The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has been going on for four months, and a certain war-weariness is spreading. At the beginning of June, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that we should continue to defend Ukraine – “even if we are exhausted”.
The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also sees this danger. Now he has commented in a guest article in the US journal “Foreign Affairs”. In it he writes: In order to counteract its own war fatigue and misleading narratives, the West must understand exactly how Ukraine can win and support them in this.
Kuleba initially criticized demands that Ukraine should enter into negotiations with Russia and make concessions. According to him, the consequences of such a policy are clear: bowing to Putin’s aggression would not only destroy more of Ukraine, it would also encourage the Kremlin to launch similar attacks on other countries, he warns. Moreover, such a step would allow him to rewrite the basic rules of the global order.
In addition, any demands would convey the idea that the Ukrainians cannot win against the Russian army anyway. However, according to the Foreign Minister, this is fundamentally wrong. Important victories in the battles of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kyiv and Sumy would prove otherwise. However, this requires urgent support from the West.
Kuleba warns that the West should not ignore Putin’s fundamental understanding of imperialism. Putin rejects all attempts at diplomatic agreements because he is “driven by genocidal intentions”. In Putin’s eyes, the mere existence of Ukraine is a mistake, Ukrainians can either become Russians or die.
This is another important reason why the West must not back down. “A Russian military victory would not only allow for the torture, rape and murder of many thousands more innocent Ukrainians. It would undermine liberal values,” writes Kuleba.
The most urgent needs would be hundreds of multiple launch missile systems and various 155mm artillery pieces. But also anti-ship missiles, tanks, armored vehicles, air defense and combat aircraft are necessary to be able to launch effective counterattacks.
In addition, increased sanctions against Russia are important, he emphasizes. Russian exports would have to be cut off by a total energy embargo and cutting off Russian access to the international shipping industry. The West must not show any signs of fatigue with sanctions – “regardless of the general economic costs”.
However, Kuleba gets more specific, detailing how Ukraine could successfully push back the Russian army. He mentions the following steps:
• On the one hand, the Russian army in the Donbass must be consistently pushed back. While the Kremlin’s achievements in Donbass may grab the headlines, “it is important to remember that they are limited and have resulted in extremely high Russian casualties,” Kuleba reminds. Once Ukrainian forces could use Western-supplied multiple missile systems to destroy Russian artillery, the tide could turn in Ukraine’s favor along the entire frontline. “After that, our troops will aim to retake pieces of land and force the Russians to retreat here and there.”
• At the same time, the armed forces in the south must continue their counterattacks. With more advanced weaponry, enemy defenses could be breached further. The aim is to get the Russians to give up the southern Ukrainian city of Cherson. It is the key to Ukraine’s strategic stability.
• If Ukraine were to advance both south and east, Kuleba reasoned, Putin would be forced to choose between abandoning southern cities like Kherson and Melitopol to hold on to Donbass, or abandoning newly occupied territories like Donetsk and Luhansk to keep the south. “If we reach that moment, Putin will probably take the ceasefire negotiations more seriously,” the Ukrainian foreign minister explains his reasoning.
In his view, keeping up the pressure could even lead to a negotiated solution in which Putin withdraws his troops from all occupied territories. The same happened in the areas around Kyiv after the Russian military suffered numerous setbacks.
In his deliberations, Kuleba also includes ideas about how Putin can save face. If the Ukrainian military were more successful and stronger, Putin would possibly withdraw from certain areas before further negotiations, in order to then “present this as an act of goodwill rather than an act of embarrassing necessity”.
Kuleba analyzes that Putin can even claim that the “special operation” has successfully achieved its goals of demilitarizing and denazifying Ukraine. By releasing images of destroyed Ukrainian units and equipment, Putin’s propaganda could claim success.
Otherwise, Ukraine would have to push further into Luhansk and Donetsk until Putin was willing to negotiate or until the Ukrainian army reached and secured Ukraine’s internationally recognized border.
Kuleba dismisses concerns about a possible nuclear war. Putin is not suicidal, instead he is certain that “Russians themselves are peddling concerns about a cornered Putin in order to weaken Western support for Ukraine.” The US and the EU should not fall for this, he warns.
“Rather than focusing on Putin’s feelings, the United States and Europe should focus on practical steps to help Ukraine prevail,” writes Kuleba. It should be remembered that a Ukrainian victory would make the world safer, promote global stability more broadly and show other would-be aggressors “that barbarism ends badly.”
Kuleba ends with a memory. A commitment to Ukraine’s victory would remove uncertainties in long-term strategies with Russia. Instead, future negotiations would be conducted with a more humble and constructive Moscow.
“Every war ends with diplomacy. But that moment has not yet come. At the moment it is clear that Putin’s path to the negotiating table is exclusively through defeats on the battlefield,” Kuleba concludes.
“This war is existential and we are motivated to fight,” he argues. “Properly armed, our armed forces can stretch Putin’s troops – already exhausted – beyond the breaking point. We can counter Russian forces in both southern and eastern Ukraine and put pressure on Putin which of his achievements he wants to protect.”
To be successful, however, the US and its European allies would need to quickly provide Ukraine with a decent number of advanced heavy weapons, Kuleba claims. In addition, the sanctions against Russia must be maintained and strengthened. “And above all, they must ignore calls for diplomatic solutions that would help Putin before he makes any serious concessions.”