By Trudy Rubin
Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023 | 2 a.m.
To understand why Russia’s war on Ukraine remains the key foreign issue for Americans in 2023, you should watch the video of a Ukrainian mother whose son died when a Russian missile blasted a nine-story apartment building in Dnipro recently.
Timed at midday on the Orthodox New Year holiday, when people would be home, the Russians deliberately fired a 2,000-pound Kh-22 supersonic cruise missile — which was designed to sink aircraft carriers — at a building full of civilians. At least 72 apartments collapsed into a hideous mountain of concrete, household goods and wires, while some remained partially intact with their front walls sheared off, leaving furniture dangling. The remains of 45 people — including two young doctors, a dentist, a boxing coach and several children — have been pulled from the rubble so far, and many are still missing.
“Why did you kill him?” the bereaved mother in the video screamed, restrained by a relative as she railed at the Russians. “You used to come here, to our city, we were treating you as normal people, as normal relatives. Let you be cursed your whole life by all people, by me, by all mothers’ tears. Let your whole country be cursed.”
In the meantime, Russian TV talk show hosts were praising their country for uniquely embodying traditional Orthodox Christian values and decrying the Ukrainians — and Americans — as Nazis and Satanists. One prominent Russian official declared, “We are humans, and they (Ukrainians) are nonhumans.” Yet it is Russians who have embraced the inhuman behavior of Nazis.
Vladimir Putin is ready to raze Ukraine to the ground if he can’t conquer the country — so long as the West permits him. Decision time for the NATO allies is right now.
Contrary to popular perception, the U.S. and Europe have still not given Ukraine the weapons to stop Putin.
In Dnipro, Ukraine had no means of shooting down the Kh-22 missile, which had previously caused gruesome damage to civilian targets. Nor does Kyiv yet have the means to stop Russian ballistic missiles — never mind Iranian ballistic missiles, which Tehran may soon send as part of its new military alliance with the Kremlin.
In both cases, long-range Patriot antimissile systems are the only answer. They are required to layer over the mid- and lower-range Western and old Soviet-made systems that have so far prevented total Russian destruction of Ukraine’s power grid.
Ukraine has been begging for Patriots for months. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told me in July in Kyiv that he was certain the United States would agree to send Patriots by the end of 2022, but by then thousands of Ukrainian civilians would have died.
Reznikov was correct. Dnipro is only the latest victim of Russian terror attacks as I saw in July in Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and other cities where Russia’s missiles have shattered apartment buildings, markets, hospitals and schools.
As Reznikov foresaw, the United States and Germany finally agreed to send one Patriot battery each in late December (the Netherlands will probably send a third). But one battery can only defend part of a city and requires months of training — which the Ukrainians are just beginning — to operate it.
So if the decision has belatedly been made on Patriots, why not send sufficient batteries to protect key cities and targets?
Administration excuses about shortage of batteries and high cost of missiles don’t wash if the goal is for Ukraine to survive until victory. More than a dozen U.S. allies possess Patriot batteries that could be donated — and sophisticated Ukrainians aren’t likely to overuse the missiles.
What are Washington and its NATO allies waiting for?
And if the Patriot barrier has been crossed, why not give the Ukrainians the long-range U.S. precision missiles — known as ATACMS — that could stop Russian missiles at launch?
As chess champion and prescient Ukraine defender Garry Kasparov tweeted, “The best defense is a good offense. Instead of just shooting down missiles, destroy their launch points, wherever they may be. Thousands of civilian lives could have been saved had Ukraine been given such weapons long ago and they still do not have them. Why?”
What is the White House waiting for?
Moreover, if NATO allies have finally recognized the reality that Putin will only quit occupied Ukrainian land if the Russians are driven out militarily, why not finally give them the tanks to do so? Germany’s Hamlet-like Chancellor Olaf Scholz is still dithering over whether to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks that Ukraine desperately needs (and has just appointed a new defense minister with no military experience). He won’t even green-light other NATO members who are willing to send their Leopards to Ukraine.
Light armored vehicles being sent by Berlin and Washington are helpful but not tough enough. So far, only the British have had guts enough to promise a small number of tanks to Ukraine in hopes of prodding Germany and other NATO members. President Joe Biden’s leadership is needed.
There is no way to end the Ukraine war unless Putin’s dreams of restoring imperial Russia are defeated on the battlefield. The rage of a Dnipro mother reflects an entire country’s existential battle to drive out the Russians, whom Ukrainians now consider to be fascists, or — as they call them — “ruscists.”
But if this war drags on — because Ukraine doesn’t have enough of the right weapons — the country could be totally laid waste. If Russia isn’t ousted from Ukraine, Putin may regroup and try again, or try elsewhere to restore imperial grandeur, no matter the cost to his country.
The time to end this war is this year, by giving Kyiv everything it needs to defeat Putin. What are we waiting for?
Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.