In Ukraine War, 'Escalation' Is Just Another Deadly Lie

In Ukraine War, 'Escalation' Is Just Another Deadly Lie
Ukraine troops operate howitzer
Ukraine troops operate howitzer

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A “western official” said at a briefing in London that casualties in Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine have reached the 200,000 mark, “with a similar number killed and wounded on either side,” according to a report in The Guardian. There is an argument by experts that Russia’s losses are greater than Ukraine’s because more of their soldiers have been killed in the war. No matter how you look at it, however, it is a bloody, deadly war for the soldiers out there in the wintry cold in the trenches.

As the war has settled into a so-called war of attrition, many soldiers on both sides are being killed by artillery strikes. It’s hard to imagine the terror on that battlefield. 155 mm howitzers can fire accurately (or inaccurately, as the case may be) from 15 miles behind the front lines. That means the Ukrainian soldiers defending towns like Bakhmut and trying to retake Donetsk never hear Russian cannons when they go off. The standard American M107 projectile and its Russian equivalent weigh about 95 pounds, and its passage through the air is audible as a high-pitched whistle. The American M107 is designed to produce as many as 2,000 separate fragments when it explodes. It is likely the Russian 155 projectile is just as deadly, so the terror among soldiers when one of these monsters whistles overhead is unknowable. Unless the artillery strike ends up in the middle of a field, as I showed in a satellite image a couple of weeks ago, the sound a shell makes as it flies through the air means someone is going to die.

The big story last week was that the U.S. was giving serious consideration to sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but President Biden shot down that prospect yesterday when he answered a question about the F-16’s with a single word: “No.” It is not known how or why U.S. officials came to that decision, but it may have been because reports in the media held that such a move would be an “escalation” in the war.

That is total bullshit. Since the war began, Russia’s air force has flown combat missions over Ukrainian airspace using their missiles to hit targets in population centers such as Kharkiv, as well as to strike Ukrainian military targets on the ground. In fact, every time the U.S. has stepped up its shipments of weapons to Ukraine, Russia has called it an escalation. They did it when we first supplied Ukraine with our HIMARS mobile missile launchers which are able to place accurate fire on targets miles beyond the reach of 155 mm howitzers.

Russia called it an escalation when we supplied Ukraine with ground-based Avenger radar-controlled anti-aircraft missiles. Russia called it an escalation when it was announced that the U.S. would provide Ukraine with its longer-range Patriot guided anti-missile batteries. Now that Germany will send 14 of its Leopard II tanks and the U.S. will supply Ukraine with 31 Abrams M1 tanks, Russia has charged once again that it marks an escalation in the war. Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, said last month that NATO and American supplies of sophisticated weapons systems to Ukraine could “trigger” a nuclear response by Russia. “Western powers are pushing the world to a global war,” Medvedev bellowed, apparently in response to criticism by Russian hard-liner Viktor Alksnis that a Russian defeat by Ukraine would lead to Russia’s “shameful capitulation and its subsequent breakup.”

In case Medvedev and Alksnis hadn’t noticed, Russian T-72 tanks rolled across the Belarussian and Russian borders last February 24, accompanied by every kind of armored personnel carrier in their arsenal. Russia deployed its SA-6 surface to air mobile missile systems against Ukraine’s small air force. Russia deployed its BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers on day one. In fact, many of the fragments of rockets shown in the photograph above are from Russian Grad rockets that failed to explode in a December rocket attack on Kharkiv. How is anything an escalation against that?

It's not an escalation to match an aggressor weapon-for-weapon, and so far that is exactly what Ukraine and its western allies have done. Putin and his fellow-bellowers can try to spin it any way they want, but not even using American F-16 fighters would be an escalation in Ukraine’s war to defend itself from the Russian army that has attacked and seized part of Ukrainian territory.

Vladimir Putin knows this. His generals know this. It’s past time for American media to stop echoing Russian propaganda by calling our shipment of increasingly sophisticated and deadly weapons to Ukraine an escalation. When you’re under attack, especially by forces that have been deliberately bombing civilian targets since day one, you fight back with anything you can get your hands on. That’s all Ukraine is doing, and we should help them by sending F-16’s and longer range mobile rocket systems that can strike Russian targets in Crimea. It’s fair and it’s the right thing to do. If Russia doesn’t want its army to face Abrams tanks and HIMARS missiles on the battlefield, and if they don’t want their fighter jets shot down by Patriot missiles, they should pull their forces out of Ukraine and go home.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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