As Russia’s renewed full-scale invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, the Ukrainian-American community in Connecticut has had cause for both hope and horror.
At a March 2 virtual town-hall meeting with Connecticut’s Congressional Delegation, hosted by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-3rd District) and John Larson (D-1st District) praised the fortitude and resolve of Ukrainians fighting to defend their country from ongoing Russian aggression. They and Connecticut’s three other federal representatives provided an overview of the military assistance that Ukraine would receive in the federal budget, passed as of March 10.
However, when the event host asked Reps. DeLauro and Joe Courtney (D-2nd District) specific questions about what air defense systems the United States could provide for Ukraine, the representatives mentioned only man-portable Stinger missiles, which, while necessary for Ukraine’s defense, cannot intercept high-altitude targets.
Reps DeLauro and Courtney both insisted that high-altitude defenses, such as the “Iron Dome,” are non-starters since they require at least two years of operator training. However, Ukraine has already been at war since 2014, when the Russians invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and Ukraine may remain at war with Russia for years to come.
At another virtual discussion, hosted by Wesleyan University on March 11, the moderator asked Svitlana Andrushchenko, a Ukrainian political and security expert, specifically what Ukrainians need to defend their country. Her answer: high-altitude air-defense systems.
Even if the “Iron Dome” is not a practicable solution for Ukraine’s immediate air-defense requirements, the cancelled transfer of 29 aging Polish MiG jets to Ukraine would have done much to address Ukraine’s air-defense needs. Those jets would have increased the size of Ukraine’s fighter fleet by 50%, and given Ukraine a stronger capacity to down Russian jets, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles, which increasingly strike civilian targets.
President Biden prevented Poland’s transfer of its aging MiG jets to Ukraine because, in his estimation, this transfer would have prompted an escalation from the Russian Federation. While President Biden’s restraint is admirable, it is necessary to recognize that Russia does not need, nor has ever needed, a cause for military escalation. It attacked Ukraine on February 24 without cause, and it has escalated, and will continue to escalate, its campaign of brutality against Ukrainian civilians.
Already, Kremlin military forces have killed thousands of civilians across Ukraine in targeted attacks on residential, commercial, medical, and religious sites in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, and Mariupol. In Mariupol alone, Russian forces have murdered more than 1500 civilians. The Russians, unable to conquer Mariupol by force, nor to bomb it into submission from the air, are now starving its population and defenders into surrendering. If that fails, Russia may resort to the use of chemical and biological weapons against Ukrainians, just as the Russian-backed Syrian regime used such weapons against its own citizenry.
The growing Ukrainian civilian death-toll, raised higher by increasingly barbarous Russian tactics, belies Western leaders’ stated accomplishment of limiting Russian escalation. As Professor Volodymyr Dubovyk, of Odesa National University, points out, “It is exactly in the absence of strong resolve [and] resistance where we see most of the escalation taking place.” In response to President Biden’s undercutting of Poland’s offer to transfer its legacy MiGs to Ukraine, Russian officials have now threatened to attack any convoys carrying Western aid to Ukraine because the Kremlin construes such aid itself as a Western escalation.
If, out of a fear of prompting Russian escalation, Western leaders limit or, worse yet, reduce the aid they provide to Ukraine, the West will guarantee that Ukrainian civilians will continue to die by the thousands.
Western leaders have justified such limitations with the goal of preventing Russian aggression against NATO states. However, it is the Ukrainian Armed Forces, not American restraint, which now prevents Russian aggression against NATO’s vulnerable eastern flank. Ukrainians are dying to protect their own country, but also to protect Romania, Poland, and the Baltic States. Ukrainians are dying so that American soldiers, bound by Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, will not soon have to fight in Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia. Ukrainians are dying, to paraphrase the old Polish expression, “for their own freedom and ours.”
As citizens of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation, and as people of good will, we need to make clear to our President and our state’s Congressional delegation that unequivocal and unflinching support for Ukraine is absolutely necessary for our own national security.
We need to make clear to our leaders that we expect them to do all they can to give Ukrainians the material, political, and economic assistance they need to defend their country and so prevent future Russian aggression against Russia’s other neighbors.
We need to tell our leaders to prove to Putin that “the free world is not afraid of a tyrant now hiding in a bunker.”
Peter Koropey lives in Granby.