After returning from a visit to the front near Kherson, Ukraine, on June 19, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that his military would continue to fight Russia and “return everything that’s ours,” after having earlier made clear his intent to “liberate our Crimea as well.” While those goals are understandable, the harsh realities emerging on the bloody battlefields of eastern Ukraine make it increasingly likely that the longer Kyiv seeks to achieve military victory, the more likely it is ultimately to be defeated. U.S. policy, guided by U.S. interests, should change to reflect this reality.
Early in the war, many in Ukraine and the West were buoyed by the clear failure of the Kremlin’s army to conquer Kyiv and force the government to surrender, as evidenced by Russia’s shocking loss of thousands of tanks and other armored vehicles—and tens of thousands of its troops—especially on the Kyiv and Kharkiv fronts. The Ukrainian Armed Forces, in contrast, fought heroically and effectively, performing well above expectations. In response, the United States and dozens of other Western countries accelerated the delivery of weapons and ammunition to Kyiv.
As much as Ukraine welcomes every piece of equipment, however, the deliveries have been a clunky mixture of modern and antiquated, Western and Soviet. Numerous systems require specialized training, specific maintenance systems, and ammunition of various calibers that are often mutually exclusive to each weapon system. All of this requires a massive and complicated logistics system to keep the weapons supplied and functioning—one that doesn’t currently exist in Ukraine and continues to be improvised.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian leaders have been clamoring for more weapons, warning that the quantities sent or pledged so far are grossly insufficient. Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podolyak wrote last week that in addition to the equipment already promised, Ukraine still needs “1000 howitzers caliber 155 mm; 300 MLRS [multiple launch rocket launchers]; 500 tanks; 2000 armored vehicles; [and] 1000 drones.” The scale of these requests illustrates how difficult it will be for the Ukrainian forces to hold out against the Russian onslaught in their country’s east, let alone turn the tide to defeat it.