OPINION | How Western embarrassment over missiles undermines Ukraine’s war effort

PARIS — When it opened in 2018, the Kerch Bridge, linking Russia to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow illegally invaded and annexed four years earlier, was hailed as the “construction project of the century” by President Vladimir Putin’s sycophantic media. Ta. Costing about $8 billion, the 12-mile stretch is the concrete and steel embodiment of Russia’s geopolitical dreams and a century of Putin’s own new imperial plans. The Russian dictator, who pushed ahead with the bridge’s construction despite huge technical challenges, drove a dump truck across it and declared it an “amazing achievement.”

The fact that this iconic bridge is still standing is remarkable in itself, as Ukraine’s allies have the weaponry to crash it into the Kerch Strait some 100 feet below. Their failure to provide that capability to Ukraine reflects a fundamental disconnect in the bloody contest of wills between Putin and the West.

Ignore all the gleeful talk in Washington and European capitals about the strategic defeat Moscow suffered through its disastrous invasion. In reality, Putin feels that victory, by his definition, is within reach.

Convinced that the West’s patience was wearing thin, he restructured Russia’s economy to continue the war indefinitely. A third of Russia’s budget this year will go to defense spending, nearly three times the share of the US budget. Kremlin military spending is expected to reach 6% of Russia’s economic output this year, more than double the share allocated by most NATO countries.

By contrast, the United States and its European allies appear exhausted by efforts to defend Ukraine, with tens of billions of dollars in additional aid so far blocked by Republicans in Congress and the European Union’s Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán. ing. Whatever Ukraine’s own military mistakes, it is arguable that the West could and should have acted much sooner to prepare for Kiev’s months-long counterattack starting last June. There is no room for this. On the contrary, Western countries were sluggish, and as autumn turned to winter, Ukraine’s momentum weakened.

This has shifted the momentum on the battlefield, forcing Kiev’s forces into a defensive crouch as Russia fills the skies with projectiles aimed at Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. In the five days ending January 2, Russia launched more than 500 missiles and drones at targets across Ukraine. The barrage left at least 90 civilians dead and more than 400 injured, according to the United Nations.

A German government spokesperson condemned the attack as a war crime. However, Berlin became a classic example of the West’s embarrassment when it refused to send to Ukraine the very weapon that could have destroyed the Kerch Bridge, the German Taurus missile.

Other Western missiles provided to Ukraine by the United States, Britain, and France could also puncture the bridge. Air-launched, low-flying, highly accurate, and capable of penetrating a target before exploding, the Taurus has the potential to completely sever a target.

That would prevent the bridge’s two road and rail spans from being used as supply arteries for Russian troops in Crimea, which the Kremlin has used as a base for attacks on Ukraine. And while no weapon or attack can change the course of the war, destroying the bridge will continue to painfully increase the cost of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine for the Kremlin and the Russians who were rooting for its construction. It will send a loud and symbolic message that this is the case. .

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s reluctance to send the Taurus to Ukraine is a epitome of Western ambivalence and complacency.

On the one hand, Mr. Scholz, appalled by Moscow’s all-out invasion some two years ago, has given up on Germany after decades of bright-eyed assurance that Europe is not under any strategic security threat. persuaded them to make a strategic change. To help Kiev survive the Russian attack, Germany sent more money and supplies than any other country after the United States.

Meanwhile, Scholz remained adamant “no” on Taurus, even after President Biden sent U.S. cruise missiles known as ATACMS to Ukraine last fall after months of resistance. German officials are constantly changing their explanations for the prime minister’s position, including legal and technical aspects. But the real reason seems obvious: fear.

According to media reports, Scholz is concerned that Ukraine could use Taurus, which has a range of about 300 miles, to attack Russian territory. He said he was concerned that President Putin would view the missile launch into Kiev as provocative. The prime minister fears it could lead to escalation.

But Ukraine has largely complied with its allies’ conditions not to use Western-supplied weapons to attack targets inside Russia. And earlier fears that certain arms shipments would provoke Putin turned out to be unfounded. What will Russia’s escalation look like amid a scorched-earth campaign that has already destroyed dozens of Ukrainian cities? Deploying nuclear weapons in the Kremlin had always seemed unlikely, especially after Chinese President Xi Jinping warned President Vladimir Putin not to do so.

The fear was corrosive and undermined allies’ resolve to stop Putin’s land grabs. By hesitation and vacillation, the West is showing weakness to the Russian tyrant. That is the surest provocation and the real danger, even more so than sending missiles to Ukraine.

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