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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

OPINION:

While Ukrainian President Zelensky addressed the US Congress on March 16, events in the Russian war against his country were accelerating. 

Despite the extensive economic sanctions that have been levied against Russia, its brutal war continues with attacks against the capital city of Kyiv and other major cities. Ukrainian forces are reportedly counter-attacking near Kyiv.  


Meanwhile, the war crimes committed by Russian forces multiply. Under the Geneva Conventions, intentionally killing civilians is a war crime. Russian forces’ attacks on Ukrainian civilian apartment houses, schools and hospitals are both frequent and intentional. 

The Ukrainian government claims that more than sixty-three hospitals have been bombed. The port city of Mariupol’s maternity hospital, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted, was attacked intentionally. Mr. Lavrov made the risible claim that it was a legitimate military target because all the patients and children had been moved out. Ukraine insists that many women and children were killed or wounded in the attack. Russians have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Ukrainian civilians in perpetuating these war crimes. 

Even before the February 24 invasion, President Biden was thoroughly intimidated by Russian President Putin. Mr. Biden expresses his fear by telling our adversaries what we’ll do or won’t do before we act. This is his method of asking permission, which no American president should ever do.

In Mr. Zelensky’s speech to Congress, he evoked Pearl Harbor and 9-11, saying Ukraine has experienced such events every day for three weeks. He renewed his plea for a no-fly zone for Russian aircraft, for advanced anti-aircraft missile systems and for combat aircraft, and paused to show a video of apparent Russian war crimes against civilians. 

President Biden, though promising more aid, is sending only weapons he believes won’t provoke Mr. Putin. That is the reason cited for Mr. Biden personally stopping the transfer of Polish MiG-29s to Ukraine. Enforcing a no-fly zone would be a major escalation, which we should not do but supplying MiGs would not. 

The MiG-29 is a Soviet-era aircraft but still a very capable fighter. It’s not stealthy but it can fly at Mach 2, carry a wide variety of missiles and bombs and can reportedly operate from unpaved forward airfields. The Poles reportedly have twenty-eight they were willing to give the Ukrainians if we would route them through Germany. 

Then the Pentagon said that the Ukrainians don’t need the aircraft because the Javelin and Stinger missiles we have sent them are more lethal. The missiles may be more lethal in defense of fixed assets or personnel, but fighters are more versatile and can be used to attack Russian forces, which is why the Ukrainians want and need them badly. 

White House spokesman Jen Psaki refused to draw a red line against a Russian chemical weapons attack on Ukraine, effectively green-lighting such an attack. 

If our Javelins and Stingers are so deadly, as a Wall Street Journal editorial pointed out, why would the supposedly less-deadly MiG-29 not be sent? In the view of the pusillanimous Poles and the timorous Mr. Biden, the reason is that the MiGs could be “escalatory.” 

Mr. Biden should have but didn’t send Ukraine Patriot anti-aircraft missiles before the Russians invaded. In Mr. Zelensky’s congressional speech, he pled for S-300s (a less capable Russian system) which we probably don’t have.

Because the Polish government doesn’t want its fingerprints on the transfer, we could get the MiGs and Ukrainian pilots to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and let them fly back to their nation – two or three at a time - loaded for bear. We should do that – literally under the radar - forthwith.

Last week, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier told a congressional hearing that the US intelligence community was looking for ways to support a Ukrainian insurgency if the country is overrun by the Russian invasion. 

That’s all well and good, but wouldn’t it be better to find more overt and covert means of helping Ukraine before it’s overrun and make it much harder for Russia to do that?

We should. If we fail to prevent Russian conquest of Ukraine, we should aim to help Ukrainians turn their nation into Putin’s Afghanistan.

There is a lot we can and should do covertly. For example, we must have a lot of intelligence information, including satellite imagery, about the Russian forces and their movements. We should share as much of it with Ukraine as we can without revealing our sources and methods of intelligence gathering. 

The Ukrainians are apparently defending themselves somewhat successfully from Russian cyberattacks. We should help them, covertly, to go on the offensive to damage Russian government computer networks. 

The Ukrainians are fighting bravely, but it’s questionable how long they can last without the right kind of help. Several rumors of imminent peace deals are, so far, inconsistent with Mr. Putin’s goals and Mr. Zelensky’s determination that Ukraine remain free.

Mr. Putin is determined to subjugate Ukraine and install a puppet government. He is willing for his forces to commit extensive war crimes to do so to reach that goal. His threats of retaliation are not, apparently, a reason to stop sending any arms to Ukraine. Why, then, should they be the reason to stop giving the Ukrainians the tools they truly need to fight off his invasion?

• Jed Babbin is a national security and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times and contributing editor for The American Spectator.


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