America must respond to Putin’s barbaric Ukraine war

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Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is entering a new, deadly phase. And the United States faces a moral challenge: We need to respond. 

The news is beyond grim. Russian troops have seized — or are mid-siege; reports conflict — the southern port city of Kherson and surrounded another, Mariupol. Bombardments and shelling have reduced parts of some Ukrainian cities to rubble, including its second-largest city Kharkiv. 

Russia has likely already used thermobaric weapons — the horrific “vacuum bombs” — on Ukrainian soil. Evidence mounts of the use of cluster munitions and intentional targeting of civilians — including a kindergarten and nursery in Oktyrkha, just one in a series of vicious attacks on schools. 

By Tuesday, Putin’s war had already killed at least 16 children. Later atrocities include a bomb that blew off the legs of teens playing soccer. Images such as the Mariupol father cradling his dead son’s head and the dead and injured littering a Kharkiv street are only a taste of what’s coming.

Putin plainly means to reduce Ukraine’s cities to dust if they don’t surrender, as his forces did in the bloody 2000 siege of Grozny and more recently in the leveling of Aleppo, then Syria’s most populous city.  

Against this barbarism, even the awesome courage of President Volodymyr Zelensky and his entire nation won’t suffice. Putin will keep up the slaughter, blithely denying it as he pretends to “demilitarize” Ukraine.  

Russia Ukraine war map
Detailed locations of where Russia has attacked Ukraine.

It’s time for greater, more forceful US and Western action. It could take many forms: As Bryan Clark pointed out in these pages, deniable microwave attacks can disable Russian hardware and jam tactical communications. Our naval power can curtail Russian options in the Black Sea.

And civilized leaders, the civilized world, need to routinely label Putin the war criminal he is — and treat him as such. As former NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark told The Post, this helps energize Europe more effectively around Ukraine and deep-sixes Putin’s much-desired future as a global leader. 

Nor should setting up a no-fly zone, as Ukraine’s government has requested over its airspace, be off the table. It would require shooting down the planes of a nuclear power — but if Putin can dictate the rules of engagement simply by invading another nation, this won’t be his last war. 

No, the United States isn’t formally obligated to fight on Ukraine’s behalf (since we never ratified the treaty promising that, in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons). But Russia’s serial, utterly unprovoked invasions of a sovereign country require an answer stronger than mere sanctions and belated efforts to get the Ukrainians all the arms they can use.

Germany, long the brake against European efforts to stymie Russian ambition, has announced a dramatic strategic shift. It’s time the United States did the same. 

America is the anchor of NATO and the heart of the postwar liberal order. Our country needs to start acting like it, before that order collapses in total ruin.  

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