The war in Eastern Ukraine has not gone well over the past week. It was not that long ago that the hopes of Ukrainians everywhere were running high as Ukraine’s brave but somewhat rag tag collection of regular soldiers, national guard and volunteer battalions had almost succeeded in encircling the pro-Russian mercenaries, thugs and terrorists in Donetsk and Luhansk, and appeared to be on the verge of stymying Putin’s incursion into the Donbas.
Alas, we all underestimated Putin’s determination and gall in the face of almost universal global political condemnation. As we should all realize by now, Putin cares not a whit for what anyone in the world might think. He was not going to be humiliated in his endeavours and did not hesitate to ratchet up the stakes by direct intervention of his Russian military forces. So now, the poorly equipped and inexperienced Ukrainian forces are fighting well-led Russian Special Forces supported by a powerful array of superior weaponry. It should be obvious to all that he will keep doing this until he wins or until the West intervenes more directly and makes it obvious that they will not allow this maniac to achieve his imperialistic medieval ambitions.
It is also becoming clear that Ukraine on its own will be hard-pressed to hold the Russians at bay with their current tactics and level of engagement. The Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine are nowhere near sufficient or powerful enough to stop Putin’s aggression in the face of his determination and willingness to escalate things.
Many in Ukraine are calling for a full mobilization or draft of military aged men. Regrettably this will do little good in the short term. The Ukrainian military does not have the ability to properly supply or equip even the meagre forces they now currently have deployed in Eastern Ukraine, who are being fed and supplied through voluntary donations by the Ukrainian public and diaspora efforts. To mobilize, equip, train and deploy hundreds of thousands or even millions of new troops in a short space of time is just not doable under current circumstances.
The harsh reality is that Putin will only be stopped when the US, NATO and the EU step up their game and make the cost of winning for Putin more than Russia can bear. That implies a two pronged strategy by the Western powers.
First, they must totally isolate Russia economically and cut it off completely from world trade and financial markets. This would in short order drive Russia into not only a severe recession but a full blown economic depression. This would quickly force Putin’s supporters and his oligarchic elite to realize the real cost of his adventurism.
Secondly, they must quickly provide direct military aid to the Ukrainian military. This would include all the arms, supplies, expertise and intelligence support necessary to deploy credible forces against the Russians in Eastern Ukraine. This does not necessarily mean the direct deployment of allied foreign troops to fight in Ukraine, but would involve significant contingents of advisors and experts to bolster the Ukrainian armed forces command and control capabilities. Ukraine does not lack in patriotic volunteers willing to fight, but it is currently woefully deficient in terms of supplies, weaponry and competent leadership.
The bottom line is that the West must demonstrate to Putin that it is committed to ensuring the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine as per numerous international treaties, accords and agreements. To date, there has been no such commitment. The weak response so far, consisting of little more than diplomatic pooh-poohs and anemic sanctions, has only served to encourage Putin. He strongly believes, no doubt, that the West has no stomach for a fight and will do little of consequence as he carves away large chunks of Ukraine to create his Novorossia.
It is time for the West to now up the ante and demonstrate to Putin that a free and democratic world will not tolerate his ambitious barbarism.