Ukraine: Cut the Crowing: It’s Far From Over

There’s been way too much cork-popping among American pundits about the stunning Ukrainian resistance to the Putin invasion.

Yes, the Russian forces have performed badly, while the Ukrainians have come through horrors to push them back again and again. Their  campaign thus far has been the stuff of epic and will be a gold mine for historians and storytellers.

But will it save Ukraine? Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria is here to put a damper on the premature rhetorical parades. He says there’s much horror yet to come in this war, the doughty Ukraine defenders still face steep odds, and the country is still in mortal peril. Let him explain.

Opinion: Putin’s Plan A in Ukraine has failed. We can’t let his Plan B succeed.

Opinion by Fareed Zakaria
 April 14, 2022

Ukraine’s brave and brilliant response to Russia’s attack is rightly being celebrated across the world. But it might be obscuring a growing danger. While the assault on Kyiv and the surrounding region has failed, Moscow’s strategy in the south and east of Ukraine could well succeed. If it does, Russia will have turned Ukraine into an economically crippled rump state, landlocked and threatened on three sides by Russian military power, always vulnerable to another incursion from Moscow. It will take much more military assistance from the West to ensure that this catastrophic outcome does not come to pass.

. . .[T]here are two distinct wars taking place in Ukraine, one in the north and one in the south, and the latter has been “radically more successful” for Moscow. Russia has been able to move forces and supplies out of its bases in Crimea and capture the cities of Melitopol and Kherson. Mariupol is now encircled and invaded by Russian troops, and Ukrainian forces trapped there cannot be resupplied. Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov has been blocked, . . . Russian forces have a contiguous land corridor from Crimea deep into Donbas. They are also trying to move west, from Kherson to Odessa.

Odessa is the prize. As the main port from which Ukraine trades with the world, it is the most important city for Ukraine economically. It is also a city replete with symbolic significance. It was here in 1905 that a mutiny on the battleship Potemkin (made famous by Sergei Eisenstein’s movie) marked the beginning of the troubles of czarist Russia. Were Odessa to fall, Ukraine would be practically landlocked, and the Black Sea would essentially become a Russian lake — which would almost certainly tempt Moscow to extend its military power into Moldova, which has its own breakaway region filled with many Russian speakers (Transnistria).

Russian President Vladimir Putin could present this outcome as a grand victory, liberating Russian speakers, gaining crucial cities and ports, and turning Ukraine into a nonviable vassal state.

This must not happen, and the Ukrainians are fighting ferociously to prevent it. In Ukraine’s east, the Russians are trying to advance from Kherson, through the city of Mykolaiv, but they are being stymied by the extraordinary courage of the city’s inhabitants, who have reportedly blown up the bridge that connects the city to Odessa and blocked the railway tracks. This week, Ukrainian forces claimed they were able to deploy their never-before-used Neptune missiles and sink the Russian missile cruiser Moskva.

Still, it’s important to remember that, before the invasion, Russia had a 10-to-1 advantage in defense spending over Ukraine — and Putin seems determined to press on, no matter the costs.

What can the United States and the West do? Much more of everything they are already doing. Ukraine needs more arms, especially those that give it massive asymmetric fighting power.

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who has been farsighted in diagnosing Russia’s weaknesses and Ukraine’s strengths, explained to me that Ukraine needs more equipment that allows it to maneuver quickly around Russia’s rigid forces. That means helicopters, armed Humvees, multiple-launch rocket systems and drones of every kind. Turkish drones have proved to be an amazingly effective weapon in this conflict. Hertling urges that Ukraine be given more of those, as well as American “kamikaze” drones and intelligence drones.

The Russian navy, which has been massing in the Black Sea, continues to pose a great danger to Odessa, threatening either to lay siege to it or to launch an amphibious landing behind Ukrainian lines. Despite the purported success of the Neptune missiles, Ukraine does not have the capacity to stop the Russian navy. NATO should consider doing something similar to what it did during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. It should enforce an embargo around those waters, preventing Russian troops from entering to attack Ukraine’s cities or resupply Russian forces. NATO ships would operate from international waters, issuing any approaching ships a “notice to mariners” that NATO forces are active in the area and warning them not to enter.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO, supports the actions the Biden administration has taken but urges a more aggressive response from the West on all fronts. Give Ukraine fighter planes and air defense systems, he tweeted, and help it with cyberattacks and give it antiship missiles to “sink Russian ships in [the] Black Sea.”

