Wars end with lines on a map, sometimes drawn on the battlefield, sometimes around conference tables. Rarely do the confusions of a hot war offer so clearly a place and a moment to draw those lines as we have now in Ukraine.
Now is the time to eject the invading Russian ground forces. By forcing their exit from Ukraine, we also reject decisively Putin’s play to rearrange the world’s politics, economy and norms of behavior.
Unless we preempt, a repositioned Russian army will settle into a brutal campaign of pure destruction. Using their advantage in numbers, their artillery and ground forces will chew up the towns and farmlands of Eastern Ukraine while Russian missiles bombard cities across the broader country.
Putin, if he is allowed to tighten his lethal half grip on Ukraine, will continue to hold the initiative. He can control the level of stress in Europe by imposing the long-term burden of several million refugees. He can shape the world’s webs of food, energy and traffic with the willing-to-go-along authoritarians who control about half the world’s population. He can continue his project of assembling a Greater Russia while keeping his own citizens compliant and enough of them in uniform to feed the front lines. And he can continue his attacks on our own democracy.
If he keeps going, Putin wins. He wins ugly, but he wins.
That need not be his, nor Ukraine’s, nor our future. What to do? Attack. The invading Russian army must be destroyed now, while it is weak.
By whom? It is time to stop pretending that the U.S., NATO and the European Union are only helpers at a safe distance. The playacting fools no one, certainly not Putin. With Ukraine as the full, leading partner, we can create an instant regional security organization to field advanced American and European ground and air systems. Operating inside Ukraine, its dual mission would be twofold:
- Force Russian ground forces to withdraw. Back Ukraine’s highly capable army with the longer range, Western-operated missile systems needed to destroy Russia’s armada of combat vehicles.
- Assure safe skies over Ukraine. Do not allow Russia to scatter missile attacks anywhere it wishes to demonstrate brutality. Place enough advanced missile defense systems in Ukraine to safeguard civil life beyond the immediate front lines.
What about the risk of nuclear weapons? First, recognize that the longer this goes on the higher the risk Putin will use a battlefield nuke in an attempt to finish off Ukrainian army resistance. In this case, bolder is safer. By keeping uniformed U.S. and European missile and missile defense forces well back and well defended, we will continue to stand on NATO’s nuclear deterrence, making it clear we are nowhere near any “Third World War” circumstance.
This war is much more than a firepower problem. Here are three forward-looking goals:
- Enable Ukrainians to return and rebuild. The 5 million Ukrainians who fled their homes need to bury their loved ones, get the kids back in school and restart what was a notably advanced economy. Our generous assistance now will be much less expensive than caring for millions of displaced families.
- Resume shipping from Odessa via a protected maritime corridor. Guarded by a few U.S. and allied warships, we must enable Ukraine to resume grain and other cargo shipments. The world needs the grain, Ukraine needs the revenue.
- Begin the long-term project of connecting the Russian people to our wider world. Putin cannot seal off Russians forever. Looking to the day when we can lift all sanctions and welcome Russian citizens to constructive participation in the wider world, we must attack his walls of disinformation as vigorously as we bombard his army.
History’s great turning points are usually seen in the rearview mirror as opportunities lost. We cannot muddle along, allowing Putin to rearrange the world order while he saves face by destroying more Ukrainian villages and killing Ukraine’s people.
With Russia’s army battered and vulnerable, our international coalition vigorous and Ukrainians modeling our values, now is the time to finish this fight.