Hudson Institute

Getting the Facts Right on Ukraine

Peter Rough Hudson Institute
Peter Rough Hudson Institute
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on Europe and Eurasia
Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
A Ukrainian soldier of the 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade stands outside the town of New York on the front lines of Russia's war against Ukraine on July 28, 2023. (Wojciech Grzedzinski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier of the 24th Separate Mechanized Brigade stands outside the town of New York on the front lines of Russia's war against Ukraine on July 28, 2023. (Wojciech Grzedzinski/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In Newsweek this month, Michael Gfoeller and David Rundell argued against US support for the war in Ukraine, claiming that Washington is taking “grave risks” in the conflict for “little or no gain.” 

They preface their argument with an ode to the merits of considering opposing views—John Stuart Mill is nobly invoked—and then mobilize Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s old chestnut, “You are entitled to your own opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” They then list 12 “objective facts” about Russia’s war on Ukraine before concluding their piece with the rousing peroration that they “welcome comments” on their argument—as long as those comments start with their 12 objective facts. 

Unfortunately, many of their 12 objective facts are neither objective nor factual. Instead, they form a misleading and enabling argument over the war that leads the reader to a dangerous conclusion about the merits of US support.

For starters, Gfoeller and Rundell claim that Russia “invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.” But they are eight years late: Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2014, when Vladimir Putin’s forces seized and then illegally annexed Crimea, a sovereign part of Ukraine. 

They then claim that because Ukraine is not a NATO member, the United States “has no legal obligation to defend it.” But the US promised Ukraine a free and sovereign future in 1994, when it signed the Budapest Declaration, in exchange for Ukraine’s decision to surrender its nuclear weapons. Russia signed this document, too. 

They further assert that the current Ukrainian government “has passed laws restricting the use of the Russian language” in areas like Crimea, and that “NATO has placed nuclear-capable missiles on the border of the Russian Federation.” Yet Kyiv only passed laws restricting the use of the Russian language after February 2022 to reinforce Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s war effort. As for those nuclear-capable missiles on the Russian border—to this day, NATO has not deployed nuclear weapons to any member state bordering the Russian Federation. 

Gfoeller and Rundell next state that since 1999 “NATO has added 15 new members” and “advanced 1,000 miles eastward.” They do not spell out exactly how this is relevant to the strategic calculus of whether to oppose Russia’s full-scale invasion of its peaceful neighbor, so one can only infer that they are suggesting that Putin was somehow provoked. One detects a similarly enabling thread in their statement that Russia possesses a nuclear stockpile “at least as large as” that of the United States. 

This logic implies that the best way to prevent a nuclear war is to abandon vulnerable nations to the depredations of leaders who threaten to start one. Such a stance would incentivize weaker countries around the world to pursue their own nuclear weapons. Moreover, Putin has no intention of starting a war with an alliance that has a gross domestic product over 20 times the size of Russia’s. 

Instead, Putin’s goal is to separate Ukraine from its Western backers and create a one-on-one matchup he can win. Thanks in part to American support, he is struggling. Western assistance has helped Ukraine degrade one of America’s top adversaries. To date, Ukraine has destroyed 11,638 pieces of Russian military equipment, including 2,218 main battle tanks, 2,635 infantry fighting vehicles, 276 pieces of towed artillery, 255 multiple rocket launchers, 84 aircraft, 101 helicopters, and 13 naval ships—all without shedding a single drop of American blood.

Ukraine can win this fight. Its attrition of Russian forces and logistics has put enormous strain on the Russian system, strain that led to Yevgeny Prigozhin’s spectacular march on Moscow earlier this summer. It is in the interest of the West that Ukraine liberates its territories. This includes the Crimean Peninsula, with its deep ties to Ukraine, so that it can regain unfettered access to the Black Sea and resume major commerce with the outside world. Anything less will effectively transform Ukraine into a landlocked basket case dependent on Western aid in perpetuity. It is far better for the West to support Ukraine now than face even greater costs later. 

Open-mindedness has great value, as Mill—and Gfoeller and Rundell—was correct to identify. But an alternative world in which Russia runs roughshod over its neighbors while America’s security promises go up in smoke is not one to which any prudent person should be open.