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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

OPINION:

Accomplishing America’s legitimate objectives in Ukraine will require a radical adjustment in U.S. and European policy.  

We should want Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s army to push back the frontiers of Russian control to Feb. 24. That would be tough enough if his army were adequately equipped but retaking the Crimea as he aspires, though morally justifiable, is impossible absent direct NATO military engagement.


The United States should seek an outcome that disables Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to pursue more land grabs and sends a message — even plain through Mandarin translation — that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or other adventurism in the Pacific would have dire consequences.

The Ukrainian army is simply outnumbered and outgunned — the Russians have longer-range artillery. Over the long haul, Moscow can make what it needs to resupply its army — if necessary, Mr. Putin can escalate to national mobilization and draft, train and replace lost troops.

The United States has refused to equip Ukrainian soldiers with rockets, artillery and intelligence that can reach Russian artillery positions and strike Moscow’s military leaders and supply chain within Russia.

Mr. Biden has been intimidated by Mr. Putin’s threats of a nuclear rebuttal, even though we could deter such recklessness.

Instead, America chooses a white glove war by relying on economic sanctions and leaving Ukrainian soldiers naked to suffer unsustainable losses and civilians to bear indiscriminate bombing and war crimes.

Even worse, NATO is losing the long game — European public opinion and the sanctions war.

Freezing Russia’s overseas assets, denying access to the global dollar payment system and cutting off sales of Western technology and most private investment — will shrink Russian GDP by 10% this year and stifle long-term growth. But for a people invested in recreating the Empire of Peter the Great, those are proving bearable sacrifices.

Popular support for the war in Russia is holding up, and the invasion enjoys the blessings of the Russian Orthodox Church.

European and American sanctions on Russian oil are only partially curtailing exports, as those get rerouted to China, India and elsewhere in Asia. That process raises prices enough that Moscow’s oil revenues are booming and more than adequate to finance its invasion indefinitely.

U.S. and European energy policies are maddening. The Dutch are shutting down the largest natural gas field in the EU, and Biden’s war on U.S. oil and gas will significantly curtail U.S. LNG exports to Europe.

Meanwhile, Russia’s counter sanctions — slowly turning the screws by cutting off or reducing natural gas exports to most EU consumers — promise a cold winter, shuttered factories and unemployment.   

Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports is limiting Ukrainian grain exports and driving up European and U.S. inflation. It’s creating tragic, destabilizing consequences for developing countries that can’t compete financially as global markets ration scarce food supplies.

In contrast to the solidarity of the Russian people, European popular support for continued aid to Ukraine does not match sentiment for a negotiated peace — a nice word for appeasement.

Granted, sentiments vary. In the Baltics and Poland defeating Mr. Putin remains a high priority, but about half of the German and Italian public favor immediate peace.

The bottom line is political leaders in Europe are losing the war on the home front.

After our midterm elections, it will be interesting to see how much a barricaded progressive caucus in the U.S. House will back Mr. Biden’s terribly expensive, half-hearted support for Ukraine. And how much opposition wells up among Republican aspirants for the White House.

To maintain popular support, war aims must be clear and strategies must make sense, but Mr. Biden offers neither. Merely stating we will accept no peace terms unacceptable to Ukrainians is ridiculous when Mr. Zelenskyy says he wants to retake Crimea.

The Europeans and Americans need to realign their domestic fossil fuel strategy to a wartime footing — while continuing to build wind and solar capacity quickly.

NATO can’t invade Russia and overthrow Mr. Putin, but it can crack the agricultural commodities embargo, increase domestic natural gas production and equip the Ukrainian army with the material and intelligence to destroy Russia’s supply chain and target critical infrastructure and military leaders inside Russia.

NATO could relieve pressure on its economies by organizing naval convoys for Ukraine’s grain and guaranteeing the security of Ukrainian Black Sea ports. It could position substantially more troops in Poland, the Baltics and elsewhere along its eastern flank to occupy the resources of Russian military planners. And position naval assets for a hellacious response should Russia attack NATO ships, soldiers or commercial vessels or even whispers the threat of nuclear weapons.

Regarding the latter, sinking Russia’s Mediterranean fleet, destroying its air and other military assets in Syria and Iran and blockading its ports might inspire Patriarch Kirill to a different spiritual inspiration through prayer.     

• Peter Morici is an economist, emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and national columnist.


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