Alexei Navalny’s murder on Feb. 16 is precisely why Ukrainians have not, and should never, submit to Russian occupation. His death is also why Putin and his regime must be destroyed and why the US.

Congress, notably Republicans, must allocate more funds to defend Ukraine. But Putin plays for time and manipulates it: Navalny’s death occurred just before the second anniversary of Russia’s war – to punctuate his ruthlessness; and it was also timed to coincide with the opening of the Munich Security Conference where leaders met to coordinate the effort to stop Putin – to punctuate their hesitancy.

Tributes poured in eulogizing the Russian activist, but Donald Trump has said nothing for days. But the most pointed and pertinent statement, from Ukraine’s viewpoint, was made by Republican presidential candidate, Nikki Haley who emphasized that "Donald Trump continues to side with Vladimir Putin – a man who kills his political opponents, holds American journalists hostage, and has never hidden his desire to destroy America."


Two years into Russia’s slaughter, its outcome and duration now depend on several factors: Whether Republicans approve another $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv; whether Europeans more than make up for any shortfall; whether F16s are ready for action in a few months; whether Russia’s $300 billion in frozen assets are confiscated by the West, and whether Ukraine can recruit 200,000 or so to replenish its ranks. If all are accomplished, then “David” will turn the tide against “Goliath” eventually.

Russia’s Combat Losses in Ukraine Up by 1,100 in Past Day, Per Kyiv Government
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Russia’s Combat Losses in Ukraine Up by 1,100 in Past Day, Per Kyiv Government

Official Russian losses according to Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) General Staff, as reported to the Ukrinform state news agency. Human casualties include those killed and wounded, unable to fight.

But if the United States and the Euros fail to step up, Ukraine’s army can only dig in defensively. “Ukraine could effectively hold for some part of this year. But over time there would be no prospect to rebuild the military, and they will start to lose slowly,” said Michael Kofman, a Russia export at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. No cash means the war will become another “frozen conflict” – a victory for Putin who will end up with twice land as much as before, or 16 percent of Ukraine.


Zelensky and Scholz eulogize Navalny at Munich Security Conference.

The only silver lining of late is that Trump’s anti-NATO rants have been helpful in raising more funds for Ukraine across Europe, possibly enough to compensate for America’s potential lapse. Besides that, Ukrainians remain fearless and should not be counted out. After all two years ago, without a modern army when invaded, they were able to claw back half the territory taken initially by Russia.

They have also invented drone forces, on land and sea, that have dramatically decimated Russian ground forces and driven Russia’s navy out of Sevastapol and its Black Sea coast. In fact, their counter-offensive this summer would have succeeded in pushing back Russia if there had not been delays in deliveries of the weapons and ammunition by Western allies. Those delays also gave Putin time to recruit more soldiers and to solve his “supply chain” problems by importing bombs, missiles, and drones from North Korea and Iran.


Now, in 2024, here are Ukraine’s potential scenarios:

— If military aid is rejected by the House on Feb. 28, when it convenes, then Europe must make up the difference. But if this does not happen, the war will become a “frozen conflict” because a ceasefire will be necessary and Putin will not negotiate in good faith. The result will be borders will freeze, six million displaced Ukrainians will remain abroad, and it will be difficult to rebuild the country.

— If Europe makes up the American shortfall, Ukraine can prepare another counter-offensive. This appears more likely than ever. Denmark just announced it will donate all its artillery and ammunition to Ukraine, and indications are that others may do the same. France has doubled its security budget and Germany is revamping its industrial base to create a military industrial sector as soon as possible. All NATO members are dramatically increasing their military budgets and this month the European Union will release a plan to quickly finance and expedite military expansion and collaboration in countries across the continent. Ursula von der Leyen told Financial Times that “we have to spend more, we have to spend better, we have to spend European”.


(Another scheme will create a sustainable and permanent military industrial sector in the continent as well as a military funding slush fund for Ukraine. The Estonian Ministry of Defence has proposed that each of the 54 members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, also called the Ramstein coalition, immediately contribute 0.25 percent of GDP to military assistance to Ukraine.)

Ukraine Defense Contact Group in dark blue and countries in light blue have provided military aid to Ukraine.

— If Ukraine gets all the money and armaments it needs this year, it could expel Russia from its territory in 2025. “It should use this year [2024] to hold off and concentrate on a new push in 2025 with F16s and more weapons,” writes Wall Street Journal chief foreign correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov. “By imposing an asymmetrical war that relies on domestically produced naval drones and missiles, and that targets Russian ships in their own home bases, Ukraine has eroded much of Russia’s vaunted naval superiority.”

In summary, the war’s outcome is all about money and who wins the US Presidency. Trump promises to cut off funding of Ukraine to quickly stop the war wherever it is at that point. Biden will stay the course if he and Democrats win.

But no matter what happens, the long-term future for Russia is bleak. It’s been gutted by Ukraine, and Europe has been awakened. According to US estimates, Russia fielded 360,000 ground troops in Ukraine and has mobilized twice after suffering 315,000 in casualties, or killed and wounded. It now claims to have 600,000 personnel inside Ukraine -- behind an impenetrable, mined frontline – and Putin says he plans to recruit 400,000 another soldiers in 2024. (By contrast, Ukraine has suffered a total of 70,000 deaths and 120,000 wounded, and hopes to recruit at least 200,000 this year.)


Most importantly, Europe transforms. It’s hard to imagine that, 77 years after Germany was defeated by America and its European allies, the world welcomes a photo op taken of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz turning the sod over at the site of a new, mega-factory in Germany to build munitions factories. This is shocking, but everyone expects that Germany will once again be successful at creating a gigantic war machine.

Scholz and officials at Rheinmetall on February 12.

Besides Berlin, Europe heads toward becoming a self-sufficient military powerhouse. Economically, the European Union is as big as China, and the United States is one-third larger than either. Russia is the size of Mexico and shrinking. Most important is motivation. At the Munich Security Conference Scholz stated: “We must stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes” and this pledge was accompanied by a statement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Putin “is not going to stop until we all finish him off together.”


The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

Reprinted from [email protected] - Diane Francis on America and the World

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