Whenever there’s an article about the West supplying more sophisticated and lethal weapons to Ukraine, there’s almost always a reference to hesitation because escalating the conflict could risk a direct confrontation with Russia.
As much as political and military leaders might want to argue against the risk of such a confrontation, the reality on the ground, and in the air, is that it is already occurring.
In this month’s Foreign Affairs, in an article titled The Free World Must Stay the Course on Ukraine, the prime ministers of Poland,, the Czech Republic and Slovakia wrote:
“Europeans were inspired by the visit of U.S. President Joe Biden to Warsaw and Kyiv in February. Biden reaffirmed that while the United States is far away, it is committed to freedom in Europe—and understands, as we do, that Ukraine is fighting for the freedom of all of us. Ukraine does not want to be at war with Russia. Nor do we. But it has become increasingly clear that Russia decided a long time ago that it is at war with us.”
Evidence of Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere is pervasive.
Over the past several months, heavily armed Russian warplanes have repeatedly violated longstanding agreements with the U.S. by flying dangerously close to American jet fighters over Syria and over U.S. forces working in the country, US officials have said.
Russia and the United States have an agreement recognizing certain zones where the US can operate against ISIL (ISIS) fighters in Syrian areas where neither the U.S. coalition with local Kurdish troops nor the Syrian army exerts full control. Russia came to the aid of Syria’s president, Bashar Al-Assad, in 2015 in the Syrian civil war.
In March, an armed Russian Su-27 Flanker jet fighter crashed into a U.S. Reaper drone after spraying it with jet fuel on Tuesday morning over the Black Sea. The drone fell into international waters in the Black Sea.
Despite established rules designed to prevent any sort of conflict between Russian and U.S. forces operating parallel to one another in Syria, Russian pilots are locking onto U.S. aircraft with their radars and taking other provocative actions on a daily basis, according to officials with U.S. Air Forces Central Command, Task & Purpose news reported on May 2, 2023.
“Russian forces have violated deconfliction protocols with Coalition forces almost 100 times in two months, conducting armed overflights of ground forces in Syria 26 times, flying within 500 feet of U.S. aircraft, and in the last week, jamming U.S. aircraft electromagnetic systems,” Air Force Lt Gen Alexus Grynkewich, head of AFCENT, told Task & Purpose. “These behaviors significantly interfere with AFCENT’s ability to execute operations safely and effectively and increase the likelihood of miscalculation.”
According to the Rand Corporation, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley reportedly has kept a list of “U.S. interests and strategic objectives” in the Ukrainian crisis since late 2021 which includes: “contain war inside the geographical boundaries of Ukraine.” That has already been violated.
NBC News reported on April 11 that Ukrainian agents have pursued drone attacks inside Belarus and Russia and leaders in Kyiv have considered further targets outside Ukraine, according to recently leaked secret Pentagon documents.
One document marked “Top Secret,” noted attacks allegedly orchestrated by Kyiv on a military airfield outside Minsk, Belarus, and a gas compressor station in the Moscow suburbs.
On March 2, the Russian government accused Ukraine of sending gunmen to attack villagers in the Bryansk region, days after blaming a series of drone attacks inside the country on Ukraine.
The increasing tension with Russia may play a part in what appears to be an erosion of American support for Ukraine as the battle goes on.
In WWII, The United States declared War on Japan on Dec. 8, 1941. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,” President Roosevelt declared. On December 11, Congress approved a resolution declaring war with Germany. The unconditional surrender of the German Third Reich was signed on Monday, May 7, 1945. Japan signed an official Instrument of surrender on September 2, 1945.
In other words, for almost five years the Americans persevered in the face of a brutal war with international repercussions.
Russia took control of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March 2014. It escalated the fight in Feb. 2022 when it invaded and occupied larger portions of Ukraine. President Biden declared the attack “unprovoked and unjustified”, issued severe sanctions against top Kremlin officials and began a NATO-led military assistance program to Ukraine. In other words, aggressive U.S. military involvement in the Ukraine war has extended for slightly more than 13 months.
Yet many Americans are already wearying of the conflict.
An April Wall Street Journal poll found that while the number of voters who believe the U.S. is providing the right amount of support has remained stable, at about 35%, more and more think Washington is too involved.
About 38% of voters said the U.S. was doing too much to help Ukraine, a big jump from 6% in March 2022. Meanwhile, only 20% said the U.S. should do more, down from 46% in March 2022.The erosion in support is particularly noticeable among Republicans. About 60% of Republicans said the U.S. was doing too much to support Ukraine, up from 48% in October 2022, compared with just 15% of Democrats. Even 42% of independents said the U.S. was doing too much.
In my view, this erosion of support is a dangerous trend. If we do not see this through Russia will be emboldened, the independence of former Soviet Republics will be threatened, China’s aggressiveness will be encouraged and western influence on the global stage will be challenged.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Bernard-Henri Lévy, a prominent French intellectual, explained why he was dodging Russian sniper fire in Ukraine to make a documentary there. “In Ukraine, I had the feeling for the first time that the world I knew, the world in which I grew up, the world that I want to leave to my children and grandchildren, might collapse,” he said.
Yes, it might… if we lose our will to win in Ukraine.