Keep foot on Putin’s neck

I went to bed on the eve of the 4th of July with fireworks still thumping away in the neighborhood and bright bursts of light dancing through our bedroom windows, but was having a hard time getting to sleep with thoughts of Ukraine in my head.

Some Americans have fought to keep America independent and free and others have battled to make sure our country delivers the inalienable rights to all people here. Bless all those warriors and those of us who support them.

As we celebrate, the Ukrainians are going through some kind of hell-on-earth to save their freedoms in the face of a barbaric assault by the Russians. Like the Poles, they know a loss to the Russians would mean suppression, dictatorship and a wipe-out of their culture, even their language. Putin has directed the abduction of their war-separated children.

Ukraine has everything to lose.

The fierce resistance by the Ukrainians, with surprisingly near-unanimous support from NATO allies, surprised the world. So have the results. Putin’s grandiose dreams of empire have been dashed. Even his hold on Russia itself has been greatly weakened by a revolt from one of his internal cronies whose troops raced against him and his generals and got within 150 miles of the Kremlin last week.

Any likelihood of further Russian military offensives has disappeared. His troops are completely on the defensive, hiding in World War I trenches behind heavily mined fields. Their morale is reportedly shot.

The Emperor’s clothes are in tatters.

President Biden and the centrists in the U.S. Congress put the hammer down, and the bipartisan support for Ukraine is holding up. Their support with increasingly advanced weapons is making all the difference. All the while, no American troops have been deployed.

As an example, the U.S. Patriot missiles were used by the Ukrainians to shoot down six of the vaunted Russian hypersonic missiles. No one was sure that the Patriot could defeat one of Russia’s most advanced weapons, the Kh-47. Six Kh-47s were only 125 miles from Kyiv when first detected. Score: Patriot 6; Kh-47 zero.

Putin’s strategic blunder in attacking Ukraine is proving to be an invaluable test bed for Allied weapon systems

It’s the same story for the HIMARs, a precision artillery system that fires from 50 miles out and then scoots before a counter-attack. Several such systems have been used to knock out Russian ammunition depots, control centers, and logistic infrastructure like bridges. We never knew just how good they are.

Estimates of the American investment in support of Ukraine vary all over the place, but appear to average about $40 billion per year. That’s a big number, as right-wing congressional critics have pointed out, but it’s only about 5% of the annual Pentagon budget. That’s a very low cost for what we are getting in return:

  • A major degradation of the perception and the reality of the Russian military effectiveness. It’s not the war machine that the world has feared.
  • An apparently unwritten agreement that the use of tactical nuclear weapons constitutes mutual suicide. Putin has threatened to use them, but hasn’t. He has moved some of them to Belarus, a neighboring puppet state, and certainly would move them into Ukraine, closer to our Allies and U.S. bases in Western Europe if his troops would prevail in that country.
  • A cautionary lesson for China as it considers an attack with conventional warfare on Taiwan. Wars are notoriously unpredictable. Crossing the Straits of Taiwan would present formidable challenges for a Chinese attack.
  • The revelation that the supply chains for military materials for NATO troops has atrophied. Western Allies have a lot of work to do to rebuild their military manufacturing capabilities. For instance, we can’t manufacture and deliver more Patriot missile systems until the end of 2024.
  • The grievous damage to the Russian military, to its economy, to its standing in the world as an ever-more isolated country, could produce a regime change in Moscow. The Russian elites, including its generals and oligarchs have to be considering alternatives. If Putin loses his grip on power, it’s anyone’s guess about who his successor would be. Would it be another Stalin or another Gorbachev?

As we wind down from our celebration of independence and equality of humankind, it is appropriate to assess how our support for the Ukrainians will play out. We could be at a stalemate, but don’t count out the Ukrainian counter-offensive that could put Putin further on his heels.

That counter-offensive depends greatly on the bi-partisan centrist bloc in the U.S. Congress. Extremists on the left in Congress will always be Peaceniks. The dovish right-wingers are so anti-Biden that their partisanship could skew their brains to oppose further support for Ukraine.

These are scary times for Europe and America, but we have a foot on Putin’s neck and it needs to stay there until he is willing to negotiate an end to his brutality and agree to at least a partial withdrawal from Ukraine.

The threat from the revolt by Yevgeny Prigozhin (left) in his dash to Moscow proved that Putin will negotiate when his back is against the wall. He wanted to kill Prigozhin but let him escape to Belarus.

I know these are not happy thoughts following our joyous fireworks and community gatherings on the Fourth, but if we stay the course against the Russian autocracy, Ukraine and Europe may have established the rationale for their own independence day celebration.

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