukraine’s people have made to defend their freedom and push back against Russian aggression — and underestimates the ability of Ukraine’s military to regain the advantage, if given sufficient weaponry. Abandoning the war effort now would wreck the West’s credibility and ultimately endanger the democracies supporting Ukraine’s defense as much as Ukraine itself.

It’s true that Ukraine’s forces failed to advance this year as much as leaders inside and outside the country had hoped for. Russia’s defensive capabilities and willingness to absorb huge casualties have proved formidable. And while there is much finger-pointing between Ukraine and the West about tactics and decision-making, the supply of weaponry was too little and too late to match the ambitions of the counteroffensive.

Acknowledging these shortcomings is very different from defeatism. The answer isn’t to do less. Putin shows no interest in negotiations or any history of abiding by agreements he’s made. He has every reason to wait for US and European resolve to collapse so that he can complete his objective of subjugating Ukraine. In this war of attrition, the West must adapt its response to provide more sustainable support over the long term.

What should that entail? In the coming months, providing additional ammunition, long-range missiles, air-defense systems, drones and fighter aircraft will remain essential. Without the continued flow of Western arms, Ukraine will be unable to hold onto the territory it controls, let alone seize more. At the same time, the US and Europe should ramp up Ukraine’s own ability to produce weapons by providing incentives for joint ventures with Ukrainian defense companies to build drone factories, anti-mining equipment and other defense-industrial capacities.

Ukraine also needs renewed budgetary support, which should be tied to continued demands on Ukraine’s government for transparency and reform. The EU’s decision to start the long process of membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova sends the right message of commitment. Meanwhile, the West should tighten sanctions against Russia and build better enforcement mechanisms to strengthen the price cap on Russian oil and block the Kremlin’s ability to import dual-use technologies. While Russia’s economy has found ways to adapt, sanctions are necessary to maintain pressure on Putin and send a signal of solidarity.

Democratic leaders must also do a better job of communicating at home. It bears repeating that Putin’s invasion is a wholly unprovoked war in which the intention is conquest, prosecuted through deliberate attacks on civilian centers and chillingly documented war crimes. Supporting Ukraine has come remarkably cheap for Western militaries and is providing a boon for US and European defense firms.

It’s impossible to predict when and how the war will end. But defeat would carry steep strategic costs, damage global food and energy security, and embolden Putin to go further. However daunting the challenges faced by Ukraine and its partners in the year ahead, failure isn’t an option.

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*Editors: Therese Raphael, Romesh Ratnesar.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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