It took two months and thousands of unnecessary civilian deaths, but it appears President Biden has finally gotten over his pathological fear of “provoking” Russia and is providing Ukraine with the weapons it needs.
With the shift in armaments has come an apparent shift in objectives. Before, no one in the Biden administration talked about victory in Ukraine. Now, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the goal in Ukraine is not just to “help them win,” but to help Ukraine so decimate Russia’s military that it can no longer threaten its neighbors. “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Austin said.
Finally, they get it. But now the administration’s slow learners need to understand something else: They own this war. Yes, this is a critical moment for Ukraine. But it is also a critical moment for Biden — because the fate of Ukraine and the fate of his presidency are inextricably linked.
When the United States offered to help Zelensky escape his besieged capital two months ago, the Ukrainian leader reportedly replied that he needed “ammunition, not a ride.” Americans were awed — and inspired. We became invested in Ukraine’s struggle. In neighborhoods across America, people with no connection to Ukraine began flying its blue-and-yellow flag from their homes. When we woke up each morning, the first thing we did was to check to see if Kyiv was still standing. We all hoped the Ukrainians would hold out, but the experts told us the Russian military was just too powerful. It was only a matter of time.
Then something amazing happened: Kyiv didn’t fall. The Ukrainians made up for the paucity of U.S. military aid with grit and determination, and against all odds they repelled the Russian invaders. And with their victory, Americans’ expectations changed. We now know that Ukraine can defeat Russia — so long we give them the support they need to prevail.
That raises the stakes for Biden. Because if Americans now start to see images of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine marching into conquered cities for the first time, no one is going to believe it’s because the Ukrainians do not have the will to fight — or that the Russian military is simply too powerful. It will be because Biden did not do enough to help. It will be because of the months of delays in providing Ukraine with the heavy weapons that Zelensky implored us to provide. It will be because, for too long, Biden did not believe victory was possible — and so did not provide Ukraine with the weapons that would make victory possible.
A U.S. military official tells The Post that the Ukrainians “definitely stand a fighting chance” in eastern Ukraine — but that chance depends on promptly providing the weapons they need. We are now providing them with American howitzers (which have triple the range of the Soviet-era artillery NATO had thus far been providing); advanced counter-artillery radar that can detect and track incoming Russian artillery and take it out at the point of origin; and the Air Force’s new Phoenix Ghost drones, which have a greater range and payload than the Switchblade drones Biden boasted of providing them just last month.
We should have been giving them these weapons weeks ago. Training Ukrainians to use advanced U.S. weapons takes time — which means that every day Biden wasted not providing them has put Ukraine at a disadvantage. The Post reports that these armaments are “being rushed to Ukraine before tens of thousands of troops, amounting to up to half of the Ukrainian army, are caught in what is known as a ‘double envelopment’ maneuver that would bring them under simultaneous attack from two sides.” We are now in a race against time of the president’s own making to get these weapons to Ukraine’s military before Russian forces encircle and destroy them.
If Putin succeeds in conquering eastern Ukraine, he could then turn his attention back to the center of the country — and eventually Kyiv. We must not allow him to do so. We must help Zelensky defeat Putin in eastern Ukraine and drive every Russian soldier out of every inch of Ukrainian territory they have unlawfully taken.
If Biden helps Ukrainians do so, however belatedly, he will deserve the credit. But if Russia wins in eastern Ukraine, he will deserve the blame. It is Biden’s war now. He’d better win it.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.
Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.
Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.