War Stories

Quick, Send Ukraine More Guns!

Its army is putting up a surprising fight against Putin’s forces. But the country needs more weapons to wage a lasting resistance.

A machine gun in Ukraine
More of these please. Reuters

President Joe Biden should send more arms—a lot more arms—to Ukraine. In the months leading up to Russia’s invasion, the U.S. alone sent $650 million worth of anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as radar, communications gear, and other military supplies. It is time to redouble that effort, quickly.

For one thing, we now know that the supplies will be well-used. The Russian offensive has not gone as smoothly or as quickly as Vladimir Putin may have imagined, perhaps in part because his army hasn’t mounted an operation so large or complex for many decades, but also because the Ukrainians are skillfully fighting back.

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Reports and videos from the battlefields around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and the main airport outside Kyiv, show Russian tanks and other vehicles at a standstill or destroyed. Russian troops have entered Kyiv, but Ukrainian soldiers are mounting defenses and littering the streets with barricades. Civilians are lining up outside government buildings to be handed rifles or machine guns to go fight.

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In short, the resistance is on. And whether or not Kyiv soon falls to Russia’s massive superiority in firepower, mobility, missile and airstrikes, and other metrics of military effectiveness, the resistance is almost certain to persist.

But more resistance will require more weapons.

Biden and other leaders could send more firepower without crossing the (sensible) red line that stops them short of putting U.S. or NATO troops on Ukrainian territory. They could ship planeloads of these weapons to Poland, where caravans of trucks could transport them right up to (or perhaps a little bit past) the Ukrainian border, where Ukrainian commanders or organizers could go pick them up. The Poles, who detest Russia, would cooperate.

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This would not be a sentimental gesture, like something out of Casablanca or the noble but doomed crusade to aid the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War. It would be a strategic, even necessary act.

In his speech on Thursday, announcing a new set of sanctions on Russia, Biden said the assault on Ukraine “cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse,” adding, “This is a dangerous moment for all of Europe, for the freedom around the world. Putin has committed an assault on the very principles that uphold the global peace.”

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If this is true, the West must not only hurt Putin and his enablers economically, which the sanctions may do over time. It must also do everything possible to make sure that the invasion of Ukraine—the “special military operation” (as Putin put it) to force a sovereign nation back in Moscow’s orbit—does not succeed.

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It may not be possible to prevent the Russian troops from carrying out Putin’s aims, which include enveloping Kyiv from all sides, ousting President Volodymyr Zelensky (who was elected to office with 73 percent of Ukraine’s vote), and installing a pliant puppet. But it is possible to slow down the offensive—and, if the Russian troops succeed in the combat phase of the war, to continue the struggle against the Quisling regime and its Russian occupiers.

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The aim of the U.S., the E.U., and NATO would be to make Putin fail in Ukraine—both to discourage him from making further offensive moves and for its own sake. And if Putin fails in Ukraine, there is an increasingly decent chance that he will fail more broadly—that his days as Russia’s president might be numbered.

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It would have been eccentric to say so a few weeks ago, but the U.S., the E.U., and NATO must now promote this broader failure as well. Putin has proved too dangerous, too much a gambler, and a leader who—deceitful as he has always been—cannot be trusted in the slightest about anything. The falsehoods he has uttered over the past few months—about the intentions of his military mobilization, about what was going on in Ukraine, even about the scope of his invasion once it got underway—have been too persistent and extreme.

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Putin has concentrated more power in one man than any Russian ruler since Joseph Stalin. Yet his bloody gamble in Ukraine, which took his entourage and his critics by surprise, has begun to dent his shroud of invincibility. Thousands of protesters are in the streets, despite thuggish arrests. Oligarchs, who have been enriched by their affiliation with him, are growing nervous that the sanctions may evict them from the global marketplace (and their own apartments, yachts, and vacation spots therein). His only powerful outside ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping, is retreating a little bit from the alliance of “no limits” that the two signed earlier this month—and may step back further if Putin’s grip on power slips further.

Sanctions, shame-facing, isolation, blackballing—all of this will contribute to Putin’s failure, but, again, they will take, at best, a long while to take hold. The first step is to help those fighting him in Ukraine. This means sending more arms, now.

Update, Sat. Feb. 26, 12:45 p.m.

Biden authorized $350 million in additional military aid to Ukraine late on Friday, including “anti-armor, small arms and various munitions, body armor, and related equipment,” according to a weekend statement by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

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