A few hours ago, President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for several hours via video conference and discussed several issues. Most importantly, they discussed rising tensions in Ukraine. This was how the White House referred to President Biden expressing his concern over Russian aggression in the region.
“President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the US and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation,”
“President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy. The two presidents tasked their teams to follow up, and the US will do so in close coordination with allies and partners,”
There is not much here that Ukraine should take heart in. Russia has 170,000 troops massing on the Ukraine border threatening an invasion and the response of the United States is that we will respond with economic sanctions and “other measures” should get his tanks rolling West.
President Putin would probably be correct in assuming that the U.S. and our European allies will not respond militarily should he choose to invade Ukraine. If we actually wanted to signal our seriousness about defending Ukraine, here is how we could make that very clear to Putin and Russia.
Admit Ukraine to NATO
Ukraine has gone back and forth several times over an application they made to join NATO in 2008. When Putin hinted he would back down if Ukraine withdrew that application they did so trying to appease him. Now, the people of Ukraine themselves are solidly behind joining NATO as a means of self-preservation in the face of continued aggression coming from Putin.
NATO should grant membership to Ukraine immediately, this would be a major strategic setback to Russia which is loath to have NATO planes, tanks, and guns right on its border. Membership in NATO obligates the members to the mutual defense of each other. Massing troops on the border of a NATO member would bring U.S. and other NATO troops to the Ukraine border in response. It would also mean NATO ships in the Baltic Sea, which Russia very much wants to assert total control over.
As a NATO member, the U.S. could station Patriot anti-missile batteries with U.S. crews manning them all over the country. These are purely defensive weapons that Russia would have a hard time justifying an attack on as aggression on NATOs part.
Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM)
Russia still equips itself, trains, and fights like the Red Army of the Soviet Union that preceded it. Its doctrine is maneuver warfare using mechanized troops, tanks, massed artillery, and tactical helicopters in massed formations. In 2018, we shipped $47 million in Javelin ATGMs to Ukraine. At a per-unit cost of approximately $175,000, it works out to about 270 units. That isn’t enough. We should sell Ukraine at least nine hundred of them. When you only have a few you tend to hoard them for when you really, really need them. If they had 900, the Russians would know they would be getting hit by them very hard in any attack on Ukraine.
Anti-artillery and Anti-mortar Radar Systems
The Red Army model used by the modern Russian Army is dependant on massed artillery fires using rockets, cannons, and mortars to pulverize a target prior to the advance of its armored formations. Mobile radar systems like the AN/TPQ-53 Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar (LCMR) and Q-53 CUAS, both made by Lockheed Martin are mobile radar systems that detect incoming artillery projectiles and mortar that can be tracked back to the location of the firing weapon allowing counter-battery fire from Ukraine’s own guns. They can also track drones and other larger unmanned aerial vehicles.
Patriot Missile System
As described by its manufacturer, The “Patriot (MIM-104) is a long-range, all-altitude, all-weather air defence system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft. It is produced by Raytheon in Massachusetts and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control…” These missiles were a star attraction during the first Gulf War in 1991 when they protected various cities and military bases in Saudi Arabia from Iraqi SKUD missiles.
Manned by NATO crews these missiles would be able to do the same thing in Ukraine. Since they are purely defensive weapons, Russia attacking them and killing NATO crews would be all but impossible without provoking an all-out war with the West, which Putin knows he cannot win, and he does not want.
Ukraine has hundreds of miles of seacoast that is open to landings by the Russian Army as a flanking move. Attacking from the East, the Russian Navy could on the Southern coast and cut off Ukraine forces rushing to meet them. Ukraine could prevent this with a few thousand Sea Mines to deny Russia access to its territorial waters. The “Quickstrike” mine conversion kit turns the inexpensive MK-80 series of bombs into mines with sensors that will set them off when they detect a ship passing over them. They can be dropped from aircraft flying low over the water.
M1/M1A1/M1A2 Abrams Tank
The M1 Abrams is the premier main battle tank in the world with a combat record that is probably the best in history, virtually every one of its battlefield kills has been against Russian-made tanks. It’s fast, reliable, can shoot on the move from stand-off range. In its SEPv3 variant, it’s also a very tough task to get an incapacitating hit on. The U.S. has made some 8,000 Abrams tanks. They are so good that even the earliest M1 versions are being upgraded rather than scrapped for the new. We have sold them to Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Iraq, and most recently Poland.
Ukraine should get at least 250 Abrams tanks with the superior depleted uranium rounds which can punch through any tank armor known to exist. We don’t even have to sell them to Ukraine. We could just lease another 250 to Poland with permission to loan them to Ukraine, along with training them in their use.
If the Biden administration wanted to send a clear, unmistakable message to Putin(and by extension Ukraine as well) it would arm Ukraine to defend itself as described above while welcoming it into NATO and its umbrella of mutual protection and security. Threatening economic sanctions will not impress Russia if it calculates that it gets a greater strategic benefit from annexing Ukraine and its population wholesale. Ukraine has a $155 Billion dollar economy which is five times the size of the value of the total trade between the U.S. and Russia last year. A couple of billion dollars in U.S. sanctions compared to Russia absorbing Ukraine’s $155 Billion to its own economy is not going to deter Putin in the least. The simple math entices Putin to make a grab for Ukraine while the U.S. is led by a seemingly rudderless administration that is tanking in the polls.
Having Ukraine also gives Russia a territorial buffer between itself and Western Europe which Russia has obsessed over since the end of WWII. That is worth billions in sanctions to them as well. It should also be remembered that Europe imports huge amounts of oil and gas from Russia. U.S. sanctions against Russia’s energy sector will drive energy prices way up in Europe which will not only have our own allies screaming at us, but will require Europe to seek new sources of oil and gas from the sources we buy from driving up energy prices here as well. That isn’t a good thing for our economy either, since everything made in this country is manufactured and moved on oil and gas. Sanctions meant to punish Putin would be paid in no small part by American taxpayers who will not like that either.
All of this together would likely give Putin the idea that President Biden is bluffing about sanctions since the U.S. and Europe would suffer right along with Russia.
And Putin is probably right.