Longing to weaken Russia, US 'NATO-izes' Ukraine with military aid
Published: Apr 27, 2022 06:09 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

It has been more than 60 days since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Up to now, the US has coordinated military aid to Ukraine from about 30 countries. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday invited 40 allies to a meeting to discuss military assistance to help Ukraine upgrade its modern military. It goes without saying that the US hopes to consolidate Western military resources and greatly weaken Russia through the conflict. 

There are two main reasons why the US and other Western countries are currently so eager to provide military assistance to Ukraine. 

First, Ukraine's performance showed the West the possibility of a military solution to the crisis. Until the war began, most Western countries believed that once the Russian army started military operations, Ukraine will fall quickly. However, the performances of both Russian and Ukrainian armies were a surprise to the West. The Ukrainian army not only successfully resisted the first wave of Russian strikes, retaining control of Kiev, Kharkiv, Odessa and other major cities, but with the support of NATO intelligence and logistical systems, inflicted some losses on Russian forces. 

Second, the conflict has put enormous political pressure on the Biden administration with Republicans criticizing the president for being weak when the conflict broke out. Washington believes that Russia seriously affects the West-led international order and threatens the international influence of the US, leading to the support of Ukraine a "political correctness" in the eyes of the US and its Western allies and being related to their core interests.

Meanwhile, Biden's approval ratings in the polls stay low as the government has been lacking in fighting the epidemic and boosting the US economy. The reckless withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan also eroded Americans' confidence in Biden. Under both domestic and international pressure, the Biden administration had to introduce tough economic sanctions against Russia and provide massive arms aid to Ukraine. 

Currently, the Biden administration is also actively pressuring its allies to provide offensive weapons to Ukraine. There are three main changes in the way the West provides assistance to Ukraine. 

First, there are more providers of military assistance. The US has attempted to coordinate its allies, including 10 non-NATO member countries, to create a "united front against Russia" through providing military assistance to Ukraine. Not only European NATO members provided heavy weapons, but also Japan and Australia began to send arms aid to Ukraine. 

Second, the military aid mechanism is normalized. In March, US lawmakers approved roughly $14 billion in humanitarian, military and economic assistance to Ukraine. The Presidential Drawdown Authority, in which the president can authorize the immediate transfer of articles and services from US stocks without congressional approval in response to an "unforeseen emergency," has also provided defense items to Ukraine, including heavy weapons and artillery rounds. The US has built a long-term mechanism for military assistance to Ukraine. One of the main topics of the Pentagon-led Tuesday talks with its allies was Ukraine's long-term defense needs and modernizing the Ukrainian forces to be potent. 

Third, the equipment provided is high-end. The US and its allies have provided Ukraine with weaponry gradually upgrading from the initial man-portable air-defense systems and anti-tank missiles to T-72 tanks, armored personnel carriers, S-300 air defense system, and now the latest high-tech equipment -- armed drones. In addition, the US has coordinated the supply of heavy howitzers, anti-ship missiles, and other offensive weapons to Ukraine from European countries. 

It's worth noting that the Ukrainian military has started to send people to neighboring countries to train how to use the weapons, some of which are newly deployed into service. The Western military assistance to Ukraine tends to meet the "NATO standard," showing the strong desire to defeat Russia. 

The ultimate goal of the US is to support Ukraine to fight a protracted war with Russia, which can be completely weakened in this way. A protracted war for Russia and Ukraine not only means huge attrition and human casualties, but also additional risk spillovers. The media and experts have been worried about the possibility of a runaway conflict. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the West not to underestimate the elevated risks of nuclear conflict over Ukraine and that NATO is in essence engaged in a proxy war with Russia by supplying Kiev with weaponry. 

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European & Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn