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[Trudy Rubin] The critical battles for Ukraine and for America are being fought right here, right now

Americans are being tested right now about the kind of country and world they want to live in.

At home -- as children are slaughtered with easily acquired assault weapons -- members of the US Congress must decide whether they prefer the rule of law or the law of the jungle.

Abroad, the Biden administration, and the American public, must decide whether the strong US support for Ukraine will be continued for the long haul as Vladimir Putin breaks all the rules that have kept peace in Europe since World War II.

So far, the US Congress is failing when it comes to the home front. Despite heartrending pleas last week by survivors of the Uvalde, Texas, massacre, Republican legislators are opting for the jungle. Although a hefty majority of the US public favors banning military assault weapons and ammo of the kind that ripped apart Uvalde’s children, the Republican Party is blocking any limits.

Putin’s new war crime: starving world’s poor by blockading Ukraine’s ports.

As for Ukraine, key decisions still need to be made immediately in Washington about how long and how intensely to back the victims of Putin’s war.

After the Ukrainian military’s early successes against Putin’s invaders, the war has entered a phase of attrition in eastern Ukraine. The war has largely disappeared from US front pages and been overtaken by domestic crises -- like mass shootings.

But that doesn’t mean the outcome of Putin’s war has become less important. Many Americans may not realize that a Putin “victory” is still possible, enabled by a brutal autocrat who has no qualms about slaughtering civilians and laying waste to whole cities.

Indeed, the war’s outcome will be shaped by whether the West finally delivers the necessary weapons in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed.

Putin clearly has a new strategy after failing to blitz Kyiv and depose President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. At this point, the Russian goal is to seize the whole of the eastern Donbas region (Moscow occupied one-third of that area in 2014), and to annex a broad band of contiguous territory in the south, running from occupied Mariupol all the way to the major port of Odesa (which remains unoccupied but is blockaded).

This would cut Ukraine off from the sea, including the critical ability to export grain. A truncated Ukraine with a crippled economy would be hard-pressed to attract a Western Marshall Plan to rebuild its cities or entice millions of refugees to come home.

Should this disaster come to pass, Putin no doubt thinks he could sit back and wait for Zelenskyy’s fall, pushed out by an embittered public -- and then try again to impose a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv.

This Putinesque scenario will not happen -- the Ukrainian population is already resisting in Russian-occupied areas of the south. But having regrouped, the Russian Army’s overwhelming superiority in heavy weapons -- artillery, rockets, missiles and their launchers -- is taking a terrible toll on Ukraine’ military and civilians in the eastern fields of the Donbas.

The heavy weapons loudly promised by the United States and several European countries are either insufficient in numbers or arriving too slowly.

“The Ukrainians are not doing well because we’re not sending them what they need,” retired US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, a former NATO commander, told me last week. “At the speed we are doing things, the Ukrainians will have to fall back.”

Let me be clear: The volume of equipment that President Joe Biden has authorized for Ukraine, including critical Javelin anti-tank weapons, has been impressive, as has his pressure on NATO members to do likewise. But the arrival of critical systems often comes weeks after they were needed. And when it comes to seriously protecting Ukrainian skies, the help has never arrived, or doesn’t meet the need.

One prime example: Ukrainians are finally being trained outside their country on the multiple-rocket launcher systems known as HIMARS, which are critical for driving the Russians back in the Donbas. But the systems will only get delivered three or four weeks from now. And only four firing units are being sent.

“Four units is less than 10 percent of what they need,” I was told by retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of the United States Army Europe. “There needs to be a steady flow.”

Sweden and Finland are joining NATO because Europeans cannot stay neutral about Putin’s war.

Hodges said he believes the Russians are near exhaustion, in both weapons systems and manpower, but are making gains because the Ukrainians do not have the long-range weapons they need. “We’re at the critical point in the war,” he said. “Hopefully in three or four weeks, stuff (sent by the US and European allies) will start showing up in numbers.”

Hodges said he believes that with new heavy weapons, “the Ukrainians can start doing successful counterattacks. By September, they will have the potential to push the Russians back to the pre-invasion lines.”

Whether or not this can be achieved, it won’t be feasible unless the West delivers more and more sophisticated weapons systems ASAP. And unless Western support holds firm for the long term.

The critical battle to prevent Putin from imposing his law of the jungle on Europe is now being waged in Western capitals -- and on Ukrainian soil.

Trudy Rubin
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)

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