Biden's Ukrainian ambivalence - WSJ

A young boy sits in front of a damaged building after a strike in Kramatorsk, in Ukraine’s Donbass region, on May 25. ...


A young boy sits in front of a damaged building after a strike in Kramatorsk, in Ukraine’s Donbass region, on May 25.


Photo:

aris messinis/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether President Biden and his strategists want Ukraine to win its defensive war against Russia, or simply survive to sign a truce with more of its former territory under Russian control. This ambivalence is once again becoming an issue as Russian forces make further military gains in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

On Monday, Russian troops entered the center of Severodonetsk, one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in Donbass, which is the country’s industrial heartland. The advances followed relentless artillery and rocket barrages on the city that resemble the destruction of Mariupol.

The Ukrainians held out for weeks at Mariupol but, surrounded and with many seriously wounded, the remaining forces surrendered this month. Their fate is unknown, and it is hoped that they will be freed in a prisoner exchange. But this victory freed the Russian forces to mount the assault on Severodonetsk. A Russian victory there would free those forces to expand their attacks.

The Russians have an artillery and rocket advantage in range and firepower and can inflict horrific casualties on Ukrainian troops. Ukrainian forces have received howitzers from the United States, but they also need rocket launchers capable of firing at longer ranges. The best defense against artillery is artillery and air power, including rockets. American rocket systems would reduce the Russian artillery advantage and possibly slow its advance.

The Pentagon has hinted that the United States may soon provide medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine, but Mr. Biden said Sunday that “we are not going to send rocket systems to Ukraine that strike Russia”. Once again Mr. Biden wants to be reassuring

Vladimir Poutine

about what the United States will not do.

The president did not specify, but he is probably afraid that sending rockets could provoke Mr. Putin. Ukraine has already hit arms depots inside Russia, so the Kremlin is finding it harder to reinforce its troops in Donbass. But if the United States wants Ukraine to fire rockets only at targets inside Ukraine, it can certainly say so clearly.

The reluctance of the rocket system reflects the attitude of the White House before and throughout this war. Another example is the refusal to join a coalition of those who want to break the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain exports to the Black Sea. Ukraine supplies much of the world’s wheat and oilseeds, and world leaders are warning of shortages and price spikes. Food riots are possible in many countries.

“Many countries around the world depend on Ukrainian grain,” Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week. “In terms of what we’re doing about it, right now we’re…we don’t have any US Navy ships in the Black Sea. We do not intend to do so unless otherwise stated. He added: “It is prohibited for commercial shipping.”

Again, the US is offering a preemptive concession that allows Russia to get away with putting more economic pressure on Ukraine and the West without fear of response. This is no way to win a war, or even to force a stalemate on favorable terms for Ukraine.

Mr. Putin has not given up on his plans to overthrow Kyiv and directly threaten NATO, and Mr. Biden’s ambivalence in aiding Ukraine encourages the Russian to believe he can still win a strategic victory.

Journal editorial report: The best and worst of the week from Kyle Peterson, Allysia Finley and Dan Henninger. Images: Stuart Kirk/AP/NASA/SFUSD Composed: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the print edition of May 31, 2022.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden's Ukrainian ambivalence - WSJ
Biden's Ukrainian ambivalence - WSJ
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