What would it take for the United States to help Ukraine?

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The risk of war in Europe is rising. The threat of Russian invading Ukraine is growing . Washington and its European allies would have to shift from defensive to active posture if there was a strike.

But how far is the West willing to go to defend Ukraine?

U.S. Since weeks, officials in the United States have been warning of an imminent Russian invasion. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to make sure that Ukraine will not join NATO. The Biden administration refused to make such a promise in defense of the rights to self-determination. Russia denies any imminent attack. But on Wednesday, President Biden predicted Putin would “move in” on Ukraine because, after all of his saber-rattling, “he has to do something.”

On Jan. 19, President Biden said he was “confident” that parts will be passed ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. (The Washington Post)

Biden has ruled out American troops going head to head with the Russians, a response that risks escalation between nuclear powers. Instead, threats of reprisals focused on sanctions. With Europe being dependent upon Russian gas, there are still doubts about the willingness of key partners like Germany to go. Even if Moscow was slapped by harsh sanctions, it tends to cause lasting wounds. Ask Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, who has beaten some of the most severe U.S. sanctions. He also managed to tap a list of rogues in Moscow, Tehran and Ankara, which allowed him to secure alternative financial partners.

But Washington is signaling that an invasion could be a game changer, potentially bringing a host of new assistance, resources and weaponry for guerilla-style warfare in parts of Ukraine the Russians seize, and turning Putin’s incursion there into an Afghanistan-like quagmire.

The Post’s David Ignatius wrote last month that the Biden administration was weighing “ways to provide weapons and other support to the Ukrainian military to resist invading Russian forces — and similar logistical support to insurgent groups if Russia topples the Ukrainian government and a guerrilla war begins.”

Last week, Helene Cooper of the New York Times reported that help could involve training in NATO eastern flank countries including Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Cooper stated that the United States could provide logistical support, weapons and services, as well as medical equipment and shelter during Russian offensives.

“In discussions with allies, senior Biden officials have also made clear that the CIA (covertly) and the Pentagon (overtly) would both seek to help any Ukrainian insurgency,” Cooper wrote.

As the specter of war grows, military aid to Ukraine is already ramping up. The Biden administration on Wednesday announced an additional $200 million in defensive military aid. This announcement came after Britain announced this week that it has begun sending anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in order to boost its defenses. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stated that they are “not strategic weapons” and do not pose a threat to Russia. “They are to use in self-defense.”

But a Russian invasion appears set to compel the West to send more, and broader, firepower: “I think that we’re talking about trying to take the edge or deter a Russian mostly conventional ground offensive,” Peter Zwack, former U.S. Army brigadier general and former defense attache to the Russian Federation, told NPR this week. “And for that, the Ukrainians would need more Javelin antitank missiles.”

They would need surface-to-air missiles such as Stingers, he said: “They need to be able to knock down, threaten Russian air support.”

Going further requires a certain calculus.

Several European countries are unlikely to back an insurgency, stoking divisions among allies.

Yet the goal might not be victory but, rather, punishment: To ratchet up the cost to Putin of a Ukrainian adventure. Seth Jones, director of International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues that punishment could be a prolonged insurgency that grinds away at the Russian military. He calls for the United States’ “Twenty-First Century Lend-Lease Act”, which would provide war material to Ukraine at no cost. He writes that priority items would include the military’s needs in sustained combat. This includes anti-tank and electronic warfare systems, small arms and ammunition, spare parts, petroleum, medical assistance, rations, and rations.

James Nixey, director of the Russia-Eurasia program at London-based Chatham House, told me that the Ukrainians — better trained and equipped than when Russia’s “little green men” moved into Donbas nearly a decade ago — are likely to put up far more of a fight than the Russians encountered during their crushing blow to Georgia in 2008.

Western assistance in a guerilla-style war could amp up the pressure. The highest price would be paid by the Ukrainians.

But Putin “will also not be able to hide all of those body bags,” Nixey said.

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