What Ukraine Needs Now

With the Ukrainians, against the odds, having stymied Vladimir Putin’s not-so-special operation to quash their independence, it is time to expand Western military aid to give Ukraine what it needs to regain lost ground and establish the military conditions for a positive outcome in any negotiations to come. While the United States and its allies have done well thus far—U.S. stocks of man-portable anti-air and anti-armor weapons have been substantially drawn down—the questions now are more about quality than quantity. The current “operational pause” should be translated into a Ukrainian advantage, made into an opportunity not simply to continue to bleed the Russians but to prepare to defeat them soundly.

The first step is to recognize that time is tight. The current Russian offensive has “culminated”—this Clausewitzian term for “losing momentum” has officially entered the dictionary of punditry, no longer requiring further definition—and it is unclear whether the Russian army can reclaim any initiative beyond artillery and rocket bombardments. While the Russians are beginning to dig in and form some sort of defensive line, that will take time, manpower, sustained logistics, and other expensive efforts. Those happen to be all the qualities that have thus far been absent in Russia’s efforts. In sum, a “hunkering down” strategy is a risky approach for an obviously brittle force.

It also has begun to shift the tactical initiative to the Ukrainians. For the best part of the past week, the fighting has been characterized by Ukrainian counterattacks. To be sure, these have been smaller-scale and localized affairs, but they have been much more than hit-and-run raids; the Ukrainians have gained ground and retaken villages, and, thus far, been able to hold them. While it is impossible to judge from a distance or through the soda-straw views available on Twitter, it would appear that the Ukrainian command has been prudent and the operations well thought-out and controlled.

It is reasonable to think that this window for counteroffensives will be open for some time. The Russians lack the resources to create a Maginot Line-style barrier, and even if they did it would have huge gaps and be subject to both penetration and flanking maneuvers; as the ground dries out, larger formations will be less road-bound. 

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