This week the world marked the one-year anniversary of Russia’s all-out assault on the independence of Ukraine. In launching a brutal and unprovoked attack on Kyiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin intended to overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government and subvert the will of millions of its citizens. But in the days that followed, the Ukrainian people defied expectations, repelled Russia’s initial attempt at conquest, and mobilized to fight a longer war in defense of their country.
The tenacity of the Ukrainian people and their willingness to sacrifice for freedom has inspired the world. A broad coalition of nations led by the United States and its NATO allies have rallied to support Ukraine with weapons, military training, and economic assistance so it can withstand Russia’s unrelenting attacks on infrastructure and reclaim lost territory. One year later, Ukrainians are continuing to display bravery and grit in fighting back against Russia’s brutal occupation of Ukraine’s eastern provinces.
As former NATO Supreme Allied Commanders who led all U.S. forces in Europe, we know how essential U.S. and allied support has been to Ukraine’s battlefield successes. We also know how important this fight is to America’s own security interests. The world would be a far more dangerous place had Putin succeeded in toppling Ukraine’s government. Our NATO allies would be threatened and more vulnerable to Russian coercion, rather than feeling reinforced by America’s commitment to European security. It is highly likely that a successful Russian invasion would have emboldened China to act against Taiwan, a thriving democracy and vital U.S. economic partner. Instead, the Kremlin’s military failures are giving Beijing pause.
History teaches America that distant conflicts abroad can directly threaten us at home when we do not engage. Twice in the last century, the United States sent millions of troops to Europe to fight in wars that it had at first ignored against aggressors who had gone unchecked. We must not make that mistake again. We must do everything we can to hasten a Ukrainian victory against Russia. That is why President Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv this week was so important, as are the strong statements of support for Ukraine from Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress.
One Year In: What Are The Lessons from Ukraine For The Future Of War?
Twelve months after the start of Putin’s military campaign, the war is at a critical juncture. Russia is mobilizing its forces to launch renewed offensives, and it is resorting to increasingly barbaric tactics to impose its will on Ukraine. In Ukraine’s east, the Russian military is leveling cities, committing mass executions, torturing civilians, and shipping hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and children to Russia against their will. The United States has rightfully called these actions crimes against humanity. There is no place in the civilized world for this depravity. We have a responsibility, rooted in our values and interests, to ensure that Russia cannot operate with such impunity.
The Ukrainian military is preparing for its own counteroffensives with the benefit of new Western weapons systems and training, including billions of dollars of U.S. equipment. Ukrainian forces have demonstrated remarkable capability in fighting against a much larger enemy force, and they can succeed in this war with continued strong support. But if that support wavers, they could fail—with disastrous consequences for Ukraine, the United States, and our allies and partners around the world. It is in our power to avoid that fate.
Now is the time for America and its allies to dig deeper to get Ukraine what it needs to win and succeed, and to demonstrate that America remains the leading force for freedom and justice around the world.
The authors each have served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Gen. Wesley K. Clark, USA, ret., served from 1997 to 2000. Gen. Joseph Ralston, USAF, ret., from 2000 to 2003. Gen. James L. Jones, USMC, ret., from 2003 to 2006. Adm. James Stavridis, USN ret., from 2009 to 2013. Gen. Phil Breedlove, USAF, ret., from 2013 to 2016. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, USA, ret., from 2016 to 2019. Gen. Tod Wolters, USAF, ret., from 2019 to 2022.