If the West doesn’t help Ukraine beat back Russia, your lives will not be the same.
Opinion by VICTOR PINCHUK
The White House has announced that by the end of the year funding for supporting Ukraine will run out. The EU has declared that it will miss by a large measure its announced goal of providing Ukraine with 1 million artillery shells by March 2024. These are sober words presaging what I believe will be a devastating failure for the West.
If Ukraine cannot push Russia back, there will not be a stable stalemate. Russia will throw all it has into “conquering” Ukraine. It will obliterate cities completely, as demonstrated by its conquest of Mariupol, where Russia is estimated to have killed 25,000 people and destroyed 90 percent of residential buildings. That is the Russian way of war. Russia’s army will imprison, torture or kill anyone who refuses to “belong” to Russia. Remember the Bucha massacre? Bucha had 37,000 inhabitants, compared to Ukraine’s 44 million. As Russia advances, 5, 10, 100 or more Buchas may occur.
Many more Ukrainians will flee if Russia is able to seize more Ukrainian territory. 6.3 million have fled the country as of now. Many work hard in their new place of residence, but European countries incur costs of hundreds of Euro per month for each Ukrainian refugee. Russia’s strategy includes making Ukraine uninhabitable, driving refugees into Europe. If, for example, 5 million more Ukrainians flee as Russia advances, it would cost Europe billions of Euros more per month additionally, dozens of billions of Euros per year.
Many Ukrainians will fight. Westerners learned on Feb. 24, 2022, that Ukrainians will risk their lives to remain free. Hundreds of thousands of battle-hardened women and men will be ready to take up a guerilla fight. They are inventive, with many highly educated engineers, inventors, and IT specialists. If Russia counters with ever more brutal repression, this will trigger ever more severe guerilla fighting and more refugees.
Meanwhile the Baltic states and Poland will be subject to Russian threats and its hybrid war. It worked out in Ukraine, will be the Kremlin’s logic. Moldova and Georgia could face military aggression.
At the same time, inside European societies radical and populist parties that sympathize with Russia will gain momentum. Already, in several countries, pro-Russian parties have come to positions of power or are running high in the polls now. More will likely join governments if Russia advances in Ukraine and these pro-Russian forces seem to be proven “right.”
With an emboldened aggressive Russia right at the border of the EU, deterrence will be needed far beyond what governments plan now. Defense budgets in Europe during the Cold War averaged 3.5 percent of GDP. Now they are lower than 2 percent in many European countries.
Returning to Cold War levels would mean for the UK $39 billion more per year, for Germany $86 billion, and for France $43 billion. For NATO as a whole to hit 3.5 percent of GDP on defense spending, it would require $410 billion more per year.
And this staggering sum is still nothing against the cost if a hot war between Russia and NATO emerges from Russian hybrid aggression on one of NATO’s Eastern European member states. NATO allies will have to defend the attacked, including likely with their own soldiers.
For sure, if the Kremlin is successful in Ukraine, Russian support for terrorists all over the world would strengthen. As will cooperation with Iran and North Korea. These regimes which use death, terror, and fear at home and abroad, will challenge the West. Every additional crisis that affects the West is good for them (and Russia). And of course China watches if the West defends the rules it proclaims. If the impression is that the West is incapable of resolute and sustainable defense, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan becomes more likely.
If you are a Western middle-class citizen who values the life you live, the cost of this change of organizing principles of the international system, of the tone and ideology of the world you live in, will be beyond imagination — and it will be very costly for many decades.
This is the world if Ukraine loses.
You may think, an armistice now will limit loss of life and Western expenses. But Russia will agree to an “armistice” only as a maneuver to win time, regroup and attack again.
You may think, then let’s temporarily not defend Ukraine but strengthen our own defense. Russia will be satisfied and turn inward to digest their acquisition. But instead, the impossibility to devour Ukraine will spill blood, suffering and chaos, and this will increase instability all over Europe. And Russia will not turn inward. From the start the Kremlin said, that they fight the West. They need a new world order with dictatorship equally strong as freedom and democracy. Ukraine is a cornerstone in the plan, but by no means enough. They speak about this openly.
So, a decline in Western support for Ukraine will not lessen the cost for the West. It will make the cost for the West skyrocket.
Ukraine losing is an outcome that must not happen. So you must prevent it. You must help Ukraine win. And you can! Ukraine winning is doable. It will even be comparatively inexpensive.
During World War II, U.S. support for the UK, the Soviet Union and France averaged 4.9 percent of GDP annually. The Korean war cost the US 2.8 percent of GDP annually. The “war on terror” is estimated to have cost the US $8 trillion. Compare those figures to the 0.3 percent of GDP the U.S. spent until today for Ukraine and 0.4 percent on average that EU member states have spent (and this is including financial and humanitarian aid, not only military support).
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. has committed just 3.9 percent of its defense budget on military support for Ukraine. This has thus far kept Russia in check in Europe, prevented many more millions of refugees, and deterred Iran and China.
I am a Ukrainian. Our heroes at the front fight for our independence. But I am not insisting you make Ukrainian independence your cause. I am just asking you to think through the war in Ukraine from the point of view of your own interests.
I am tremendously thankful for the gracious, vital support of the U.S., Europe and other friends of Ukraine in the West and beyond for the past almost two years.
And I believe it is in the West’s fundamental self-interest to continue and do more. Do it more quickly (if the West had given last year what it gave now, Ukraine would have beaten back Russia already). We need more artillery shells, tanks, long-range missiles and planes.
For a small fraction of a percent of Western GDP, and without sending a single soldier into battle, the West can enable Ukraine to keep holding at bay the single greatest security threat to the West and the international order today.
Then, you will have, for little money, saved your own lives as you want to live them in a world in which the West and its allies are able to robustly defend freedom and security.
To achieve that by spending only a couple of percentage points of your defense budget is a good deal for you, for Ukraine, and for the world.
Victor Pinchuk is a Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist.