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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Rubin: Send Patriots to Ukraine

By Trudy Rubin
Published: May 25, 2024, 6:01am

After I questioned Israel’s endgame in Gaza in a previous column, a reader asked, “Do you know what President Joe Biden’s endgame is in Ukraine?”

That is a critical question as Russia revs up a new offensive, mercilessly bombing civilian targets in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv. Meantime, Washington is still withholding the Patriot air defense systems the Ukrainians have been urgently requesting for more than two years.

We know the endgame of GOP candidate Donald Trump, who has basically said he’d cut off aid to Kyiv if it didn’t capitulate to Vladimir Putin. He encouraged his MAGA crowd in Congress to withhold U.S. military aid for six months, leaving Ukrainian fighters without shells to fire back at the Russians.

But what about White House plans for the end of the Ukraine war?

Congress’ six-month aid delay hurt Ukraine badly and gave the Russians an opening to gear up for this offensive. Yet even as U.S. aid finally starts flowing, the administration appears unwilling to commit to Ukrainian victory.

And yes, given Ukraine’s technological ingenuity and belief it is fighting an existential battle for survival, I believe a victory is still possible, if the West has the will and the strategic smarts to help Kyiv achieve that goal.

Yet the White House seems geared only to preventing a Ukrainian collapse, not putting Putin on the back foot. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has suggested that Ukraine can “hold the line” in 2024 and start retaking territory by 2025. Yet that scenario depends on continued U.S. military aid, which in turn requires a Biden victory in November. Neither is guaranteed.

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been begging the West to help “close the skies” over Ukraine by sending U.S.-made Patriot systems. The country’s aging Soviet air defense systems are no match for the Kremlin’s arsenal of cruise and ballistic missiles. That and the longtime U.S. reluctance to send U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, or let European allies deliver them, has left Ukraine unable to control its skies.

In recent weeks, as Russia tries to crush Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, Ukraine’s lack of Patriot air defense systems has become a disaster.

According to European officials, Western allies have 100 Patriot systems, the bulk of them held by the United States at home or at overseas bases. Yet only Germany has committed sending a system to Ukraine.

Six NATO allies — Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and Spain — currently operate Patriot systems, yet all except Germany have pleaded they need their systems for their own defense.

Perhaps Sullivan would have better luck getting help if the Pentagon would offer up one more system of its own. If the White House really wanted Ukraine to push back the Russians, it would make sending those Patriots a priority. And the F-16s.

And, as Zelenskyy has pleaded, it would stop forbidding Kyiv from using U.S.-made weapons to hit the sites just across the Russian border from which missiles are being fired at Ukrainian cities. Otherwise, Ukraine is fighting with an arm and leg tied behind its back.

Instead, the Biden team still seems to be deterred by Russia’s nuclear bluster. Yet, when the White House finally, and quietly, sent ATACMS long range missiles to Ukraine last month, crossing a Putin redline, the Russian autocrat’s threats of nuclear escalation proved hollow. His threats are meant mainly to deter the West from giving Kyiv what it needs to win.

“Seven systems,” Zelenskyy said in a New York Times interview. “Do you think it is too much for the NATO anniversary summit in Washington? For a country that has been trying to become a NATO member since 2008? For a country that is fighting for freedom and democracy around the world today?”

As the 75th anniversary summit of NATO approaches, a clear symbol of America’s commitment to supporting Ukraine until victory would be to stop playing Patriot games and deliver the goods.