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ISW: US can either help Ukraine or face emboldened Russia at NATO’s door

There is no third option, Fredrick W. Kagan warns: sans US aid, Russia will keep advancing in Ukraine
ISW: US can either help Ukraine or face emboldened Russia at NATO’s door

According to a new report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the United States faces a critical decision in Ukraine as Russian forces make slow but steady advances on the battlefield.

The report, authored by Fredrick W. Kagan and published on 16 April 2024, states that “the Russians are breaking out of positional warfare and beginning to restore maneuver to the battlefield because of the delays in the provision of US military assistance to Ukraine.”

Kagan states that the debate in the USA about providing military assistance to Ukraine is based in part on the false assumption that the war will remain stalemated regardless of US actions. 

However, in fact, Ukraine cannot hold its current defensive lines without urgent American support, particularly in the form of air defense systems and artillery, he writes.

“Lack of air defense has exposed Ukrainian front-line units to Russian aircraft that are now dropping thousands of bombs on Ukrainian defensive positions for the first time in this war,” the report notes. It also highlights that “Ukrainian artillery shortages are letting the Russians use armored columns without suffering prohibitive losses for the first time since 2022.”

Kagan warns that the United States has only two real choices:

“It can quickly resume providing military aid to let Ukraine stabilize the front lines near the current locations. Or it can let the Russians defeat the Ukrainian military and drive toward the NATO borders from the Black Sea to central Poland.”

He emphasizes that there is no third option and that the long-term risks and costs of allowing Russia to defeat Ukraine far outweigh the short-term price of resuming assistance.

The report also underscores the potential consequences of a Russian victory in Ukraine for NATO’s defense. It argues that a successful Ukrainian military, even if it just holds the current frontlines, would make a future Russian attack on Poland or the Baltic States much harder and riskier.

Conversely, if Russia defeats Ukraine, “NATO will face tremendous challenges in defending its northeastern members,” and “the Russians will also impress hundreds of thousands or even millions of Ukrainians into military service, along with the defense industrial base Ukrainians are now constructing, significantly increasing Russia’s military and economic potential.”

The ISW presents two maps to illustrate the advantages Russia would secure by defeating Ukraine and those that NATO would receive from helping Ukraine hold the line or push the Russians further east and south. The report concludes that “American interests now and in the future are served far better by resuming aid to Ukraine now than by allowing Russia to win.”

Baltic invasion scenario Russia victory
Credit: ISW
Baltic invasion scenario Ukraine victory
Credit: ISW
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