The negative news coverage of the Ukraine-Russia conflict has unleashed a flood of dire predictions. However, doomsayers’ forecasts are overly grim and the outcome can be much more favorable for Ukraine with the right support and proper adjustment of both the United States’ and Ukraine’s strategy.

The single most important factor outside of Ukraine’s control determining outcomes in the third year of war will be Western - and specifically American - military support. No single country or combination of countries can match the United States’ security assistance. Currently, American security aid is frozen in a political battle over congressionally appropriated funds.

And while Ukraine aid is frequently presented as if Ukraine controls the funding, the reality is very different. Most of this funding is neither sent to Ukraine nor used to purchase weapons sent to Ukraine.  Instead, the aid is used to replenish stocks of antiquated American equipment with new material rolling off defense industry production lines. In fact, it is the connection between the drawdown of old equipment and the replenishment of U.S. military storehouses with new equipment that has arrested the flow of support to Ukraine. The U.S. still retains massive stockpiles of weapons and ammunition in the European theater that could be transferred to Ukraine, but will not drawdown these stocks because Congress hasn’t authorized replenishment.

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Like with the Lend-Lease programs of World War II, the U.S. can and should transfer military material even absent the congressionally appropriated replenishment funds. By sending material without replenishment funds the U.S. would be accepting a small risk to our military in the event that our soldiers would need the equipment to fight an adversary, but that is an unlikely “what if” scenario. Instead of fixating on this hypothetical situation, we should be supporting Ukraine - a partner that is already in the fight and actively destroying Russia’s conventional military capability.

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On the topic of material support, there is a secondary challenge that is also very fixable. Currently, Russia outguns Ukraine by firing 5 or more rounds of artillery for every rationed shell fired by Ukraine. American and European assistance can fix that lopsided ratio by marrying European dollars with U.S. ammunition production lines. We have the arsenal of democracy, but no funding because of our political paralysis. Europe has the funds, but not the manufacturing base to produce shells. Such an arrangement would combine our strengths to help Ukraine. The EU, led by Czechia, has made great strides already in closing the gap by scouring the globe and finding 1.5 million rounds of ammunition for Ukraine. But that is still a one-off solution. It’s time for the EU to invest in a long-term solution through the U.S. arsenal.

Another issue is the median age of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF). Wars are fought by the young. The current median age for the UAF is estimated to be 43 years old. For the Russian Armed Forces, the current median age is estimated at 35. Since Russia has four times the population of Ukraine, this gap will likely continue to grow and tilt the military advantage towards Russia. Ukraine needs more soldiers to ensure sufficient troop strength and adequate reserves to rotate worn-out forces from the frontlines. The Government of Ukraine has taken the initial steps to close draft loopholes and reduce the draft age from 27 to 25. However, Ukraine will need to go even further to ensure adequate military manpower for a war expected to run well into 2025. If implemented, these policies will have a meaningful impact on Ukraine’s ability to both defend this year and attack next year and thus bring the war to a close.

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Ukraine’s former top military officer General Zaluzhny argued that Ukraine’s limited ability to conduct offensive operations was partially due to disparities between the Ukrainian and Russian industrial and technological bases. While this may be true, major deficiencies in logistics and training are at least as important as technological factors or production lines for new equipment. These necessary reforms are within Ukraine’s power to improve.

The lack of focus on sustainment and repair of Western-donated equipment and the inadequate logistical preparations are both an American and Ukrainian shortfall. Ukraine remains too focused on acquiring new material instead of keeping its current inventory at maximum functional status. Kyiv should be aggressively advocating for the expansion of its repair and maintenance capabilities - particularly when more than half of the donated equipment is currently damaged or nonfunctional due to wear and tear.

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The U.S. Department of Defense has also been negligent in its support of donated equipment. Almost all the maintenance support for Ukraine is conducted outside of its territory in massive depots in Poland. Fighting a war with your repair facilities 800km from the frontlines is a recipe for disaster. There is a recommendation from the Department of Defense teed-up for the President to ease the restriction and allow defense contractors to come into Ukraine to improve the logistical tail. POTUS should not delay and make a move in this direction immediately.

The lack of proper training is another critical shortfall. The West has been focused on training Ukraine’s fighting troops but has neglected training effective commands and staffs. To break through Russian defenses, Ukraine will have to mass forces, breach obstacles, and suppress enemy artillery, airpower, and drones. Ukrainian forces will need to ensure they can communicate and operate under electronic warfare assaults while simultaneously using their own systems to jam Russian communications and disrupt the operations of loitering munitions and FPV drones.

These tasks require a well-trained staff capable of synchronizing and orchestrating these complex operations. The U.S. invests enormous resources into providing our troops sufficient training to conduct synchronized operations - creating an effective command and staff should become a training priority in Ukraine. If Washington is looking to err on the side of caution, the U.S. can conduct this training in Ukraine with former military personnel working as contractors rather than active-duty troops.

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Despite the criticality of the aforementioned policy changes, the most important action the U.S. and the West can take is to mobilize political support.  Generating the political will to pursue a Ukrainian victory and Russian defeat must be prioritized. This can be achieved by fully recognizing the risk of a Russian triumph and Ukrainian defeat for the U.S. and NATO. The simple fact is if the U.S. doesn’t want troops fighting in Europe, it should send Ukraine maximum material support. Furthermore, to prevent the perpetual threat of Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the West will need to offer Kyiv ironclad security guarantees through NATO and European Union membership.

There are tangible benefits to Kyiv’s entry into the alliance. Firstly, Ukrainian NATO membership would act as a bulwark against a still-aggressive Russia. Secondly, NATO membership would eliminate a decades-long flashpoint in the region through Ukraine’s unambiguous inclusion in a Western security structure. Finally, the Ukrainian army would be an asset and example to European powers given that it is now the most battle-hardened in Europe. NATO membership would also enable the reconstruction and transformation of Ukraine and help establish a powerful model for other former Soviet states to emulate.

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Failure by the U.S. and EU to effectively support Ukraine will embolden Russia to pursue future military aggression. Donald Trump has already expressed his willingness to allow Russia to attack a NATO member. If the West and Ukraine cooperate in reforming training regimes to enable more complex combined arms operations, alleviating the logistical challenges of maintenance and providing the Ukrainian Armed Forces the political and material support they need, Kyiv could build the capacity to win decisive battles, regain strategically vital areas of lost territory, and position itself for meaningful peace negotiations. The bottom line is that the combination of Western support and Ukrainian reforms will significantly improve Ukraine’s outlook for 2024.

Reprinted from the author’s blog Why It Matters. See the original here.

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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