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Experts: Western support, advanced weaponry critical for Ukrainians

As the Russian war on Ukraine rages into a sixth month, scholars from the College of Arts and Sciences assess the conflict’s toll on both countries, its impact globally, and key factors that may determine its outcome.
Ukrainian soldiers fire at Russian positions from a U.S.-supplied M777 howitzer in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region in mid-June. Photo: The Associated Press

While the devastation has been catastrophic in terms of human casualties and economic destruction, the conflict in Ukraine has served to coalesce the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries; awaken the West to the misguided policy of attempting to appease Russia; and earned the Ukrainian people a victory in the eyes of the world for their battle in defense of Western values of national sovereignty, freedom, and civil society development, according to Marcia Beck, a lecturer in the University of Miami Department of Political Science. 

Beck and Olena Antonaccio, originally from Ukraine and a criminology and sociology professor, highlighted that though Russia recently advanced to occupy more of the Luhansk half of the eastern Donbas region, a new phase of the war may be beginning—a phase with an outcome that could well be shaped by the provision of advanced Western weaponry. 

“The future of the war depends very much on the continued delivery of Western armaments, the resolve of the NATO, U.S., European, and other countries to play the long game against Russian aggression, and full-blown implementation and furthering of sanctions that make it clear that [President Vladimir] Putin’s war in Ukraine, and support of that war in Russia, will not be tolerated,” said Beck. 

“The resolve part of this package will be the most difficult to sustain, especially as Western Europe, most notably Germany, begins the difficult process of weaning itself off of Russian energy supplies, and Europeans continue to experience the shock of much higher gas prices and the uncertainty of deliveries, which have already begun to impact both households and businesses,” added Beck, a specialist in Russian politics. 

Antonaccio echoed the call for more advanced weaponry from the West and harsher sanctions against Russia if Ukraine hopes to win the conflict. She described a win as repelling Russian forces from the territories they have occupied in the Donbas region and in the country’s south.  

“Despite their courage, the Ukrainians would already have lost for sure if not for the support from Western countries, but the reality is that Putin’s arsenal is huge and the Ukrainians need stronger weapons,” she said.

Beck pointed out that NATO countries have already begun to increase deliveries of multiple-launch rocket systems, armored tanks and other vehicles, drones, and other long-range weapons, such as howitzers. And that the U.S. sent four High-Mobility-Artillery-Rocket-Systems (HIMARs) that can hit long-range targets to Ukraine in June and has assisted in training Ukrainian soldiers to use them. A second delivery of four more HIMARs is scheduled for mid-July, and another group of Ukrainian solders is already being trained in Germany as to their operation.

Because of the dearth of news of the war from U.S. media, to monitor the situation Antonaccio depends on the BBC, Ukrainian government chats, and posts via social media. She also gets information from personal sources—her brother, a lawyer by profession, continues to serve with the Territorial Defense Forces, as do many Ukrainians in towns and cities around the country. Antonaccio also recently returned from a visit to Poland where she met with relatives who had fled Ukraine.

According to the professor, the sanctions so far have failed to exact the intended economic toll. And Russia, in fact, is making more money than ever selling its oil along with the rich grain supplies it has confiscated from Ukraine.

With the number of casualties mounting daily and hardships persisting, she said there was no silver lining for the Ukrainian people but there has been for Western countries.

“The invasion opened the eyes of the Western world to the aggression that’s been going on for nearly 15 years since Russia invaded Georgia. The Western countries at least have time to do protect themselves better, and that’s what they’re doing,” she said, referring in part to the recent NATO meeting in Madrid, Spain, where Finland and Sweden both formally requested to join the alliance in addition to other actions taken.

Beck agreed that the invasion has served to fundamentally shift the European perspective of Russia and would alter policy toward the nation for years to come. 

“The misguided policy of appeasing Russia and ignoring Putin’s crimes has finally been debunked, including the idea that the West is somehow responsible for the war in Ukraine because of offering former Soviet satellite states, now sovereign independent countries, NATO membership at these countries’ request,” Beck said. “Putin views this attitude as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve, since it means undermining the West’s own espoused values of the self-determination of nations and the right of every nation to defend its sovereign territory.” 

She described the invasion as a tragedy for everyone involved—the Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who have given their lives; the Ukrainian people, whose lives were upended from one day to the next and who will suffer the consequences of the war for generations to come; people throughout the world who have depended on Ukrainian grain supplies; and those young Russian soldiers who were told they were taking part in military exercises in Russia only to find out that they are considered to be invaders in Ukraine. And though they are distant from the conflict, the Russian people too have been “big losers.” 

“They have been duped by Putin, through the use of technology and television, to believe the West is somehow to blame for the conflict and have given up the opportunity to rise up against a cynical autocrat who enriches himself at his peoples’ expense at a time when they would have had the support of a large part of the international community,” Beck said. 

Still, she pointed to the fact that even as the war rages, at a meeting in Lugano, Switzerland, the European Union began to generate a post-war reconstruction plan based on a sophisticated Ukrainian proposal for a $175 billion recovery and investment package. 

“The speed by which EU members agreed to put together a recovery plan, as well as the speed and efficiency by which the Ukrainians crafted a detailed and feasible proposal, is truly astonishing,” the Russian specialist said. 

Neither scholar foresees any chance for a negotiated end to the conflict. 

“Diplomacy has been a big loser here as well. Putin has no intention of negotiating anything,” insisted Beck. “He has only become more belligerent the more atrocities his military forces commit in Ukraine. There is absolutely no foundation for any kind of negotiation because Russia under Putin will never negotiate in good faith.”

Antonaccio added that the international order that has existed for the past 70 years is among the victims of the conflict.

“That architecture for order and stability has been displaced,” she said. “It’s a huge danger for the whole world if you can allow something like this to happen in Europe—which is supposed to be among the safest continents in the world. 

The longer the war goes on, the more reverberations will be felt all over the world,” Antonaccio said.