America should provide Ukraine enough aid to break Russia’s military. Otherwise, if the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin ends with territorial and diplomatic gains, a dangerous incentive for stronger countries to attack weaker neighbors will stand, journalist Eli Lake told a Jewish Policy Center webinar audience on March 29.
Lake, expanding on his lead article in the April issue of Commentary magazine, “The World Has Change and We Must Change Along with It,” said he was nervous “when I hear President Biden and others say our unity is unshakeable” in supporting embattled Ukraine. “Our goal isn’t unity … but a broken Russian army.”
If even half NATO’s (North American Treaty Organization) estimated numbers of Moscow’s losses in the month-old war are correct, then “we might have an opportunity to break the Russian army,” Lake said. U.S. leaders should say “the goal should be that Ukraine wins.” So, “if [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy asks for more, we should give it to them.”
Putin’s saber-rattling by mentioning nuclear weapons and hinting at chemical and biological arms cannot be ignored. But giving him a veto over the extent of Western aid to Kyiv would not prevent the Russian leader from launching other attacks, including against small NATO members, Lake said. The ideal outcome is a Ukrainian victory that avoids total humiliation of a broken Russian army, he added.
A former Bloomberg News columnist and now a journalism fellow at the University of Texas’ Clement Center for National Security, Lake said the West “has known who Vladimir Putin is for some time,” beginning in the early 2000s with his destruction of Grozny to crush Chechen rebels. There was not “a peep” of protest from Europe or the United States, which “were still operating under the idea that Russia could be coaxed into the community of nations.”
Putin’s fomenting war against Georgia in 2008, invading and annexing Ukrainian Crimea and using “little green men”—unidentified Russia troops—to take over the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in 2014, assassinating journalists and political opponents all met “very little resistance” in the West, Lake noted.
Such aggression should have made it clear than neither he nor China’s President Xi Jinping—who signed a statement of “unlimited” cooperation with Putin just before the latter attacked Ukraine—have any interest in “playing by the rules of the game” expected by the post-World War II, U.S.-led order. For 50 years Washington has tried to split Moscow and Beijing, Lake said, but “there is no chance the Chinese will not be on Russia’s side.”
Beijing may speak diplomatically to the West, but it will not cut ties with Moscow, he added. Both China and Russia seek a world in which strong states dominate weaker ones and to justify their domestic oppression, both “need an external enemy”—always the United States, Lake said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have accelerated a shift in American public opinion toward recognizing China also as an adversary requiring stronger deterrence. But “a struggle” will be required, since key U.S.-based corporations in entertainment and investment seek Chinese markets and American consumers enjoy cheap imports from China.
He asserted that the United Nations, including the Security Council, has long been irrelevant at best to dealing with international crises. The United States should make end-runs around the United Nations and the Security Council vetoes wielded by Russia and China. “At the least the United States should say the Security Council is not a font of international law so long as Russia has a veto,” Lake said.
He acknowledged that the U.S. government, including the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) “can’t plan from abroad movements against these tyrannies” including Russia, China and Iran. But since popular movements against such governments have erupted periodically, “plenty of Americans who fled those places have connections back home.” Washington should “keep an eye on these movements [and] increase their odds.” It also should encourage a brain drain from such countries of their most talented and ambitious people, those likely to succeed in an atmosphere of freedom and security.