In his inaugural speech on January 20, 2021, US President Joe Biden intoned to his audience that “The world is watching today,” while promising a higher level of global accountability. Indeed, they were and still are. Particularly as a horrific humanitarian and environmental crisis is continuing to unfold in Ukraine. Fast-rising flood waters due to the catastrophic destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam on the river Dnipro are inundating Kherson 45 miles to the west, and Russian forces are intentionally shelling Ukrainian rescue efforts and civilians attempting to flee.
Yet, despite this ongoing Russian war crime against humanity and growing ecological disaster stemming from Russian President Vladmir Putin’s determination to wantonly and flagrantly weaponize Europe’s environment, Washington has been largely silent while the world waits for a response. Aside from early whispers that United States intelligence officials were “leaning towards” holding Russia responsible for the flattening of the dam, Washington’s response continues to be inexplicably muted.
This maddening silence, despite images of Ukrainians bravely and humanely rescuing people and animals using boats and rafts spreading across social media. Several stand out, including a kitten clinging to a wall. An older man crying after escaping Russian shelling. A bewildered and soaked German Shepherd using its legs to cling to his rescuer. The joy of a young man amidst the madness of war being able to pluck a swimming cat from the flood water.
The cost to humanity, indeed all of Europe, is just beginning. Biden, having long prided himself on being an environmental president is now faced with confronting one of Europe’s largest ecological disasters in decades and one that could soon become exponentially compounded if Putin weaponizes nearby Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) further upstream as a ‘Nuclear Force Z.’ The “green” president is now faced with an immediate ecological crisis that is still in the making, and the White House has gone silent.
Now is not the time for dithering.
Washington must take the lead in drawing a red line to Putin that the environment in Europe is off-limits and likewise, Chinese President Xi Jinping must be made to understand that Beijing is on a road to nowhere in Ukraine by continuing in his support of Putin’s regime. If not, then Washington, in effect, will be giving an unintentional very non “green” ecological greenlight to Putin vis-à-vis weaponizing the ZNPP, perhaps as a means of forestalling Ukraine’s evolving counteroffensive. If that happens, then it would be one more example of Biden’s harmful ‘permissive environment,’ wherein US “adversaries perceive weakness, and allies question commitments.”
First and foremost, however, are the humanitarian efforts that must be undertaken to evacuate Ukrainian civilians from harm’s way. Not just from the flood waters, but from Russian shelling, drone strikes, and missile fire as well in the affected Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Kyiv has said upwards of 40,000 civilians need to evacuate flood areas controlled by Ukraine and another 25,000 in Ukrainian territory controlled by Russian occupation forces. Additionally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted “hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are without drinking water.”
To that end, it’s inexplicable that the Biden administration has not yet demanded an emergency convening of the United Nations Security Council or call for a humanitarian relief motion in the General Assembly. If the UN had time to hold a Russian Language Day event hosted by the Russian Federation on June 5, then the global body has more than enough time to be organizing and deploying rescue efforts in Ukraine and condemning the orders made in Russian by Putin’s generals to blow the Kakhovka Dam.
Help is needed now. Washington’s continued inexplicable silence and lack of leadership in organizing a response is not the kind of global accountability Biden swore to adhere to in his presidency.
It is also time to win this war.
Putin’s ready willingness to commit war crimes against humanity, including targeting Ukrainian civilians and creating environmental catastrophes throughout the country, make the Biden administration’s continued reluctance to equip Ukraine with the weapons needed to win the war all the more astounding. Cities are being leveled. Farmland contaminated. Now, entire regions are being rendered uninhabitable.
If Ukraine is to win, Kyiv must be able to strategically and tactically take the war to Russia when and where advantageous. No country in the history of warfare has been invaded and then told by the global community it cannot strike the invading force’s territory. That is, until Ukraine.
In the aftermath of the Russian Volunteer Corps and Freedom of Russia Legion led cross-border raid into the Belgorod Region on May 22, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby declared, “We don’t encourage, we don’t enable, and we don’t support strikes or attacks inside Russia. Our effort is to support them in their self-defense, in defending their territory, their sovereignty.” The Biden Administration continues to say that they “do not want Ukraine to use American-supplied weapons to carry out attacks inside Russia, either by Ukrainian troops or paramilitary groups.”
