Why The West Faces A Dangerous Paradox In Arming Ukraine Against Russia

Why The West Faces A Dangerous Paradox In Arming Ukraine Against Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky

The strike by Ukraine on the Kersh bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula has exposed the Ukraine to a brutal missile counterattack by Russia that killed at least 14 civilians and wounded 97 others. Ukraine’s defense ministry announced this morning that it had shot down 41 of the Russian cruise missiles as they crossed Ukrainian airspace. Moldova’s foreign minister announced that Russian cruise missiles had crossed its borders on their way to Ukraine and summoned the Russian ambassador to explain why Moldova’s airspace had been violated.

On Monday Russian President Vladimir Putin said the missile strikes were in response to the attack on the Kersh bridge and called it “an act of terrorism aimed at destroying critically important civilian infrastructure.” This, despite the fact that the Kersh bridge is used by the Russian military as one of the main resupply routes to its forces in eastern and southern Ukraine, which have been in sovereign Ukrainian territory since February 24 of this year carrying out numerous brutal murders of civilians and shelling that has nearly leveled Ukrainian cities that have no military infrastructure at all.

Putin’s statement about Ukrainian “terrorism” is unbelievable and entirely believable at once. It’s the kind of outrageous lie that we have come to expect from the Russian dictator. He has provided so many reasons for his “special military operation” in Ukraine, they are hard to keep track of: defending Russia from the “Nazi regime” running Ukraine; hitting back against Ukraine’s “murders” of Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine; defending Russian “honor;” claiming that Ukraine has never been a state separate from Russia and that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people.”

It is obvious on its face that Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February was an unprovoked act of aggression by Russia of a kind that hasn’t happened in Europe since the beginning of World War II. So, there is no logic to Putin’s claims about why he ordered the Russian army to invade Ukraine and destroy its critical infrastructure, cities, and kill civilians. Ukraine’s response, to defend itself by fighting Russian invaders and last week by planting a bomb that seriously crippled the Kersh bridge, is entirely logical. Ukraine is and has been a sovereign nation with the exception of the period of time it was coerced into being part of the Soviet Union’s empire.

And yet there is a split-seam in the West’s logic regarding the war in Ukraine.

The U.S. and NATO nations quickly came to an agreement that they would supply Ukraine with weapons, money, food, and other supplies it needed to fight the Russian invaders. Since the early months of the war, the west has stepped up the quantity and quality of weapons systems it has shipped to Ukraine. The U.S. began by sending Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank weapons, both of which can be fired by a single soldier against a single target. From there, we increased the numbers of those weapons systems and backed them up with more and more sophisticated howitzers and then HIMARS rocket launchers, both of which are capable of firing precision-guided warheads at multiple targets. The U.S. and NATO, however, have balked at providing Ukraine with fighter jets, although they have shipped replacement parts for the air forces Ukraine already had.

The Russian attack with 75 cruise missiles exposes the illogic of the west’s support of Ukraine. How does Ukraine respond in an equivalent manner to a Russian attack on its soil with a weapons system it does not have: the cruise missile, capable of flying long distances and hitting targets using a GPS guidance system? Cruise missiles are fired from so-called stand-off launch platforms – either from Russian ships in the Black Sea or from Russian jet bombers who can launch them without ever crossing the border of Ukraine and exposing themselves to Ukrainian air-defense systems.

The Ukrainians were able to shoot down 41 of the Russian cruise missiles because they have some SAM anti-aircraft batteries they were supplied with while they were part of the Soviet Union, and we have since supplied them with U.S. and NATO anti-aircraft systems capable of hitting the relatively slow-moving cruise missiles, which aren’t really missiles in a conventional sense, but rather flying bombs. A cruise missile consists of an airframe with wings, a warhead and a propulsion system.

Russian cruise missiles are capable of flying long distances, some subsonic versions up to 3,000 miles. Russia has supersonic cruise missiles that can fly between 300 and 500 miles, and one supersonic version capable of flying about 3,000 miles. Subsonic cruise missiles can fly as slow as 200 to 300 miles per hour; supersonic missiles fly greater than the speed of sound, around 750 to 800 miles per hour depending on altitude.

Russia claims to also have hypersonic cruise missiles that fly even faster, but it is unknown if they have actually been tested and they have not been used so far in its war against Ukraine.

The U.S. and NATO nations have cruise missiles with similar if not greater capabilities. Both Russia and the U.S. have nuclear-capable cruise missiles.

The dilemma with Russia’s cruise missile attack on Ukraine is this: the only equivalent counterattack would have to be launched by the U.S. or NATO countries, and that has been a big no-no since the war began because the West does not want to start World War III. At least that’s the logic. Who wants to start the first major global conflict since World War II?

You could say Russia already did it by invading its neighbor, because that has roped in nearly all of the rest of Europe and the U.S. which have all been arming Ukraine. But arming Ukraine obviously isn’t the same as fighting alongside that beleaguered country. That is what Russia is counting on with its cruise missile attack on Ukraine: they won’t be retaliated against with similar weapons because the Ukrainians don’t have cruise missiles. We could supply Ukraine with them except for the fact that Ukraine doesn’t have the necessary launch platforms: either medium-heavy fighter-bombers or warships capable of carrying cruise missile launch pods.

The ruptured seam in the west’s logic would disappear if Putin decides to use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has warned Putin that the American response to tac-nukes would be “catastrophic.” Military experts in Washington say that is code for a massive conventional strike against whatever Russian units fired the tactical nuclear weapon or weapons, wiping them from the face of the earth, as I heard in Washington last week.

That would doubtlessly entail using American and NATO cruise missiles carrying conventional high-explosive warheads as well as attacks from the air using stand-off weapons that would allow U.S. jets to fire into Russian territory without crossing the Russian border, probably from Ukrainian airspace.

So that’s what we’re left with. We can’t supply Ukraine with the weapons they need to properly respond to the Russian cruise missile attacks yesterday, and we can’t respond with our own cruise missiles because that would risk starting World War III.

Putin does have one serious problem with using cruise missiles: They are extremely expensive and they are filled with high-tech gadgets, and once you fire them, they’re gone for good. I don’t know how many cruise missiles Putin has, but it’s not an inexhaustible supply, or else he would have been making heavy use of them from the start of the war. This is no doubt because sanctions have made replacing Russian cruise missiles much more difficult, and the sanctions aren’t going away, so it isn’t going to get any easier for Putin to resupply his stock of cruise missiles.

China is probably the one country that could supply Russia with at least some of the technology to build more cruise missiles, but yesterday China and India called for a “de-escalation” of the war on Ukraine, although both countries stopped short of denouncing the attack by Russia. North Korea and Iran have helped supply Russia with weapons and technology like drones, but neither country is capable of making up for the pain of the sanctions on Russia by the U.S. and the West that bar the sale of microchips and other high-tech stuff to Russia.

We can pray Putin won’t use tactical nukes and we can threaten, and we can step up our weapons shipments to Ukraine, but that’s about all we can do. The burst seam in the West’s logic about the war leaves Vladimir Putin in the drivers’ seat for the time being. He knows he can do anything right up to using tactical nuclear weapons without risking a savage counterattack from the West, and that is exactly what he appears to be doing.

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 luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

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