NATO Strategy Shifts From Ukraine Must Be Defended to Russia Must Lose

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

There seemed to be a new policy direction floated by the Biden Defense Department at Friday’s Pentagon press briefing. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was asked, “John, do you think the Russians are going to lose this war in Ukraine?” (This video is cued to the exchange in the transcript.)


MR. KIRBY: We want the Ukrainians to win this war. And we want to see Ukraine not have to fight for its own sovereignty, as it has been for eight years; we keep forgetting that. I think President Zelensky has been rock solid clear on what his outcome is here. A whole Ukraine, fully respected as a sovereign nation-state, we want that for him too. And so we want to help; we want to see them win. And that’s why we are committing so much energy and security assistance to that country. And we’ll continue to do that.

Q: Do you will see the Ukrainians win? Does that mean you want to see the Russians lose?

MR. KIRBY: We would — we want to see Mr. Putin and the Russian army lose this invasion, lose this fight inside Ukraine. It is Ukrainian territory, Ukrainian sovereignty, its Ukrainian cities, and lives that are being destroyed. And obviously, we want to see that end. And we want to see Ukraine whole again.

Q: Will the U.S. support Ukrainian forces if they go on the offensive in Crimea and the Russian-backed separatists’ regions in eastern Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to get into future operations here. What I would tell you is we’re going to continue to support Ukraine in their efforts to defend their sovereignty and their people as much as we can, as fast as we can, Lucas. And I’m not going to get into hypothetical operations that they haven’t conducted yet.


There are a couple of implications here. The first one is the future of Ukraine as either a NATO member or as a member in all but name. In my post from Saturday, I touched on this: Ukraine Has Joined NATO Whether Russia Likes It or Not, and More Are Yet to Follow. Ukraine is being integrated into NATO. The US military has trained Ukraine’s army in a significant way since Putin invaded Donbas and annexed Crimea. The initial supplies of replacement equipment have been pulled from Warsaw Pact stocks that were left behind when the USSR fell apart, but Ukraine is starting to receive weapons and vehicles that are to NATO standards. The first such were MRAP-style vehicles, the Australian Bushmaster, and British Mastiff. Now Germany is on the verge of giving Ukraine 50 Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks and 60 Marder infantry fighting vehicles.

These vehicles are obsolescent, but they are comparable to the equipment being used by the Russians and would move Ukraine towards being armed with more modern German tanks in the near future.

New equipment is going to require training in a secure location. For example, we know that the Switchblade “suicide drone” operators just finished training in Biloxi, MS (I’m assuming on Keesler AFB).


Joe Biden informed the world that we were providing some level of training to Ukrainian troops in Poland (Joe Biden Spilling the Beans on Training Troops in Poland and Calling for Regime Change in Russia Is Reckless and Dangerous).

Sunday, Lithuania’s Defense Chief Valdemaras Rupšys, standing beside the US Army Chief of Staff General James McConville, announced that Lithuania would provide technical and combat training for the Ukrainian armed forces very soon.

We’ve passed a point of no return. Day by day, NATO is becoming more engaged in the war in Ukraine, and Ukraine is becoming something resembling a NATO member.

The second point that Kirby made was more significant.

Most people tend to think of a Ukraine “win” as restoring the status quo ante of February 23. However, it seems clear from Kirby’s statement that the fate of the two Donbas “republics” is very much on the table. It is hard to imagine a situation where Russia is forced to withdraw from Ukraine and the Ukrainian Army doesn’t have its fangs out and overruns Donetsk and Luhansk in the process. Kirby’s statement seems to say that the US regards Donetsk and Luhansk as Ukrainian territory because it is, and Ukraine gets to decide how to handle the problem.


As many of us have frequently remarked, in the absence of anything looking like leadership on the part of Joe Biden, the vacuum is being filled by leaders who have a personal stake in the outcome. The Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas, penned an op-ed for the New York Times titled: I’m the Prime Minister of Estonia. Putin Can’t Think He’s Won This War.

To put an end to these horrors, the most optimistic observers have put their hope in a peace deal. But peace is not going to break out tomorrow. We must face up to the fact that the Kremlin’s idea of European and global security is completely at odds with that of the free world. And Vladimir Putin is willing to kill and repress en masse for the sake of it.
At NATO, our focus should be simple: Mr. Putin cannot win this war. He cannot even think he has won, or his appetite will grow. We need to demonstrate the will and commit resources to defend NATO territory. To check Russia’s aggression, we need to put in place a long-term policy of smart containment.

I think she gets this exactly right and I think important people heard her. It is not sufficient that Putin is foiled in his attempt to subjugate Ukraine, he must be seen to lose.

This war might very well make the hall of fame of geopolitical stupidity. Putin went to war to throw his weight around and intimidate his neighbors. Now, going on two months into the adventure, his army has been humiliated, he’s made Ukraine a de facto NATO member, Sweden and Finland will be NATO members by autumn, Ukraine’s military will have frontline equipment and arms, and Russia’s political and economic ties to the west have been severely damaged. Russia is isolated and faces the hard choice of curbing its ambitions or becoming a Chinese client state and curbing its ambitions. Putin, the man who sees himself as personifying Russia, has only one man to blame for all of it.




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