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With slow but steady Russian advances in the Donbas, the war for Ukraine has entered a new phase. The West must decide how to respond, now and in the long run.
After initial defeats, the Russians are waging war the only way they know how—with brute force. They are using their long-range artillery to pulverize key targets and to make it costly for concentrations of Ukrainian troops to hold their positions. Only after relentless shelling has softened their targets do Russian troops move in. Military analysts believe that this strategy has reduced Russian losses to a sustainable pace, and Ukrainian officials are not hiding their own rising casualty rates.
It is above all the artillery imbalance between Russia and Ukraine that is driving current results on the battlefield, and Kyiv is urgently asking Europe and the U.S. to expand and accelerate its deliveries of heavy weapons.
a key adviser to Ukraine’s President
has said that the country needs 300 multiple rocket-launch systems and 1,000 howitzers to combat the Russians, far more than its allies have considered providing.
In addition, the Ukrainians are desperately short of ammunition for their Warsaw Pact-era artillery. According to
another top Zelensky adviser, the Russians are firing as many as 50,000 rounds per day into Ukrainian positions, compared with only 5,000 to 6,000 rounds in the other direction. Ammunition stocks in other former Warsaw Pact countries have been drawn down during the early months of the war, and the Biden administration is reportedly pressing several of these countries to ramp up production.
This will take time, and so will deploying modern NATO artillery and missile launchers. The problem is not only providing equipment, but also training troops to use them, which can take several months. American instructors are trying to shorten this cycle, but even in the best case it will be a long time (if ever) before Ukraine can attain parity in artillery and missiles.
In the coming months, then, the West’s task is clear. We must do everything in our power to help Ukraine survive the Russian onslaught while we infuse our aid efforts with a new sense of urgency. Key European countries—especially Germany—must overcome political opposition to providing Ukraine with heavy weapons. The U.S. must become what it was in years before Pearl Harbor—the arsenal of democracy. Anything less would risk new Russian victories that could be very difficult to reverse.
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Stabilizing the situation on the battlefield should be uncontroversial. What comes next is more contested. Mr. Zelensky hopes to reverse the territorial gains Russia has achieved since the start of the war, promising to liberate cities such as Kherson and Mariupol. “It only takes enough weapons,” he has said, and getting these weapons depends simply on the West’s “political will.”
Military experts I’ve consulted are less confident. Russian forces are digging in to defend the territory they’ve captured, and they can draw on large stockpiles of equipment and ammunition and secure supply lines. Even with Ukraine’s superior morale, reaching in arms and equipment parity with the Russians probably would not be enough to deliver an outright victory. Still, the Zelensky government deserves a fair chance to liberate what it hopes to, and its partners should support this effort. No one should try to force Kyiv into premature negotiations with the Russians, which the Ukrainian people will never accept while the prospect of victory seems realistic.
The real problem is what happens if the Ukrainians fall short and the war settles into a bloody World War I-style trench-warfare stalemate. A recent survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations found that in nearly every European country surveyed, more citizens want a quick end to the war, even at the cost of territorial concessions, than want to punish Russia for its aggression and restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. As the fighting drags on, it becomes more likely that European publics will rebel against soaring energy costs and the economic slowdown the conflict has caused.
In the U.S., meanwhile, House Republican opposition to large aid packages for Ukraine has risen since the beginning of the war, and a GOP takeover of the House this fall could make it harder to push through additional assistance.
If the war turns into a protracted conflict of political will,
could prevail, despite the best efforts of the Biden administration.
It is not too soon to start thinking about what it would take to persuade Ukraine to accept a settlement that ensures its survival and sovereignty, even if restoring its full territorial integrity is not possible. If I were Mr. Zelensky, I would want nothing less than a new Marshall Plan for reconstructing my country, a fast track with a timetable for entering the European Union, and binding security guarantees from a coalition of the willing led by America.
Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews military analyst Seth Jones. Images: AP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly
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