Succumbing to Putin's blackmail

The U.S. and NATO are still reluctant to give Ukraine what it needs to win

Ukrainian citizens.
(Image credit: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In its second year fighting for its survival, Ukraine says it urgently needs advanced fighter jets and longer-range missiles to repel Russia's invaders from its soil. But President Biden insists that Ukraine "doesn't need F-16s now," and he's resisting sending 190-mile range ATACMS missiles that could strike deep into Russian-held territory. Various rationales are offered, but the unstated reason for Biden's reluctance to provide more advanced weaponry is not hard to discern: He and NATO allies still worry that if Putin is faced with total, humiliating defeat, he might make good on his threat to use battlefield nuclear weapons. The reluctance to give Ukraine's valiant military what it truly needs raises a crucial question, says Julia Ioffe in Puck: Do the U.S. and NATO truly "want Ukraine to win on Ukraine's terms" — driving the Russians out of their country — or to settle for another year or two of bloody stalemate?

With spring offensives looming, the war has become a test of which side can better endure grotesque, World War I–level carnage. "The problem is that the United States gives Ukraine enough to push the Russians back, but not enough to win," said Angela E. Stent, a Russian scholar at Georgetown University. Having suffered 100,000 battlefield casualties and inflicted 200,000 on Russia, Ukraine is running out of soldiers and ammunition. Putin's missile attacks continue to kill and terrorize civilians; much of Ukraine is a hellscape of rubble, craters, and fresh graves. If nuclear blackmail enables Putin to keep what he has seized by force, the message will be heard clearly in Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan becomes more likely. Violating the nuclear taboo would be suicidal for Putin; for the West, the greater risk is submitting to his blackmail. Driving the war criminals out of Ukraine is not only a moral imperative — it's clearly in the best interests of the U.S., Europe, and the free world.

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

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