How does the Biden Administration expect Zelensky and his generals to ‘win’ the war if they contain them within the borders of their own country? General George S. Patton once famously said “Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.” Defense does not win wars, nor does providing the enemy sanctuary, a lesson the United States learned in Vietnam as the North Vietnamese moved soldiers and equipment unimpeded down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia.
As retired US Army Lieutenant General and former US Army Europe Commander Ben Hodges correctly states, “If you’re in a war, you can’t just sit back and give the initiative to the enemy. Under the UN charter, every nation has the right to defend itself, so for Ukraine, from a legal standpoint and from a military standpoint, it makes great sense.” And yet, here we are, still in the 16th month of the war.
Putin has shown the world the levels he will sink to in order to lay waste to Ukraine. As the US and NATO installed integrated air defense system expands and secures Ukrainian more and more villages, towns, and cities, and as the water levels in the flooded regions subside, Putin, unless he withdraws his forces, will be forced to resort to other means to defend or pre-empt the Ukraine counteroffensive. In a ‘hold my beer’ moment, a ZNPP nuclear ‘accident’ would be the next step down the ladder of inhumanity for Putin. He has already proven he is capable and willing.
The world is watching, and two new phrases must be spoken loudly by the Biden Administration: ‘win the war’ and ‘regime change.’ Helping to defend Ukraine or saying Washington will support Kyiv for as long as it takes is no longer tenable. Halfway measures such as these will only ensure a ‘forever war’ Biden claims to inherently oppose.
Yet the halfway measures keep coming. The Pentagon announced on June 9 that it will provide an additional $2.1 billion in long-term weapons aid for Ukraine. But funding for more Patriot missile munitions, Hawk air defense systems and missiles, and Puma drones will not win the war; F-16s and ATACMS will. Air superiority, close air support and deep strike capability are essential to a successful Ukraine counteroffensive. Denying Ukraine these capabilities will needlessly drag the war out and result in more senseless Ukrainian civilian casualties.
Biden has reached his dystopian President Harry S. Truman moment. Either his administration acts decisively or it could be Putin who introduces the use of tactical nukes or creates a Chernobyl-like disaster at the ZNPP. To best avoid either of those Armageddon-like scenarios, it is time to deliver the weapons necessary to win the war.
Every day the President waits for a United Kingdom or Poland to step up with the weapon systems Ukraine desperately needs while the US already has them ‘on the shelf,’ only provides Putin and his band of war criminals new opportunities to build more elaborate Maginot Line-like defenses, reinforce vulnerable positions, and build combat power. Biden, accordingly, must stop affording the Kremlin time and refuge.
Putin’s capacity to sustain his failing effort in Ukraine resides on the Russian side of the border. No sanctuary can be afforded to troops staging in Russia, to ammunition and fuel depots, to ballistic missile and drone launch points, to airfields where aircraft are launched with cruise missiles, or to military headquarters that command, control, or plan operations in Ukraine. The fight is where they are, not after they cross the border. By all rules of war, they are legitimate military targets in Russia. The Biden Administration must abandon this heretofore unheard of self-imposed ‘rule of engagement’ if Ukraine is to decisively win the war.
Biden was correct when he made what was then described as a gaffe in Poland back in March 2022, by uttering “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” A loss in Ukraine will likely topple the Putin regime internally – an outcome Biden’s State Department and Pentagon leadership must come to grips with. Let the Russian people sort it out. The alternative is not an option for Ukraine, the Baltic States, nor the future security of Europe.
The West has reached the same moment in time as Brutus did in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” play when in a speech, he proclaimed that “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.” Biden must ensure that it is Ukraine who is not taken at the flood, but Putin and his regime. He can do that by ‘flooding’ the zone with the weaponry Zelensky needs to win and by letting the bloody tides of war reach into Mother Russia itself.
Copyright 2023. Mark Toth and Jonathan Sweet. All rights reserved.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post
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