Defining victory is crucial to establishing a war-winning strategy. Ukraine has outlined what victory looks like. President Volodymyr Zelensky stresses, however, that Ukraine’s Victory depends on the West.

When asked whether he believed President Biden wanted Ukraine to achieve victory, Zelensky answered “Yes”. He said it’s important for both the US and Europe but we understand victory differently.  “The West wanted to deny Putin the opportunity to fully occupy Ukraine and to put the aggressor in his place. I think for them it is victory already,” Zelensky said.

Some US officials say that Ukraine does not need to liberate occupied territories to emerge as a victor. Moving closer to NATO and Europe is, in their opinion, a victory.

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If peace is restored, others see Ukrainian survival within its present territory as a victory. Its survival means that Russia’s attempt to eradicate the Ukrainian nation and identity has failed.

The ambiguity is demonstrated in the inflow of Western defense aid. Until now, the US and Europe have not been setting Ukraine up for victory. They have failed to provide it with the tools needed to liberate occupied territories.

In the article “Setting the Conditions for Victory or Defeat” in February 2023, I stressed that an incremental increase in military aid to Ukraine risked leading to a protracted war. Kyiv needs a decisive, unequivocal and proactive commitment to ensure it wins. It must be provided with the necessary tools to defeat Russia.

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 13, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 13, 2024

Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

What was seen as slow and incremental support nearly 18 months ago, has since turned into a trickle.

For eight years the West denied Ukraine massive weapons deliveries, only to start weeks before the Russian assault on Feb. 24, 2022. While Javelin anti-tank missiles were the first lethal aid to be delivered in the spring of 2018, they only arrived in significant quantities, along with Stinger surface-to-air missiles, in February 2022. In March they were followed by Starstreak and Mistral surface-to-air missiles, then M777 Howitzers in April, Brimstone, Harpoons and CAESAR howitzers in May; HIMARS, M270s, 155mm PzH 2000 and 155mm AHS Krabs in June; HARM missiles in July; IRIS-T air defence system (AD) in October; NASAMS and Crotale AD in November.

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While the inflow of defence aid peaked in 2023 in preparation for the so-called “Ukrainian counter-offensive”, the West still failed to deliver the quantity of weapons and ammunition needed to succeed. Some of the pledged systems arrived months after the operation started. More importantly, the US and Europe failed to provide several key enablers allowing it to operate effectively against a militarily superior aggressor.

In February 2023, Ukraine received Leopard 2 and Hawk AD, followed by JDAM-ER, Marder IFV, Challenger 2, AMX-10 RC and Stryker in March; Patriot AD in April; SAMP-T AD, Storm Shadow missiles and 155mm "Paladin" M109A6 in May; CV90 in June (after the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive on 4 June); SCALP and US cluster ammunition in July; Leopard 1 in August; and Abram tanks in September.

In October 2023, as Russia launched its own new offensive, the US Congress temporarily blocked funding for further support to Ukraine. Additionally, Europe failed to deliver on its pledge to supply one million artillery shells in 2023.

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It may have caused lasting damage that will be felt on the frontlines for months to come. There is great bitterness among Ukrainian troops over the many lives lost because Ukraine ran out of artillery shells and other vital supplies while Congress squabbled over whether to provide additional military aid to Ukraine and the EU failed to deliver.

The arms supply they failed to provide was crucial for both Ukraine’s survival as well as its ability to protect European security and stability.

A sweeping foreign aid package was passed by the US Congress on April 23 after months of delay. So far in 2024, Ukraine has only received new military capabilities in the form of GLSDB (January) and ATACMS (April).

The inflow of artillery ammunition and AD missiles has slowly increased since May. Ukraine’s urgent and persistent calls for more AD systems have, however, not prompted the response needed to properly protect the Ukrainian population. This was demonstrated during Russia’s massive missile attack against five Ukrainian cities on July 8, leaving at least 41 people dead and 166 injured. The main children's hospital in the capital Kyiv was among those buildings hit.

