Crucial window for Kyiv and the world

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Ukraine needs heavy weapons and air support. Tanks, multiple-launch rockets, self-propelled artillery, air support — MiGs and Sukhoi aircraft — and mobile air defense. They need hundreds of thousands of 152mm artillery rounds. The US-supplied Javelins and Stingers are necessary but no longer sufficient. 

Why? Because there is a window of opportunity now — for a week or two perhaps — in which Ukraine can counterattack in the north, south and east to expel Russian forces. This will require mobile armored forces and air power. And if this window is lost, the future is darker and more uncertain. 

If Ukraine can prevail, it will secure its borders, expel Russia from all of Donbas and open the way for a negotiated end to the conflict. Presumably, this would also thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans for the Baltic states, Moldova and Georgia. 

It would also undermine China’s growing belief that it might itself rearrange international boundaries through the use of force. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine on April 7.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP
A Ukrainian soldier celebrates in a check point in Bucha.
A Ukrainian soldier celebrates in a check point in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv.

Following Russia’s setback, international criminal investigations into its actions will intensify. Putin himself will likely be indicted. The rules-based international system will be reinforced and the possibilities of broader, more destructive conflict reduced. All this opens the way for greater cooperation in dealing with climate change, disease and poverty, as well as providing an opening to strengthen US-China cooperation. 

On the other hand, halfhearted pledges, bickering and slow deliveries of heavy weaponry expose Ukraine to defeat — first in the east, and then the conflict will return to Kyiv and Odessa. Putin’s ambitions have no bounds. China will be encouraged in planning a military takeover of Taiwan. The Baltics will tremble. The United States and NATO allies will face agonizing budget decisions to return to Cold War levels of defense spending. 

No more waffling 

This is truly an inflection point in the war in Ukraine and therefore in the future of the international system. The Biden administration must lead NATO in this strengthened support to Ukraine. Eastern European allies have precisely the thousands of tanks, artillery pieces and munitions the Ukrainians need for this phase of the conflict, and they must not hold back. No more waffling! 

Ukrainian soldier inspects the wreckage of a destroyed Russian armored column on a road in Bucha, a suburb north of Kyiv.
A Ukrainian soldier inspects the wreckage of a destroyed Russian armored column on a road north of Kyiv.
Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

But to lead, the Biden administration must recalibrate its own strategy. Ukraine is not a distraction from its long-term alignment to deter and thwart China. Rather, Ukraine is the key to strengthening trans-Atlantic unity, assuring greater stability in Europe and dissuading bloated Chinese ambitions. 

Strengthening Ukraine — giving it the tools it needs to secure its own territory — must be the first order of business for the United States and our NATO allies. If we seek to avoid World War III, this is the moment to arm Ukraine. 

Gen. Wesley Clark is a former NATO supreme allied commander. 

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