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opinion | ukraine knew the russians were coming, and was ready - the washington post

Opinion | Ukraine knew the Russians were coming, and was ready - The Washington Post

Image source: Washington Post

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Post

Russia has committed a strategic blunder and is getting punished by the Ukrainian people and their armed forces for its aggression. The Ukrainian response is not a coincidence. Rather, it is the result of widespread preparations undertaken since 2014.

Over the past seven years, the Ukrainian leadership has been very clear-eyed about reforming its government to prepare for this moment. The Ukrainians have reshaped their national defense structures to cooperate with NATO militaries more easily and have made important leadership, doctrinal and tactical changes. They have also built Territorial Defense Forces and instituted programs to involve others in the common defense.

The Ukrainian armed forces are well-led by combat-proven leaders from the most senior level down to the tactical units, all of which have shared the hardships of fighting the Russians and separatists in the Donbas region. The tactical units have been well-prepared by Western trainers. Their military training systems have been reformed with the assistance of NATO countries; their forces are in the final stages of moving away from Soviet-style, field doctrine.

What has surprised many Western observers is the massive efforts by everyday Ukrainians to defend the nation. Office workers, beauty queens, the elderly and veterans have all turned out to take up arms against the Russian invaders.

This volunteer corps didn’t just happen by accident, either. Ukrainians share a patriotic zeal to defend their homes and way of life from Russian ruination. The result is a national response that has, at least so far, been admirably resilient. That’s partly because Kyiv saw this coming and prepared its people. Ukraine passed a law in July of 2021 authorizing the creation of the Territorial Defense Forces and laying out a structure for integrating local militias in each of the 25 oblasts, or regions, and in the largest cities. That law also made provisions for the formation of a resistance force in the event of Russian occupation.

The Territorial Defense Forces were largely in place when Russia invaded this past week. When more than 130,000 citizens volunteered to take up arms, there was a designed structure in place for them to step into.

Against this force, Russia has fielded a technologically superior army of more than 160,000 troops operating in approximately 100 tactical groups, plus its long-range missile strike forces and air force. The maritime forces from the Black Sea fleet and the Caspian flotilla have sealed off the Black Sea coastline. Moscow has added troops from its southern, northwestern and far eastern military districts to create two echelons of assault forces. We have seen the first echelon in the first four days of fighting, followed by the operational pause to bring in the second echelon forces to continue the assaults.

What comes next? Little of consequence will come out of this first set of negotiations. Putin will not bargain in good faith and will use the time to resupply and reposition his forces for the next, possibly final, offensive. We should expect Putin to escalate and intensify operations to close this campaign on his terms. Yes, there will be widespread destruction in the cities. This will horrify Western observers, as it is intended to do. Putin wants to put his boot on Ukraine’s neck, then use the urgency of the moment to restructure the global security arrangements to his liking.

Confounding his strategy are the resilient Ukrainians, who are outsmarting him tactically and making deep strikes on Putin’s pride and power via social media. The object of their defense is to make Ukraine too painful to consume or control, which has worked well so far.

Time and mass, however, are on the Russians’ side. The West must act immediately to rearm the Ukrainian defenders. President Biden’s $600 million in military aid was enough to get things moving. But these transfers take time, which Ukraine does not have. Congress is contemplating a $6.4 billion Ukraine supplemental package that will be rolled into a defense measure set for a Senate vote later this month. Ukraine can’t wait that long, and the Russians certainly won’t wait.

Ukraine is in an existential fight and could very well send a defeated Russia back inside its borders, speeding Moscow’s decline into irrelevance. Ukraine is the vanguard of the defense of Western liberal order. We — the U.S. government and people — need to do our part to help the Ukrainians succeed — and soon.

 


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