William B. Taylor is vice president for Russia and Europe at the United States Institute of Peace and a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. David J. Kramer is executive director of the George W. Bush Institute and a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and Labor in the George W. Bush administration.
The Russian military is losing on the battlefields of Ukraine, so Moscow is trying to freeze Ukrainians into submission. We cannot let them.
Over the past nine months the Ukrainian military has defeated the Russian army in the battles of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson. Ukrainian forces continue to drive the Russians back toward their own borders. Russian morale is dropping as soldiers — including many of the several hundreds of thousands recently mobilized — refuse to fight, potential draftees flee the country, and others simply surrender. The Kremlin is desperately seeking negotiations out of weakness (and some in the West are unhelpfully pushing for compromise at Ukraine’s expense). The Ukrainians will negotiate when the Russians are out of their country.
The only Russian weapons that work for them are cruise missiles, imported Iranian drones, artillery, ballistic missiles and bombs dropped by aircraft. Moscow is aiming at civilian targets, intentionally concentrating on energy infrastructure — the pipes and wires that bring heat, electricity, internet and water to the Ukrainian people. These attacks threaten to bring brutal cold and thirst as winter ushers in months of subzero temperatures. This further enrages the Ukrainians and deepens their determination to defeat the Russians, but the attacks will put millions at risk and could cause thousands of deaths.
These actions, intended to freeze a civilian population to death until they surrender, are the definition of a terrorist, genocidal regime: amoral, criminal, barbaric. Last week’s NATO meeting committed to respond, and the United States should lead a humanitarian operation to help Ukrainians survive. In addition to providing Ukraine with missile defense, anti-drone, and antiaircraft systems, the United States should organize and lead a major public and private, international humanitarian effort to help the Ukrainian people make it through the winter. We should send massive numbers of portable generators, fuel, repair parts for electricity generation and distribution nodes, blankets, winter clothes, camp stoves, plastic sheeting, building repair supplies, internet connection devices, other communication networks, and food. We should send these supplies by rail, road, sea and air.
We have done this before. In 1948 the Soviets blocked roads, railways and canals into West Berlin, cutting off food, coal and electricity. The United States and Britain mounted a massive humanitarian airlift that lasted 18 months. At the peak, one plane landed every 45 seconds at West Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport. When the Soviets finally concluded that we were determined to save the West Berliners, they backed down and lifted the blockade.
Opinion writers on the war in Ukraine
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the United States organized military humanitarian airlifts to all 15 components of the dissolving U.S.S.R., including Russia. In 2008, we sent humanitarian supplies to Georgia on military aircraft in the face of the Russian invasion of that country. We also flew Georgian troops who had been stationed in Iraq back to Georgia on U.S. military planes to help with their country’s defense. The Russians did not interfere.
While the United States and its allies must continue to provide Ukraine with the military assistance it needs to win the war, the assistance being proposed here is civilian in nature, and literally lifesaving in many cases. The Ukrainians are facing a dire situation, and time is of the essence. We should contract with airlines, shipping companies and trucking firms. We could publish the flight and shipping schedules to provide full transparency.
As the United States has done by warning of “catastrophic consequences” if the Russians should use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, we should make it clear to the Russians that they would pay a steep price for any attacks on humanitarian deliveries to Ukraine. U.S. military escorts may be necessary to open the path for civilian humanitarian assistance. To be clear, this is not a call for direct confrontation between Russia and the United States. Instead, it is a desperate plea to save the lives of countless Ukrainians who, without this aid, will otherwise die while we stand by.
President Biden, NATO and the Group of Seven nations have said that we will stand with Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” This should include as much as it takes to allow Ukrainians to live though the winter.
This is not the first time Ukraine has suffered an attempted genocide at the hands of Moscow. Joseph Stalin engineered a famine that killed some 4 million Ukrainians in 1932-33 in what the Ukrainians call the Holodomor — death by starvation. The world did nothing. The West did little to stop the Holocaust in World War II, little to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and virtually nothing as hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed — with Vladimir Putin’s assistance. We cannot look away again. Never again must mean never again. We must act. Now.
War in Ukraine: What you need to know
The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.
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.