Beyond weapons: On Ukraine President Zelensky’s visit to Washington

The United States should push Ukraine to find a solution to the conflict with Russia

December 23, 2022 12:10 am | Updated 12:59 pm IST

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington, his first overseas travel since Russia’s invasion on February 24, and the Biden administration’s decision to send a new $1.8 billion military aid package, including Patriot missile defence systems and precision-guided missiles, are a testament to the deep relationship Ukraine and the U.S. share in the time of war. Ukraine has already received American financial and military funding from approved assistance worth around $54 billion. The U.S. supply of long-range missiles (HIMARS) has played a major role in Ukraine’s recent battlefield advances in Kharkiv and Kherson, after its heavy losses in Donbas. The Patriot missile system is expected to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences at a time when Russia is bombarding the energy grid and water supplies. In Washington, President Joe Biden discussed a 10-point peace formula with Mr. Zelensky (the details are unknown) and also promised continued support “for as long as it takes”. Both leaders tried to send out a message of unity amid concerns of cracks in the western alliance as the war is continuing indefinitely with its massive economic costs.

The U.S. has gradually stepped up its supply of weapons to Ukraine, but is still wary of sending offensive weapons out of fears of escalating the conflict. Ukraine has relentlessly campaigned for more advanced weapons, including U.S. aircraft, tanks and long-range tactical missiles. While Mr. Biden said his administration would continue to back Ukraine, he also warned of the risks of sending offensive weapons to Ukraine, which could “break up NATO, the EU and the rest of world”. Currently, Ukraine has a battlefield advantage, recapturing swathes of territories in the northeast and south. But Russia has air superiority. The Patriot missiles could offer some protection to Ukraine but could also prompt Russia to carry out heavier attacks. This leaves Mr. Biden in a dilemma. He is ready to bolster Ukraine’s defence but does not want to provoke a wider war between Russia and NATO. His Ukraine policy should not be an open-ended weapons supply package. The U.S. could help its ally but it should also push for a sustainable solution to the conflict. It should use its continued support to Ukraine to mount pressure on Russia — as its weapons play a critical role in Kyiv’s counterattacks — and persuade Ukraine to resume direct negotiations. At this point, no military solution seems likely. Unless there is a credible push for talks, the war is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

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