The Hill

With the Aid Battle Won in Washington, We Need to Help Ukraine Win the War’s Next Phase

Senior Fellow, Center on Europe and Eurasia
A soldier aims a rifle during a military drill in Kyiv Region, Ukraine. (Ukrinform via Getty Images)
A soldier aims a rifle during a military drill in Kyiv Region, Ukraine. (Ukrinform via Getty Images)

After more than 480 days, Congress has finally given the green light for desperately needed aid for Ukraine. After months of uncertainty, one could almost hear a collective sigh of relief coming from Ukrainian soldiers serving on the front lines. Now that the political battle has been won in Washington, it is time to focus on the strategic battle taking place in Eastern Europe. 

Since Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the war has been one of ups and downs for both sides. Rapid Russian advances in the early months of the war were partially rolled back by Ukraine in the second half of 2022. Expectations for a Ukrainian counteroffensive in 2023 were high, but the counteroffensive fell short. On the sea, Ukraine’s unexpected success has destroyed almost a third of the Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. In the meantime, Russia has made small but tactically important advances on the front lines. 

Even with the difficulties Ukraine has last year with its counteroffensive, it was never an excuse to end support. On the contrary, it meant that we needed to double our efforts to learn from mistakes, keep the weapons flowing and the training going and prepare Ukraine for the war’s next phase.  

With the new injection of funding, that next phase begins now. 

There are four things that the United States must do immediately to help Ukraine change the dynamics of the conflict and usher in a new phase of the war.  

The top priority must be rushing the delivery of the weapons and munitions needed to stabilize the front lines. Months of delays from Congress have taken a toll on Ukraine’s fighting positions. Not only are the Ukrainians running out of artillery shells, I learned during a recent visit to Ukraine that soldiers are also rationing ammunition for their rifles. This is unacceptable and needs to be remedied quickly. 

The Ukrainians also need help securing the skies. In simple terms, this means more air defense systems. Ukraine has been running low on the interceptors used to shoot down Russian missiles and Iranian drones. Furthermore, Ukraine has only ever been given enough air defense assets to protect major cities like Kyiv and Odesa. This leaves millions of Ukrainians living in other major cities across the country vulnerable to indiscriminate Russian air strikes.  

Ukrainian forces on the front lines also lack the proper protection from the skies. This was one of the main reasons why Ukraine’s counteroffensive last summer stalled. There is no point in Western countries keeping advanced air defense systems locked away in storage thousands of miles from where they are desperately needed. 

It is also time to give Kyiv the weapons needed to strike deep inside Russian occupied Ukraine, in places like Crimea. No Russian port or airbase should be off limits. Furthermore, the White House needs to stop being squeamish about Ukraine hitting targets inside the Russian Federation that directly support Moscow’s war machine. Specifically, Ukraine urgently needs significant number of long-range weapons such as MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a range of 190 miles.  

Another important point that is often overlooked is the need to scale up the size of the basic training of the Ukrainian armed forces. The Ukrainian government recently passed a law reducing the age of conscription from 27 to 25. This could lead to the creation of a much-needed larger Ukrainian army. Under existing programs, only tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are trained every year at sites across Europe. This might seem like a lot, but it is not enough. The U.S. needs to lead efforts to see training scaled up drastically. It is likely that hundreds of thousands of new Ukrainian soldiers will need basic training over the coming years. Between the 32 members of NATO, a larger training mission should be achievable. 

Ukraine is fighting a war of national survival. Russia has shown no desire for peace talks. Aid to Ukraine is not charity. Russia is one of America’s top-geopolitical adversaries. A weakened Russia on the global stage makes America stronger. As Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) recently stated, Russia works in coordination with Iran and China against U.S. interests. One would also add North Korea and Hamas to that list.  

The additional U.S. aid, on top of Europe’s significant contributions, gives Ukraine new hope in the war. The ultimate goal should be setting the conditions in 2024 for Ukraine to launch another major counteroffensive sometime in early 2025. With the right policies this can happen. 

We must start wanting Ukraine to win this war more than we just hope that Russia is going to lose it.   

Now is the time to be bold.

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