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On Strategy and Military Support for Ukraine

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Where the aid will go:

So, what is the package going to do?

It is likely to include air defence systems, mid to long-range missiles and artillery shells.

Ukraine’s recent lack of them has led to Russian forces capturing hundreds more square kilometres of territory.

When the aid arrives, Ukraine can potentially challenge Russia’s air superiority, frustrate their supply lines and slow advancing troops.

For Vitaliy, a serving soldier who we bump into in central Kyiv, it’s important to focus on the positives. “Every cent matters,” he says. “It is very much needed. We need everything. Every cartridge, every cent, every positive thought. We need all of it.

I’ve noticed some grousing on twitter that the Biden administration lacks a strategy for bringing the war in Ukraine to a conclusion, and that this aid package doesn’t do very much to solve that problem. I don’t think that’s correct; the United States has been applying low level pressure on Kyiv for the last eight months or so to moderate its expectations for war termination and think through the conditions for a cease-fire. This is by nature a process that cannot happen through legislation and public declaration; the US and Ukraine do not want to publicly signal that they’re willing to give up territory or make other concessions before the development of a serious negotiating process, and Moscow is still giving little indication that it has much interest in negotiating. More to the point, the aid package is necessary regardless of the subtle differences in US and Ukrainian strategy. If the US purpose is to ensure the best negotiated settlement, Ukraine needs weapons. If it is to defeat Russia and reclaim Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, Ukraine needs weapons. If it is to support Ukraine over the long-term against a Russian forever war, Ukraine needs weapons. The aid project, thus, is not strategic in the sense that it requires the weighing of alternatives; it is necessary to any of the plausible strategies that the United States is likely to follow (apart from the abandonment of Kyiv that’s being recommended by JD Vance and other aspiring fascists).

I think that there’s a larger story to be told about the relevance of the summer 2023 counter-offensive in this war. That the counter-offensive failed by the standards established by Ukraine is without doubt. How badly it failed is a different question, depending on an assessment of how much material and how many men both Ukraine and Russia expended in preparation for and execution of the offensive. I had doubts about Ukraine’s capacity to retake much territory, but there’s little question that an offensive in the summer of 2023 represented the best chance that Ukraine would get for actually defeating the Russian army and driving it behind Russian borders. It was not out of the question that the Russian army would crack under assault, although I think that some of the more careful assessments of the Battle of Kherson now suggest that there was sound reason to believe that Russian forces would be able to fight effectively on the defensive despite morale and equipment problems. Most importantly, however, I think that the counter-offensive was politically necessary; it would have been effectively impossible both domestically and in regards to the international coalition for Ukraine to adopt a defensive turtle strategy in the spring of 2023, however sound the military logic of such a move would have been. I suspect that a failed counter-offensive, carried out on Ukraine’s initiative and under victory conditions set by Ukraine, was necessary to establishing some realism in Kyiv’s war aims. But books will be written about this and like many events the picture will only become clear in hindsight.

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