The almost total destruction of entire cities in Ukraine has no precedent in Europe since the end of the Second World War. The Ukrainian military urgently needs long-range air defenses and longer-range artillery. It does not have them. Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier passes by a destroyed building in the Ukrainian town of Siversk, Donetsk region on July 22, 2022. (Photo by Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)
May 9, Moscow. The annual military Victory Day Parade was held in Red Square, but with fewer soldiers and military vehicles than in other years. The parade had been cut by 35%. Russian President Vladimir Putin's short, sober speech tried to justify the war of aggression he had launched against Ukraine on February 24.
Putin seemed on the verge of defeat. A month earlier, in an apparent debacle, the Russian Army had hastily left the Kyiv area. Countless Russian soldiers had been wounded and killed; the loss of military equipment was unimaginable. A report from the UK Ministry of Defence on May 15 said that Russia had lost a third of its combat forces and much of its heavy equipment.
On May 14, Russian troops withdrew from Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city; they had been pushed back by Ukrainian forces to the Russian border. Russia's only "victory" was the total destruction of the city of Mariupol, by the Sea of Azov. Communications intercepted by American intelligence services showed that the Russian military had a low morale and that cases of insubordination, mutiny, and refusal to obey orders had multiplied. Russian generals had been killed at the front.
Russian forces then began concentrating their efforts on the Donbass and has been waging a war of attrition ever since. Much of Russia's modern military equipment has been destroyed; its older equipment dates from the 1960s, but Putin has lots of bombs. Russia has now been bombing Ukrainian positions for weeks. It advances just a little but destroys everything in its path. It has razed not only much of Mariupol, but also Severodonetsk and Lysychansk.
Putin seems to be counting on time; he seems betting that the Western world will lose interest in Ukraine and turn to other matters.
The Biden administration at first seemed ready endorse regime change in Kyiv, and US officials even offered Zelensky safe passage out of the country. Zelensky famously answered, "I need ammunition, not a ride."
When it appeared that the Russian Army was failing and that Zelensky had succeeded in mobilizing the opinion of the Western world, Biden finally supported Ukraine -- but certain categories of American weapons that Ukraine had asked for were supplied late or not at all. Ukraine, for instance, had requested HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) -- essential to countering Russian artillery -- as early as March. Biden sent four units, but before sending them asked that their range be limited to 50 miles. Recently, four additional HIMARS units were sent, and four more are reportedly to be sent soon. That makes 12 units in all -- far too few to reverse the balance of power on the battlefield. The Ukrainian military urgently needs long-range air defenses and longer-range artillery. It does not have them.
European NATO member countries also supported Ukraine and sent weapons, but no European country has a sufficiently powerful military or a significant amount of materiel. While the countries of Central Europe, the Baltic states and the United Kingdom took a firm stand from the start and said that Putin had to be defeated, the large countries of Western Europe -- France, Germany and Italy -- initially sought to appease Putin. They gave Ukraine only part of the materiel and with extreme reluctance. French President Emmanuel Macron opined that Putin should not be "humiliated," although Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi traveled to Kyiv on June 16 supposedly to show support.
Two international meetings recently took place. The leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States -- meeting in Germany on June 27, reaffirmed their support for Ukraine "for as long as it takes". A NATO summit was held two days later in Madrid, Spain, where the summit's Final Communiqué stated:
"We condemn Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine in the strongest possible terms. It gravely undermines international security and stability. It is a blatant violation of international law... Russia must immediately stop this war and withdraw from Ukraine... We reiterate our unwavering support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders extending to its territorial waters... The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies' security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area."
The Communiqué also defined Ukraine as a "close partner" of NATO.
An international conference was organized on July 4 in Lugano, Switzerland to envision the reconstruction of Ukraine. The destruction perpetrated by Russia has so far been valued at $750 billion. Discussing reconstruction when the war is not even over is, to say the least, a bit premature. The destruction continues.
The statements made in Germany and Spain, albeit important, will remain just statements if they do not lead to acts fully consistent with their words.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke at both the G7 and NATO summits. He said he wanted the war over before Russia could rebuild its forces, and that each additional day of war meant more death and destruction. Above all, he said, not only Ukraine is at stake, but the security and values of the West.
Similar ideas were recently expressed in a June 27 column written by Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki:
"Without more forceful intervention in Ukraine's war, the consequences for the U.S. and Europe could be devastating....
"History teaches that prolonged conflicts bleed both sides, but dictatorships have an advantage over democracies. They are not accountable to their societies and can pay the price of blood, even with opposition from their citizens...
"The war in Ukraine puts before us one crucial question: Does the transatlantic free world still want to occupy a position of leadership? Do we still believe in the universality of values such as freedom and the right of national self-determination?"
The security and values of the Western world are unquestionably at stake, as are the leadership of the transatlantic free world and values such as freedom and the right of national self-determination. If they are not defended with force and conviction in Ukraine, they may well not survive.
The near total destruction of entire cities, along with civilian homes, has no precedent in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Neither do the horrific war crimes committed in Bucha and other towns on the outskirts of Kyiv and Kharkiv. Nearly two million Ukrainians have been deported and sent to Russia, with some in detention camps in Siberia, thousands of miles from their homes and country. The accumulation of crimes committed by Russia since February 24 has led legal scholars to say that Russia is committing genocide, and the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy in America and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights in Canada published a damning report on the subject. The invasion of Ukraine without a declaration of war is itself a war crime.
Putin, in a recent speech, compared himself to Tsar Peter the Great and equated Russia's invasion of Ukraine with Peter's expansionist wars three centuries ago. The Baltic states, Finland, Sweden and Poland have every reason to feel threatened: if Putin is not defeated, he will not stop at Ukraine.
