In case there are any doubts, the world is at war.
Questions remain about how protracted this war will be, how volatile it will become and whether or not it ends in a conflagration that destroys all of humanity.
But, the world is at war.
During a recent trip to Poland and Ukraine, I spoke with volunteers from around the world who are supporting the Ukrainian government as it resists Russia’s unwarranted invasion—spurred on by Vladimir Putin’s oft-stated desire to reassemble the Soviet Union.
In a Zoom press briefing, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, a former world championship boxer, accused Putin of doing just that—and appealed to Europe to come to Ukraine’s defense.
“We are defending the democratic ideals you represent,” he told hundreds of foreign mayors who joined him online. The mayor of Dublin was near tears as he vowed assistance for “our brothers and sisters in Kyiv.”
The United States, meanwhile, has supplied more than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 5,000 Javelin anti-armor systems, 45,000 sets of body armor and helmets, and 50,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as laser-guided rocket systems, unmanned drones, tracking radars, counter-mortar radar, secure communications, satellite imagery and medical supplies. On April 7, the White House announced an additional $100 million in security assistance.
In addition, President Biden has issued a strong set of sanctions meant to strangle Putin’s economy and force him to withdraw from Ukraine.
But Putin, so far, has only redirected his troops. Recent evidence of war crimes and atrocities have rallied the world against Russia, with even its closest ally, China, stopping short of supplying “too much aid” to Russia.
“China is trying to play both sides of the fence,” a Biden administration official said on background. “There’s no secret there, but Russia, other than its satellite allies like Belarus, is bearing the brunt of this war themselves.”
This leaves pundits and prognosticators perplexed. What exactly is the endgame? Russia can never conquer Ukraine, and Putin, many say, knows this. So he’s intent on leveling it, or at least solidifying his hold in eastern Ukraine. The rest of the world stares and wonders if anyone knows where this will all end.
So far, Biden has been led NATO and the European Union to step up to what many see as a righteous cause – more so since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the world he didn’t need a ride; he needed ammunition. That statement—coupled with Biden’s recent proclamation after meeting Ukrainian refugees in Poland that “for God’s sake this man can’t remain in charge”—has rallied the world against Russia.
But some, like Robert O’Brien, former chairman of the National Security Council, doesn’t think the White House has done enough. And neither do some Democrats in Congress.
“Why hasn’t the Biden administration instituted ‘full’ sanctions against Putin, and why haven’t we supplied Ukraine with airplanes?” O’Brien recently asked. “Ask Biden that question.”
Administration officials, who loath to speak on the record for the president, say “it’s complicated” when discussing giving planes to Ukraine, even the MiG fighter jets Poland offered to donate to the cause. They fumble and trail away into whispers when they explain what the complications are. But many say that eventually, and probably sooner than later, Ukraine will end up with enough planes to challenge Russian air superiority. Ukraine has pilots, and enough volunteers from around the world to make that a reality should it get the planes.
As for sanctions, the administration has favored a slow tightening of the noose to choke out Putin rather than the quick drop and breaking of the neck. Many in the administration say this is the way Biden has tried to wake Putin up to the reality of what the war will cost without immediately exacting a cost that will either destroy the Russian economy for a generation or cause Biden to use weapons of mass destruction.
As Biden said, and as the world knows, Putin marches to the beat of his own drum, so logic doesn’t always apply. Now that Russia has faced severe setbacks (invading soldiers were apparently marching with ‘dress’ uniforms in anticipation of a quick and easy victory), the fear of chemical warfare or tactical nukes has become a legitimate concern. Losses by the Russians in Kyiv and their inability, so far, to take Mariupol are only compounding the problem.
More than two dozen American NGOs and nonprofits are delivering humanitarian aid in the form of food and first aid, and are helping to relocate women, children, the elderly, the infird and even pets. Many of them are now traveling or have immediate access to protective gear should Russia employ chemical weapons.
The US government continues to warn about such possibilities, and O’Brien said it hard to imagine that Putin would use such weapons, “because it is evident he’s becoming increasingly frustrated.”
The next 60 to 90 days are crucial for the planet’s future for conceivably the next 50 years or more. And whether we take drastic action could determine if humanity survives at all.
It will be the ultimate test of diplomacy if Biden can get NATO to rise to the challenge, contain the conflict, save Ukraine and do it all while preventing Putin from using WMDs—a man so dangerously narcissistic that he seems to not to care if humanity survives, as long as he has his way while he’s alive.