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Opinion Time is not on Ukraine’s side

A destroyed bridge across the Siverskyi Donets River near the village of Bohorodychne, Ukraine, on Friday. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state from 2005 to 2009. Robert M. Gates was secretary of defense from 2006 to 2011.

When it comes to the war in Ukraine, about the only thing that’s certain right now is that the fighting and destruction will continue.

Vladimir Putin remains fully committed to bringing all of Ukraine back under Russian control or — failing that — destroying it as a viable country. He believes it is his historical destiny — his messianic mission — to reestablish the Russian Empire and, as Zbigniew Brzezinski observed years ago, there can be no Russian Empire without Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Biden shared their hopes for peace between Russia and Ukraine in a news conference on Dec. 21. (Video: The Washington Post)

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.

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Opinion writers on the war in Ukraine
Post Opinions provides commentary on the war in Ukraine from columnists with expertise in foreign policy, voices on the ground in Ukraine and more.
Columnist David Ignatius covers foreign affairs. His columns have broken news on new developments around the war. He also answers questions from readers. Sign up to follow him.
Iuliia Mendel, a former press secretary for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, writes guest opinions from inside Ukraine. She has written about trauma, Ukraine’s “women warriors” and what it’s like for her fiance to go off to war.
Columnist Fareed Zakaria covers foreign affairs. His columns have reviewed the West’s strategy in Ukraine. Sign up to follow him.
Columnist Josh Rogin covers foreign policy and national security. His columns have explored the geopolitical ramifications of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Sign up to follow him.
Columnist Max Boot covers national security. His columns have encouraged the West to continue its support for Ukraine’s resistance. Sign up to follow him.

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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.

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.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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