The statements made by propagandists of the Putin regime on Russian state television daily, in a hateful tone, evoke extremely bad associations -- as, to deter the West, they are doubtless intended to do. They imply the destruction and enslavement of the whole of Europe, as well as nuclear attacks against France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev went so far as to say that Russia can end the existence of mankind.
Russia, in 1994, signed the Budapest Memorandum, committing itself to respect the borders of Ukraine. Twenty years later, in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and created secessionist militia in the Donbass. In 2022, Putin showed that the Budapest Memorandum had absolutely no meaning for him.
Putin is leading a campaign of annihilating Ukraine's infrastructure and industrial base. He appears to want Ukraine to become a ruined, non-viable country, virtually impossible to rebuild because the costs would be too high. The more time passes, the higher the costs.
Putin is preventing the export of Ukrainian wheat and is threatening to create widespread famine and major unrest in many of the poorest countries in the Arab world, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. He is exercising unprecedented blackmail, telling Western countries that he will allow the delivery of wheat only if the sanctions on Russia are lifted. To achieve his ends, Putin is apparently perfectly willing to hold hundreds of millions of innocent people hostage, and even sentence them to death by starvation. Meanwhile, his propaganda services cynically claim to the countries concerned that the risk of famine results from the Western sanctions against Russia.
China did not and will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, yet it remains Russia's helpful ally. Chinese President Xi Jinping does not hide his ambitions of world domination and servitude for the rest of us. The agreement signed by Putin and Xi on February 4 in Beijing, three weeks before Putin attacked Ukraine, draws the contours of a new world order within which the notions of freedom, democracy and rule of law would no longer have any meaning. The enemies of the Western world are watching. Several of them -- North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and Iran – have allied with Russia and China.
The Biden administration, since coming to power, has shown little but weakness; America's spectacular debacle in Afghanistan revealed extreme weakness. The Western world is losing ground. In 1975, when the G7 was created, its members accounted for 70% of the world's GDP. Today, they represent just over 40% of it.
The words spoken in Germany and Spain were filled with strength. Failing to give Ukraine every means to win, however, or letting a stalemate set in -- or even worse -- rewarding Russian aggression by ceding Ukraine's Donbass and declaring that Russia had "won", would effectively be announcing to China and all the enemies of the Western world that the power of the West and its ability to command respect belong in the past. Such an outcome would also be telling them that the rules of international law established after the Second World War, and the values that the Western world claims to embody, are now rules and values that the West is incapable of defending.
A war only ends when there is a winner and a loser. In the present situation, Putin is the ruthless aggressor who tramples all the rules and values of the West. He must be defeated. If he is not, the consequences will not be limited to Ukraine. They will be devastating.
The Russian military is not invincible. On the contrary, it has shown itself to be extremely deficient and vulnerable. It is the army of a weak state: Russia's GDP is lower than that of Italy. The Russian army can be crushed and the murderous destruction inflicted on Ukraine can end. What is missing is the clear and concrete will from the West. The United States must lead.
In Madrid, Biden said, "We are going to stick with Ukraine, and all of the alliance is going to stick with Ukraine as long as it takes to, in fact, make sure that they are not defeated". He did not say what he should have said, had he wanted to show some strength: Ukraine must win. If it receives the required armaments, Ukraine will win.
That Biden could show some strength is far from certain. Only an American president has the political and military means to show strength in a credible way. It is tragic that the United States has a weak president just when the future of the world is threatened by so many predatory regimes -- all doubtless aware of the small but irresistible window they have at this time.
"Russia's invasion of Ukraine is an inflection point in the post-Cold War politics", former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said.
"Vladimir Putin's utter lack of basic humanity ensures that as long as he remains in power, Russia will be virtual prison and no nation that borders its expanse will ever be safe... We can do what President Zelenskyy has asked. We must aid Ukraine, for to do so in part is our first duty to America and to Americans.... By supporting Ukraine, we prevent larger European conflict. A war that would almost certainly involve America's military because we have a deep commitment to the NATO treaty and Article Five therein. By helping Ukraine, we prevent Russia's reconstitution of the Soviet Empire... In 2005, Putin declared the demise of the Soviet Union as one of the greatest tragedies in history. In 2007, he enunciated his rationale for conquest in terms that would be familiar to dictators who ruled Europe almost 90 years ago. Putin's been consistent. He's been consistent in his revanchist objectives. In Grozny in 1999. In Georgia in 2008. And in Ukraine in 2014... A mass murderer is someone who kills a large number of people at one time. A serial killer murders sequentially. Only in war therefore can a man be both a mass murderer and a serial killer. Putin is that. I pray that Russia will reclaim its soul, its country's soul. But it cannot do so as long it is led by a man who does not evince any concern for the horrific carnage he has wrought, or any concern for his own people."
"Ukraine's fight is also a fight for the West's future...", wrote Iryna Solonenko, Senior Fellow at the Zentrum Liberale Moderne (LibMod) in Berlin.
"Putin will not stop, unless he is stopped... Economic inconvenience and stress, resulting from the need to go beyond the usual bureaucratic procedures, are part of the price that needs to be paid. Yet, if the West is aware of what is at stake and sees this war as its own, then this price is not too high. After all, Ukrainians are paying a much higher price. Ukrainians have no choice, since they are defending their country. But the West has no choice either—it is about its future as a community, driven by values and the ability to project these values globally."
Dr. Guy Millière, a professor at the University of Paris, is the author of 27 books on France and Europe.