Over the past six weeks, we have witnessed the horrors of the indiscriminate bombings of civilian housing, hospitals, and schools in Ukrainian cities and towns, and we’ve seen acts of individual brutality by Russian soldiers. The city of Mariupol alone has suffered more than 10,000 dead.
Despite these horrendous atrocities the Ukrainian military has forced a Russian retreat from the Kyiv region, the grand prize of Russia’s invasion. The Russians now are concentrating their forces in the East, trying to create a land corridor from the Donbas region, which is rich in natural resources, to Crimea, cutting off Ukraine from the Sea of Azov. The next objective would be seizing Odessa, which would isolate Ukraine from the Black Sea, cratering its maritime commerce. If the Russians succeed, Ukraine’s future as a thriving sovereign country would be significantly compromised.
With Russian forces regrouping and repositioning, the Ukrainian armed forces see the opportunity to launch a counteroffensive to thwart Russian ambitions in the East. That’s why President Zelensky is pleading for heavier offensive weapons, such as tanks, air missile systems, anti-ship missiles, and those MiG-29s the Poles were willing to release weeks ago.
Now is not the time for half measures. We must give the Ukrainians what they need to achieve victory, not a stalemate that will fester for years, leading to untold destruction of cities and incalculable loss of life.
The unity achieved by NATO and the EU, fostered by the Biden administration, is historic. We have not seen anything like it since the Berlin airlift. And the sanctions imposed against Russia and the armaments sent by NATO and the United States have helped turn the tide against the Russian hordes. But it’s not enough. With Europe’s unwillingness to sanction Russia’s energy, perhaps understandable considering its overwhelming and foolhardy dependence on it, Putin is collecting hundreds of billions of dollars for his war machine.
The days when Putin can dictate how far we can go to avoid escalation long passed; it happened when he crossed the red line of barbarism, serial lies, and broken agreements. We should not have any NATO or U.S. troops in Ukraine. Barring that, all other options should be pursued. Half measures will not suffice.
Our own history teaches us how half-hearted efforts don’t succeed — but resolve on achieving victory does.
In 1862, when Ulysses S Grant forced Fort Donelson into submission and its Confederate commander, Simon Buckner, asked to negotiate terms for his soldiers’ departure, Grant responded: “Sir, yours of this date proposing armistice and appointment of Commissioners to settle terms of capitulation is just received. No terms except an unconditional surrender can be accepted. Otherwise I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner complied immediately. Grant earned his moniker of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.
Eighty-two years later, after the successful Allied landings in Normandy, U.S. and British forces caught the German army in a vise, which if fully closed could have destroyed the German army in the West. But the Allied commanders ordered a premature halt, allowing 210,000 German soldiers to escape the “Falaise Gap.” Most of these escapees formed the bulk of the ensuing German offensive forces during the Battle of the Bulge, leading to 80,000 American fatalities.
William Tecumseh Sherman reminds us that war is hell. He learned from the noted military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz, who wrote in “On War” that “It follows that the destruction of the enemy’s forces underlies all military action, all plans are resulting based on it…. Thus it is evident that the destruction of enemy forces is always the superior more efficient means.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has referred to the Israel Defence Forces’ success in thwarting enemy invasions as a model for the Ukrainian armed forces. Decades earlier, when she was asked why the IDF was so successful, Prime Minister Golda Meier answered because if we lose, we have nowhere else to go.
So too with the Ukrainians.
Strengthening sanctions by closing loopholes, using diplomacy to isolate Russia, winning the propaganda war, documenting war crimes, and providing humanitarian relief all are essential efforts. But important as they are, they are still side shows. We have to give Ukraine the means to win. We need Ukraine to regain its total sovereignty and rebuild its country. We need Putin to suffer a humiliating defeat, hopefully leading to his ouster. By doing so, not only will we blunt his aggressive barbarism against his neighbor, helping to restore international law, but we also will strengthen NATO’s deterrence, show Iran that we have resolve if it pursues nuclear weapons, and send a resounding message to the Chinese to lay off Taiwan.
This requires full-throated resolve, not half measures that would lead to failure and greater human tragedy.
This is the momentous time of our age. Let history judge that like prior generations, we overcame our divisions and inconveniences to support the forces combatting the evil empire of our time. Let’s also contribute to the humanitarian relief efforts and aliyah for our Ukrainian co-religionists and their neighbors, led in our communities by Jewish federations.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.