Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state from 2005 to 2009. Robert M. Gates was secretary of defense from 2006 to 2011.
Both of us have dealt with Putin on a number of occasions, and we are convinced he believes time is on his side: that he can wear down the Ukrainians and that U.S. and European unity and support for Ukraine will eventually erode and fracture. To be sure, the Russian economy and people will suffer as the war continues, but Russians have endured far worse.
For Putin, defeat is not an option. He cannot cede to Ukraine the four eastern provinces he has declared part of Russia. If he cannot be militarily successful this year, he must retain control of positions in eastern and southern Ukraine that provide future jumping-off points for renewed offensives to take the rest of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, control the entire Donbas region and then move west. Eight years separated Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its invasion nearly a year ago. Count on Putin to be patient to achieve his destiny.
Meanwhile, although Ukraine’s response to the invasion has been heroic and its military has performed brilliantly, the country’s economy is in a shambles, millions of its people have fled, its infrastructure is being destroyed, and much of its mineral wealth, industrial capacity and considerable agricultural land are under Russian control. Ukraine’s military capability and economy are now dependent almost entirely on lifelines from the West — primarily, the United States. Absent another major Ukrainian breakthrough and success against Russian forces, Western pressures on Ukraine to negotiate a cease-fire will grow as months of military stalemate pass. Under current circumstances, any negotiated cease-fire would leave Russian forces in a strong position to resume their invasion whenever they are ready. That is unacceptable.
Opinion writers on the war in Ukraine
The only way to avoid such a scenario is for the United States and its allies to urgently provide Ukraine with a dramatic increase in military supplies and capability — sufficient to deter a renewed Russian offensive and to enable Ukraine to push back Russian forces in the east and south. Congress has provided enough money to pay for such reinforcement; what is needed now are decisions by the United States and its allies to provide the Ukrainians the additional military equipment they need — above all, mobile armor. The U.S. agreement Thursday to provide Bradley Fighting Vehicles is commendable, if overdue. Because there are serious logistical challenges associated with sending American Abrams heavy tanks, Germany and other allies should fill this need. NATO members also should provide the Ukrainians with longer-range missiles, advanced drones, significant ammunition stocks (including artillery shells), more reconnaissance and surveillance capability, and other equipment. These capabilities are needed in weeks, not months.
Increasingly, members of Congress and others in our public discourse ask, “Why should we care? This is not our fight.” But the United States has learned the hard way — in 1914, 1941 and 2001 — that unprovoked aggression and attacks on the rule of law and the international order cannot be ignored. Eventually, our security was threatened and we were pulled into conflict. This time, the economies of the world — ours included — are already seeing the inflationary impact and the drag on growth caused by Putin’s single-minded aggression. It is better to stop him now, before more is demanded of the United States and NATO as a whole. We have a determined partner in Ukraine that is willing to bear the consequences of war so that we do not have to do so ourselves in the future.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech before Congress last month reminded us of Winston Churchill’s plea in February 1941: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” We agree with the Biden administration’s determination to avoid direct confrontation with Russia. However, an emboldened Putin might not give us that choice. The way to avoid confrontation with Russia in the future is to help Ukraine push back the invader now. That is the lesson of history that should guide us, and it lends urgency to the actions that must be taken — before it is too late.