By JOHN HEBST, STEVEN PIFER AND DAVID KRAMER
June 1, 2022
Over the past three months, the Ukrainians have thwarted Vladimir Putin’s effort to topple their duly elected government, take Kyiv and occupy much of the country. The battle is not over, however, so the West must continue to help ensure that the Kremlin’s aggression fails and that Ukraine forces a Russian withdrawal or achieves a negotiated outcome on terms acceptable to Ukrainians. More than 30 of our fellow experts and national security professionals — whose digital signatures appear at the end of this op-ed — agree.
Russia’s egregious violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and numerous war crimes — from the indiscriminate bombardment of hospitals, schools and residential areas, to use of cluster and vacuum bombs, summary executions, widespread rape, mass deportations, including of children, and torture — have engendered strong popular support in the United States and other Western countries for Ukraine. The Biden administration and bipartisan leadership in Congress have risen to the challenge through close coordination with allies and partners in implementing punishing sanctions on Russia, supplying major weapons to Ukraine, strengthening NATO’s force posture on its eastern flank, and supporting the bids by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. Quick passage of the Lend-Lease Act and a $40 billion assistance package (that provides, among other things, $6 billion in military aid to Ukraine) provides a much-needed boost to Kyiv’s efforts but must also include stringent oversight to ensure proper use.
Putin’s war on Ukraine may be 5,000 miles from Washington, but it directly threatens critical American interests and deliberately risks a global food crisis. Putin’s war on Ukraine is a direct attack on international law and the global order which enshrines sovereignty, territorial integrity and the peaceful resolution of disputes and has given the world 75 years of prosperity and the absence of great power war. What’s more, Putin’s aggressive designs may not end with the subjugation of Ukraine. If successful there, he might be tempted to seek to restore Moscow’s influence throughout the entire area once controlled by the Soviet Union. That would pose a direct threat to NATO allies in the Baltic region and elsewhere in eastern Europe, allies to whose defense the United States is committed under the security guarantee in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukraine’s soldiers are not asking NATO to fight their battles for them, but they do need American and NATO weapons and economic assistance to prevail. It is in America’s national interest to see Ukraine emerge from this war as a truly sovereign and democratic state, in charge of its own foreign policy, militarily strong, territorially secure, and economically viable.
The United States and Europe must avoid the urge to encourage Kyiv to negotiate a cease fire that falls short of Ukraine’s goals and could consign millions of Ukrainians to Russian control; after all, Putin denies the legitimacy of a unique Ukrainian identity, and Russian forces have already committed countless war crimes against them. Moreover, the Ukrainian side has tried to engage in good-faith negotiations, but got nowhere because Putin has shown no interest in
serious negotiations. Western pressure on Kyiv to begin negotiations or accept a cease fire that the Ukrainians do not want would likely harden the Kremlin’s attitude and prolong the fighting.
The United States should instead continue to exert leadership in the Western effort to provide Ukraine the weapons it needs, to impose additional sanctions on Moscow, and to bolster NATO’s military presence on its eastern flank. This includes sending Ukraine in a timely fashion more advanced weapons, such as long-range fires, high-altitude air defense systems and anti-ship missiles.
It also means intensified economic pressure, including measures to cut Russian revenues from oil sales either through a phased-in embargo by the European Union (EU) or, alternatively, EU price caps or tariffs on Russian sales backed up by U.S. secondary sanctions. Finally, it means traditional U.S. freedom of navigation exercises in the Black Sea, and a careful look at a multinational military escort of cargo ships to and from Odesa to ease the mounting global food shortage.
No one wants direct confrontation with Russia, but helping Ukraine to defend its land and freedom is in the West’s security interest. While the United States and NATO must certainly take into account Russian nuclear capacity, they should respond calmly and not be intimidated.
This unjustified war has a clear aggressor — Russia — and a clear victim — Ukraine. The West should aim to see that the Kremlin’s aggression fails and that Ukraine prevails on the battlefield or achieves an outcome that Kyiv can accept.
Sincerely (in alphabetical order),
- Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute
- General Philip Breedlove, US Air Force, Retired; 17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe; Distinguished Professor, Sam Nunn School, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Ian Brzezinski, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy
- General Wesley K. Clark, US Army, Retired; 12th Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Senior Fellow, UCLA Burkle Center
- Eliot A. Cohen, Former Counselor, US Department of State
- General Keith Dayton, US Army, Retired
- Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution; Senior Fellow, Stanford University
- Ambassador Paula Dobriansky, Former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, US Department of State
- Eric S. Edelman, Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, US Department of Defense
- Evelyn N. Farkas, Executive Director, The McCain Institute; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia
- Ambassador Daniel Fried, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Ambassador to Poland, US Department of State; Weiser Family Distinguished Fellow, Atlantic Council
- Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University
- Melinda Haring, Deputy Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute
- Ambassador John Herbst, Former US Ambassador to Ukraine
- General Mark Hertling, US Army, Retired; Former Commanding General, US Army Europe
- General Ben Hodges, US Army, Retired; Former Commanding General, US Army Europe
- Glen E. Howard, President, Jamestown Foundation
- Natalie A. Jaresko, Former Minister of Finance of Ukraine; Chairperson, Aspen Institute Kyiv; Distinguished Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council
- Donald N. Jensen, Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University
- Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia, National Intelligence Council
- David J. Kramer, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State
- Matthew Kroenig, Deputy Director, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Director of the Center’s Scowcroft Strategy Initiative, Atlantic Council
- Jan M. Lodal, Distinguished Fellow, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council
- Nadia McConnell, President, US-Ukraine Foundation
- Robert McConnell, Former Assistant Attorney General, US Department of Justice; Director for External Relations, US-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN)
- Ambassador Michael McFaul, Former US Ambassador to Russia; Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University
- Barry Pavel, Senior Vice President, Atlantic Council
- Ambassador Steven Pifer, William J. Perry Fellow, Stanford University; Former US Ambassador to Ukraine
- Herman Pirchner, Jr., President, American Foreign Policy Council
- Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, Professor, Columbia University; Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; US Ambassador-at-Large for the Former Soviet Union, 1997-2001
- Ambassador Andras Simonyi, Former Hungarian Ambassador to the United States
- Christopher Skaluba, Director, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council
- Ambassador William B. Taylor, Former US Ambassador to Ukraine
- Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, Former NATO Deputy Secretary General; Former Assistant Secretary of Defense; Former US Ambassador to Russia and NATO
- Ambassador Kurt Volker, Former US Ambassador to NATO and US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations; Distinguished Fellow, Center for European Policy Analysis
- Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Former US Ambassador to Ukraine
Institutional affiliations are for purposes of identification only.