The Expectation That Ukraine Should Defend Europe Alone

Marc Ash / Reader Supported News

One tangible result of the Russian offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv Oblast is that it appears to have transformed the dialog about direct NATO involvement in the war in Ukraine from private conversation to open debate.

NATO ministers are now openly discussing a broadening of what has up until now been a mostly covert and limited presence by special operators from certain NATO countries in Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron forced the issue into the spotlight as he recently announced that he is willing to send french troops to fight in Ukraine saying, “I have a clear strategic objective: Russia cannot win in Ukraine.” Macron specified 2 conditions for direct involvement, "If the Russians were to break through the front lines, if there were a Ukrainian request.”

Estonia’s national security advisor to the president, Madis Roll recently added that “serious” discussions are underway about sending Estonian troops in a support-non combat roll to assist the Ukrainian military. In totality the number of NATO nations openly talking about sending troops to Ukraine is growing and the list of those ruling out direct engagement is shrinking rapidly.

Officially NATO’s most dominant players are still aligned against any form of direct involvement. Germany, the UK and the US still reject the idea of NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine. Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff did however allow one candid admission. In responding to the idea of NATO “trainers” in Ukraine Brown said, “We’ll get there eventually, over time.”

All of this plays out against the broader tapestry of Western security. The Russians say many things. On the one hand they say that they have the right to dominate Ukraine’s affairs because that is historically the way it has always been. An argument the Ukrainians, history itself and international law soundly reject. On other occasions the Russians say that their war is an existential war against NATO for various reasons. Additionally the Russians remind the West often that they have the right to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine or anywhere they like. One thing that is or should be clear by now, the Russians are a deadly serious threat to Europe and the West.

The argument that NATO should not commit greater resources including troops on the ground relies largely on the premise that, it’s Ukraine’s fight and we’re just helping them. The consequence of that logic is the perception that this is a battle for Ukrainians to fight. The Ukrainians have been fighting that battle alone for 10 years.

Every NATO country claims to be helping Ukraine and to a limited extent that is true, but on the front lines, in the trenches the men, the women, the blood is all Ukrainian. There are Foreign Legionnaire volunteers and they are the exception.

The premise that it is Ukraine’s fight is fundamentally flawed. Putin’s war has already impacted the security of every Western country. From economic impacts for developed countries to food insecurity for under developed countries the war in Ukraine has affected economies of every Western nation and beyond.

Western governments seem to take comfort from the idea that Ukraine is holding off the Russian advance. It is acceptable to Western leaders that Ukrainians are fighting and dying to thwart Putin’s aggression, but the idea that a single drop of Western blood should be spilled to join the Ukrainian effort is apparently unthinkable.

It was interesting to watch the reaction of Western leaders as the Russians began to gain traction in Kharkiv Oblast over the past month. Suddenly a discussion of direct involvement in the conflict became less taboo, as the reality of a Russian advance drew nearer and clearer. Conversely it is sobering to note how quickly news of Ukrainians stabilizing the situation at the front has been celebrated by the West, what a relief, the Ukrainians have it under control.

Putin’s destruction of Ukraine has been greatly aided by the reluctance to Western nations whose own interests are directly threatened to become directly involved in confronting the Russian threat. Macron’s redline is based at least in part on a Russian, “break through the front lines.” If Macron and France’s NATO allies wait that long the cost in Western lives and treasure will be exponentially higher.

The time is now to adopt a more traditional carrot and stick approach to managing the first war in Europe of the twenty first century. Direct military involvement by Western nations must increase along with a robust negotiating effort focused on giving the Russians a clear path to peace. A peace that would include a resumption of trade with the West and an easing of sanctions. There must be two clear paths, one with very real consequences and one with very real rewards.

Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.