Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 17 May 2024



Will Biden Now Step Up on Ukraine?

The Russians are making gains in Ukraine outside Kharkiv, albeit slowly and with no regard for the lives of their own soldiers. The Russian foray over Ukraine’s northern border may be a prelude to a larger offensive. The goal seems to be to spread Ukraine’s forces—already short on manpower—thin across a front that stretches some 600 miles.

Mr. Putin’s military is leveling the north with artillery and glide bombs. The Russian air force can launch these glide bombs from across the Russian border, without entering Ukrainian airspace. The Institute for the Study of War estimates that glide bombs with 40 to 60 kilometer ranges threaten more than 42,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory—an area larger than the Netherlands.


Ukraine has few to no options to strike back, and that’s a product of Mr. Biden’s policy. The President has precluded Ukraine from using American weapons to hit sovereign Russian territory. The practical effect of this is to offer the Russian military a safe haven. The Russians can build up troops, supplies and weapons near Ukraine. Mr. Putin can then deploy scarce defensive systems elsewhere, confident anything inside Russia is safe, courtesy of Mr. Biden’s preconditions.

The Biden Administration is touting its weapons packages since Congress passed new aid funding last month, including artillery and air defense ammo. Ukraine needs the rounds for the front lines and air-defense munitions to protect its military and civilian infrastructure from Russian missiles.

But more air defenses aren’t a strategy for Ukraine to prevail, or even improve its leverage at an eventual negotiating table with Mr. Putin. It’s a plan for Ukrainian defeat on the installment plan, which would be a failure for Mr. Biden—and the United States.

Mr. Biden will have to lift his embargo on Ukraine striking inside Russia. That will also mean providing the precision long-range missiles, in sufficient quantities, that can turn back the Russian advances and put Russian forces in Crimea at risk.


Mr. Putin has made veiled threats of escalation every time the U.S. has provided new weapons—only to back down. The Biden Team might worry more about the consequences of allowing Mr. Putin to wield nuclear blackmail to scare the U.S. out of defending its interests.

The larger strategic picture is worth noting, as Mr. Putin visits China and renews his “no limits” partnership with Xi Jinping. President Biden said in April that “China is providing components and know-how to boost Russia’s defense production.” Yet so far Mr. Biden hasn’t punished Beijing for ignoring U.S. warnings not to assist Russia’s war effort.

Mr. Putin is doubling down on his war aims and turning for help everywhere from Iran to North Korea. Mr. Xi’s involvement underscores that the war is about a consolidating anti-American axis, not merely Ukraine.

Congress granted Mr. Biden his military aid request. If his limits on Ukraine now lead to a Russian victory, he won’t be able to roll out his usual routine of blaming MAGA Republicans. Americans will know where the buck stops.

Speaking at the 2024 AFA Warfare Symposium, Gen. James Hecker described what the U.S. has learned from unmanned aerial vehicles—or UAVs—in Ukraine, and how they will change warfare. Images: AFP/Getty Images/U.S. Air Force via AP Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the May 17, 2024, print edition as 'Will Biden Now Step Up on Ukraine?'.

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