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How to win this war?

Debate continues in the West as to what kind of aid should be sent to Ukraine. If we are to take Russia’s invasion seriously, however, we must move past such discussions. Only the full backing of Kyiv and its fight can ensure a peaceful future not only for Ukraine but the West as a whole.

May 31, 2023 - Bartosz Krępski - Articles and Commentary

Photo: IhorM / Shutterstock

Karl Marx, the German philosopher, said famously that “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.” He was wrong – at least as far as the second part of this sentence is concerned. What we have been observing in Ukraine since February 24th, 2022, is not a farce, although definitely we can see history repeating itself. This is the history of another conflict which could have been prevented if we all had been more assertive toward the evil empire. The term which President Ronald Reagan used referring to the Soviet Union has not lost its usefulness and freshness when we refer to the Russian Federation today. The war in Ukraine is Huntington’s “Clash of Civilisations”. This is the struggle between the civilisation of democracy and freedom represented by Ukraine and its allies, and that of despotism manifested in Putin’s Russia and his backers. This war is not only about territory. It is about values the entire free world cherishes. Therefore, Ukraine must win. But Ukraine’s victory can be achieved only with our full support and engagement in many different fields. A Ukraine that stands alone is doomed. That is why we ought to pursue a strategy of rejection and adoption. We must reject realpolitik and embrace more idealism. We must adopt the policy of generous and unlimited aid for Ukraine.

John Mearsheimer, the well-known American political scientist, is one of the main proponents of great power politics and represents the so-called realist school of international relations. That school of political thought assumes that states may undertake any pre-emptive measures, including military ones, if they feel their interests are threatened. The objectivity or subjectivity of their feelings is not a decisive factor. Mearsheimer and his followers blame the western democracies for the outbreak of war in Ukraine, which inevitably leads to justification of Russia’s invasion. He starts with the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, where NATO countries agreed that Ukraine and Georgia might become members in the future. Russia was to perceive that as an existential threat. Then there were proposals that in the foreseeable future Ukraine might become a member of the European Union, which according to Mearsheimer Russia also treated as a threat to its very existence. He claims that any country bordering Russia should take into account Moscow’s interests and pay careful attention to what the Russians think. This is really an absurd way of thinking, although we should stress that it has gained some traction with western politicians, who through their activities spread these ideas in society. The Polish political party Konfederacja (Confederation) is a notorious example of a group that advocates for realpolitik. However, what is more frightening is the fact that the acceptance of such a stance is growing among some American politicians. Some time ago the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who may run for the presidency, said that the war in Ukraine is “a territorial dispute”. We must firmly and decidedly counteract that worldview. No justifications, no ifs, ands, or buts. There can be no more modern Congresses of Vienna or Munich Agreements. Ukraine deserves our full, unconditional political support. In our history the United States has proved that it can be a decisive force. And it must be now. Its further engagement will be conclusive. To paraphrase the words of Joe Biden, Ukraine can never be a victory for Russia. If Ukraine fell, so would the values we have built our democratic world on.

Ideas and values are important, but we need clear measures to implement them in our current reality. Each war ends on the battlefield. A Ukraine without substantial military aid will lose. All democratic states should understand that. Therefore, it is so essential that we provide all the necessary equipment and weapons the Ukrainian armed forces need to resist the Russian military and conduct their own offensive activities. American M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems have shown how the battlefield can look like for the aggressor. If we want Ukraine to win this war, we must provide effective offensive long-range weapons. It is also high time that we deliver warplanes to reduce Russia’s air superiority. The current quantity and array of weapons are not sufficient. Furthermore, all the necessary military aid must be accelerated. It is urgent that we stop endless discussions about what weaponry may be sent to Ukraine. Do we want Ukraine’s victory or defeat? Can anyone present any good reasons why F-16s cannot be delivered to Ukraine – assuming Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly them, of course? Do we intend to stand aside and watch as Russian hordes devastate this country because we are afraid that Russia would recognise it as an escalation in the war? The United States, the United Kingdom, Poland and even Germany have done a lot in this sphere, but still much more must be done. Ukraine must obtain the most advanced offensive military technology to be able to win the war. And again: no hesitations, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Last but not least, Ukraine needs and will need enormous economic aid. The country’s critical infrastructure has been largely destroyed. Most of its major industrial potential is in the hands of Russians – in the Donbas. Financial institutions are on the verge of collapse. The only sector that is still operational to some extent is agriculture. The country’s famously fertile black soil is a priceless asset.

If we want Ukraine to survive and win the war and win peace in the end, we must not only provide it with all the necessary goods to enable it to function as a state now, but figure out a coherent and ambitious plan for Ukraine’s future reconstruction. It must be a new Marshall Plan. The Ukrainian authorities must assess their losses and define their needs. The international community and the world’s financial institutions should all do their best to implement such a plan. But while devising that plan let us not look at it from the angle of possible gains. Perhaps time has come for a bit of idealism.

This war is definitely winnable. But to achieve victory the democratic world ought to show its determination in its support for Ukraine and defiance of the Kremlin dictator. We must go back to our roots – whether they are the Founding Fathers or Robert Schuman. We should also remember not to rely only on the United States. America has already saved Europe twice, during the Great War and the Second World War. Since 1945 American troops have been guaranteeing peace in Europe. So now we Europeans are morally obliged to strengthen our efforts to save Ukraine. In 1939 some did not want to die for Danzig. We know how it ended. Do we really have to once again learn that “the only thing that we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history,” as the great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said nearly 200 years ago?

Bartosz Krępski is a first-year student of the two-year master’s programme at the Centre for East European Studies, the University of Warsaw. He specialises in Balkan studies. In 2022 he got a bachelor’s degree in Croatian studies at the Institute of Western and Southern Slavic Studies, the University of Warsaw. His BA thesis was devoted to the Ustasha Youth (Ustaška mladež) that was the youth organisation in the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska) , 1941-1945.

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