The United States has dedicated about $16 billion in aid to Ukraine since the invasion. Meanwhile, the world is expected to pay $320 billion to Russia this year for its energy. Economic sanctions will not force Putin to end the war as long as this gaping loophole exists. The only pressure that will force Russia to the negotiating table is military defeat — in the south.

Putin’s Plan A failed, but we cannot let his Plan B succeed.

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for the Atlantic.

10 thoughts on “Ukraine: Cut the Crowing: It’s Far From Over”

  1. It is the US that is in peril.

    Russia knows who started this war and it wasn’t Ukraine. Russia also knows why they are loosing this war and that is as much because of the weapons being supplied to Ukraine by a hostile US and NATO as the Ukranians doing.

    There is a significant risk that Russia may decide that this is one too many proxy wars started by the US with the intent of dramatically harming Russia’s interests, as indeed it clearly has, and elect to hit back with everything they have, just to show that they can.

    Wars are a lot of fun, until they aren’t any more. I fear that far from historians viewing Ukraine as a historical goldmine, they will be writing about how the US militarizing Ukraine and threatening Russia’s borders with missiles and NATO forces, led inevitably to the horrors of Fallout 4.

    1. NATO is a defensive force. It has never had the numbers nor the weapons needed to be an aggressive force.

      Putin’s objection is to there being an effective defensive force which prevents him from reclaiming what the Soviet Union appropriated through force or, in the cases of Poland and Finland, attempted to appropriate and failed.

      The words from Putin’s mouth are trustworthy to the same degree as, say, Tucker Carlson on Fox News. Well, actually, they are the same words much of the time — which is why one of the Russian government TV channels recently rebroadcast one of the shows Carlson was on.

        1. You raise a valid question.

          NATO forces in those wars appear to have been minor, and in no way demonstrated an offensive capability. It’s one thing to provide support, quite another to mount an effective offensive operation.

          Am I missing any data? I might be, so let me know if there is any.

      1. So as a strictly defensive force NATO attacked Serbia and partitioned it, despite the fact that Serbia had not been at war with anyone. Madeline Albright told reporters that the US deliberately set the bar too high for the Serbs at Ramboillet (demanding the occupation of all of Serbia) because NATO needed a reason to justify their desired unwarranted aggression. Interesting definition of “defensive”. I grew up with NATO being a strictly defensive force. A lifetime of believing this claim, made it very hard to watch when everyone cheered when NATO became a clearly offensive bully.

        Later the US obtained Russia’s approval in the UN for a peace keeping operation in Libya, assuring Russia that the goal was not regime change. The Russian’s were furious to then see their support used by the US to achieve the regime change with their ally Gaddafi dying in a ditch.

        For a strictly defensive military force NATO has started rather a lot of wars, always with the intent of harming Russian interests. You may not know that but the Russians do.

        The Russians haven’t forgotten the promise about not one inch eastward.

        1. Hi Ian,

          Serbia was engaged in a literal holocaust of those unlike themselves, an ethnic cleansing.

          That’s the starting point for this discussion, and it’s worth having. What is our obligation when we see systematic lethal oppression of a group of people?

          As for Libya: should the UN Security Council and NATO in support of the resolution have intervened? Or should they have let the governments security forces open fire on demonstrators who were rising against the autocracy? That’s a much harder question, at least for me, than whether we have an obligation to prevent ethnic cleansing.

          In Libya it’s clear that the actions taken were defensive in nature — in effect, preventing air strikes and long range artillery strikes against the rebels. Should it have been left at that? That’s a reasonable question to put on the table.


    1. Bullies don’t come to the negotiating table unless forced. And if he showed weakness, which he would by truly negotiating, he knows the result would be a new head of state in Russia.

      Putin is working on eliminating the ghosts of his past, i.e., the fall of the Soviet Union, doubling down on what he learned as a KGB officer in how power must be wielded in order for a country to survive and thrive. From that position, one does not negotiate. One obliterates.

      1. Joe Biden created this conflict in 2014. If you are going to analyze the motives of political leaders don’t they say that charity begins at home.

        1. Hi Ian,

          The comment to which I replied was the heartfelt wish that Putin could be brought to the negotiating table.

          I too have that wish, and added the current reality. The tension between the two, experiencing that, is important to hold on to.


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