“Some things have to be pushed [ahead] to have relevant armaments to strengthen our army come to our country sooner,” Zelensky said Thursday during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “Even, probably, sooner than it was scheduled.”
Ukrainian forces have endured a bruising Russian assault around Bakhmut for the last several months as Western states marshal an array of heavy weaponry and training programs to ensure that Ukrainian forces can use the tanks and fighting vehicles effectively. Yet that equipment has arrived more slowly than Ukrainian officials hoped, and Zelensky has not yet persuaded the United States and other powers to provide the long-range artillery and missile systems.
“Delay with appropriate decisions is time lost for peace and the lives of our soldiers, who have not yet received the vitally necessary number of defense means,” Zelensky said.
Stoltenberg made a surprise visit to Kyiv, his first since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his campaign to overthrow the Ukrainian government last year, on the eve of a meeting of defense ministers from the 46 countries that have cooperated to arm Ukraine over the last year.
“Allies are now delivering more jets, tanks, and armored vehicles,” Stoltenberg said. “All of this is making a real difference on the battlefield every day. We do not know when this war will end, but we know that Russian aggression is a toxic pattern that must be stopped.”
Zelensky argued that NATO could help to deter such aggression by allowing Ukraine to make progress toward its eventual admission into the trans-Atlantic alliance.
“There is no objective barrier that would prevent the adoption of political decisions on inviting Ukraine to the alliance,” he said. “And right now, when the majority of people in NATO countries and the majority of Ukrainians support our country’s accession to the alliance, it is time for appropriate decisions. It is no longer possible to imagine the security of the Euro-Atlantic area without Ukraine, and people understand that.”
NATO leaders considered embracing Ukraine in 2008, but Putin succeeded in convincing Germany and France to block Kyiv’s application. Instead, NATO leaders issued a statement that promised to allow Ukraine into the alliance at some future date and allowed the issue to go dormant. Some central and Eastern European allies have pushed for NATO to take an upcoming summit in Vilnius as an occasion to make some meaningful gesture toward bringing Ukraine into the alliance, but their proposal has been met with opposition from other larger members of the security bloc.
“Ukraine’s future is in NATO. All allies agree on that,” Stoltenberg said. “At the same time, the main focus of the alliance, of NATO allies now, is to ensure that Ukraine prevails. It is to ensure that Ukraine continues to be a sovereign, independent democratic nation in Europe because that is the only way to also have a meaningful discussion about Ukraine’s future membership.”
Yet even the question of Ukraine’s wartime aims has proven difficult for Kyiv and its international partners as the U.S. and other Western powers have tried to arm Ukraine without crossing a threshold they fear might provoke Russia. Some Western officials fear that Putin would escalate the conflict in order to ensure that Ukraine cannot retake Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Putin seized in 2014 and used as a launch pad for the rest of the war.
“All of Europe and the world need a clear understanding that only the victory of Ukraine will save other states and peoples from such terrible destruction, losses, and deaths that Russia has brought to our land,” Zelensky said Thursday.
President Joe Biden also has declined to send long-range weapons to Ukraine on the grounds that Putin might deem them provocative on account of their potential to strike deep into Russia. Proponents of those deliveries argue that Ukraine could use them to force Russian troops to withdraw from Crimea and to orchestrate more dynamic Western-style military operations.
“Both sides are still using Soviet-era tactics in many instances, which is just pound the other side with artillery until you grind them down and then assault, then conduct the frontal assault,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) said Thursday during a Hudson Institute event. “That’s not how the United States and NATO fight.”
The U.S. and its allies rely on so-called fire and maneuver tactics, wherein advanced air power and long-range missiles allow Western militaries to advance without running into the teeth of the enemy’s defenses.
“You fire to create the conditions for maneuver,” he said. “If we can create a fire and maneuver type of force and help the Ukrainians evolve into that, they’ll be in a significantly better position for any type of offensive either now or in the future against the Russians.”
Pentagon officials expressed cautious optimism that Ukraine can execute such a plan with the more limited weapons.
“We are all in,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told Foreign Policy this week. “I think we’re putting the Ukrainians in a position where, once the counteroffensive launches, I think they have a good chance of changing that kind of dynamic on the front lines.”
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