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Having insight into what military aid is in the pipeline, the current output from Western defense industries and not least, the state of NATO members' stockpiles,  NATO emphasize that "it will be some time" before Ukraine accumulates the required ammunition and personnel for future large-scale offensive operations.

“We have 14 brigades who do not have the necessary weapons that have already been approved,” Zelensky said on July 4. Ukraine is grateful to Western partners for their support, but the pledged assistance is arriving too slowly.

As of March 28, 2024, Russian troops had seized 505 square kilometers of Ukraine's territory since the start of offensive operations in October. On May 10, Russia opened a new front in Kharkiv. Russia has thrown vast resources at Ukrainian defenses suffering from ammunition shortage across the eastern frontlines, pushing toward three key points: the vital military hub of Pokrovsk, west of Avdiivka; the strategic heights of Chasiv Yar, near Bakhmut; and  Kurakhove in the southeast.

The West has also imposed restrictions on Ukraine’s use of Western-produced weapons, creating “a vast sanctuary” – territory in range of US-provided weapons but that Ukrainian forces are not allowed to strike with those weapons – which Russia exploits to shield the  combat forces, command and control, logistics, and rear area support services it uses to conduct military operations in Ukraine. US policy forbids Ukraine from using ATACMS anywhere in Russia. President Biden’s policy change in late May regarding the use of US-delivered weapons against military targets in Russia removed no more than 16 percent of Russia's sanctuary.

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Russia has launched about 9,000 missiles against Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. It is dropping around 3,000 glide bombs on Ukrainian cities and frontline positions every month. Russia used over 4,000 missiles, Shahed drones, and guided aerial bombs against Ukraine in March alone.

As of January 2024, Russia has inflicted more than $155 billion worth of damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure, most of which are illegal targets (including housing, energy, agriculture, education, health care, culture and sport). The damage to the Ukrainian energy sector has since increased by more than $7.1 billion.

According to the World Bank, the total cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine has reached a staggering $486 billion.

The costs of human suffering, however, have no price tag. It is too massive and horrific to be subject to any calculations. The UN says Russia's war in Ukraine has inflicted immense suffering that will echo through generations.

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While Russia bears full responsibility for the massive suffering and destruction in Ukraine, the extremely slow and incremental inflow of Western defense aid and its restriction on Ukraine’s use of Western-made weapons against legal targets in Russia has nevertheless a tremendous impact on the scale and scope of Ukrainian suffering.

NATO is just about to conclude its 11th summit since the war started, again reaffirming its unwavering solidarity and support, remaining steadfast in its commitment to further step up political and practical support to Ukraine, promising to offer Ukraine membership and protection under NATO’s collective defense, as soon as peace has been restored. Maybe.

Despite Western statements of support and good intentions, or rather, because of the absence of resolute action, Russia continues to advance, and inflict damage, suffering and horror.

Despite massive losses of manpower and military equipment, President Putin believes that victory is achievable through indefinite creeping advances and the gradual destruction of Ukraine.

Russia’s territorial gains in Ukraine are as slow and incremental as Western support of Ukraine. Unfortunately, Russia's motivation to defeat Ukraine (and the West) is still far greater than the West’s collective will to secure a Ukrainian victory. 

This is a consequence of a lack of strategic appreciation, a common understanding of the potentially devastating consequences of a Russian victory, what a Ukrainian victory looks like and, consequently, the lack of a war-winning strategy. It is also a failure to understand the full impact of the “ripple effects from the war” and Russian influence operations on the US and European political landscape, slowly undermining the unity of efforts. Most of all, it is a result of a lack of courage.

The US and Europe urgently need a war-winning strategy to convince the Kremlin that the war cannot be won. They must declare victory as the strategic aim. It is time to return to the 2010 Strategic Concept and stop a war that threatens the security of the Alliance.

Hans Petter Midttun, independent analyst on hybrid warfare, Non-Resident Fellow at the Centre for Defense Strategies, board member of the Ukrainian Institute for Security and Law of the Sea, former Defense Attaché of Norway to Ukraine, and officer (R) of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

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

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