Can the West Keep Up With Putin’s Escalation in Ukraine?

Can the West Keep Up With Putin’s Escalation in Ukraine?

Continuing to send aid will help Ukraine sustain its counteroffensive and provide Kyiv with the tools it needs to end the war.

 

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches its eighth month, the war has been devastating. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died and one-fourth of Ukraine’s total population has been displaced. Dozens of cities, villages, and towns have been destroyed by the Russian bombardment, and economists predict it will cost hundreds of billions to rebuild the country.

The Russian Federation has also incurred grave losses. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, over 62,000 Russian soldiers have been killed during the war. Russia has lost numerous tanks to Ukrainian forces and thousands of pieces of Russian military hardware have been destroyed, costing billions of dollars.

 

Despite these tremendous losses, Russia’s invasion continues without an apparent end. Instead, Russian president Vladimir Putin has decided to escalate the war. On September 21, Putin ordered a partial mobilization across Russia, stating that reservists and citizens with previous military experience would be subjected to military service. The decision will likely lead to the deaths of thousands more all because Putin is unwilling to admit the failure of his unnecessary war.

Russia then held illegal referendums in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia so that citizens in these regions could vote to join the Russian Federation. Days later, the Russian Federation claimed that the citizens of these regions overwhelmingly voted to become part of Russia. Despite Russia’s attempts, these referendums were treated as nothing more than a farce, and the international community strongly condemned the falsified votes.

This, however, did not stop Putin from forcing his sham referendums. Other prominent Russian figures then quickly announced their support for the process. Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev stated that Russia would use “any means” necessary to defend the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov echoed these claims.

The decision to mobilize additional Russian soldiers, and Russia’s illegal annexation of these four provinces, suggest that Putin has no intention of withdrawing from Ukraine. Instead, the Russian president is attempting to prolong the war and he understands that time is on his side.

First, given his control of the Russian political system and his long tenure as the president of Russia, it is likely Putin will be re-elected in 2024 for another six-year term. Another term will allow him to continue pursuing his imperial ambitions and agenda. In contrast, several Western countries have parliamentary and local elections this autumn. This includes the Swedish general election, the Italian general election, and the U.S. congressional elections, where far-right movements in these countries have called for an easing in foreign assistance to Ukraine. Far-right movements have already gained ground in Sweden and Italy. If there is a political shake-up in these countries, as well as in the United States, international support for Ukraine could wane which would bode well for Putin.

Second, Europe is dependent on Russian gas. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe imposed stiff sanctions on the Russian Federation. In response, Russia reduced its gas output to Europe. As tensions continue to rise between Europe and Russia, some Europeans believe they may “not be ready for the upcoming winter” as there could be a heat and electricity shortage. As a result, there is a fear that some European countries may ease their support for Ukraine in exchange for Russian gas. Russia will hope to take advantage of the situation.

Finally, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags on, war fatigue has started to emerge in Europe. According to Politico, German defense minister Christine Lambrecht has “ruled out an increase of weapons supplies” to Ukraine despite the success of the recent Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkiv. Similarly, when asked about supplying Ukraine with additional weapons, French president Emmanuel Macron argued that his country should “focus on avoiding” an escalation in the war. In response, Ukrainians asked why these countries were backtracking on their pledges to aid Ukraine. This is not the first time weapon shipments have stalled. Earlier this summer, the European Union (EU) delayed sending additional aid to Ukraine due to several disagreements between member states within the organization.

But given Russia’s recent decision to launch missile strikes on civilian areas throughout Ukraine and Putin’s efforts to prolong the conflict, the international community must continue to provide assistance to Ukraine so that it can win the war. The successes of Ukraine’s recent counteroffensives in the east and south have demonstrated that the Ukrainians are working hard to defeat the Russians. They are willing to do whatever it takes to defend their homeland and they will not give up. Finally, Ukraine’s commitment to defending democracy shows that it wants to integrate into the West and adopt its values and principles.

Western weapons have also made a difference. Continuing to send aid will help Ukraine sustain its counteroffensive and provide Kyiv with the tools it needs to end the war.

But if international assistance wanes, it will allow Russia to regroup. This would only lead to thousands of additional and unnecessary deaths. It would also inform Russia that the international community is unable to “hold aggressive states accountable for their behavior,” and it could encourage Russia to continue meddling in the affairs of its neighbors without consequence.

Therefore, the international community must do everything it can to stop Russia. The Russian Federation cannot be permitted to succeed.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a nonresident

fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He can be found on Twitter @MTemnycky.

Image: Reuters.