The battle for eastern Ukraine has been raging for more than 60 days, and it was foreseeable and foreseen that this long-range artillery duel would favor Russia. The mystery is why U.S. weapons support continues to be halting, and the latest example is the anemic offerings of multiple-launch rocket systems.
The Biden Administration this week announced another $1 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, and included are more munitions for a rocket system known as Himars. These rocket launchers pack a punch with precise munitions, and they can “shoot and scoot” to elude Russian retaliation.
But the U.S. hasn’t provided nearly enough launchers to blunt the Russian equipment advantage. Ohio Republican
who is co-chairman of the Senate Ukraine caucus, on the Senate floor this week offered a blunt assessment of the facts on the ground: Brutal fighting continues in Severodonetsk, where the Russians are making grinding progress, and the Luhansk region could fall within weeks if the Ukrainians can’t get longer-range artillery.
“Because the Russians have more artillery than the Ukrainians and their weapons have longer ranges,” the Senator explained, “the Russian forces concentrate massive firepower on Ukrainian positions at distances, which the Ukrainian forces cannot reach.” Then the Russians “move in. They destroy territory. They occupy it.” The “disparity in the quality and quantity of artillery” has put Ukraine at “a distinct disadvantage.”
How many rocket systems do our friends need? A Ukrainian military adviser told the Guardian earlier this month: “If we get 60” systems “then the Russians will lose all ability to advance anywhere, they will be stopped dead in their tracks. If we get 40 they will advance, albeit very slowly with heavy casualties; with 20 they will continue to advance with higher casualties than now.”
And how many rocket systems has the U.S., the world’s premiere military power, offered so far? Four. And these launchers, which the Biden Administration announced on June 1, won’t reach the battlefield with trained crews until roughly the end of the month, U.S. defense officials have estimated. The Brits and Germans have offered their own rocket systems—but only three apiece.
As Sen. Portman noted, the U.S. is also withholding rockets with the longest range. The ostensible reason is that the Biden Team worries about Ukrainians striking into Russian territory. But the Ukrainians have promised only to defend their sovereign land, and withholding the weapons suggests we don’t trust them.
The stakes are high, and not only for Ukraine. If the Russian military mops up the Donbas,
will have grabbed more land that he can sell at home as a victory. He can then regroup and push southwest toward Odessa, robbing the Ukrainians of their coast line and building a bridge to Transnistria in Moldova. Europe will be less secure, and Mr. Biden will bear some responsibility.
Skeptics of U.S. aid to Ukraine like to say we can’t support the country forever. But that’s all the more reason to get Kyiv the right weapons sooner and in enough numbers so Ukraine can stop and then roll back Russian advances. That’s the only way to get Mr. Putin to the negotiating table with any hope of a cease-fire on Ukrainian terms favorable to NATO.
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