Washington, Allies Plan for a Long War Against Russia in Ukraine

Kiev worries support from its partners could fade as the costs increase

The Washington Post reports the White House is planning for an extended conflict in Ukraine. Leaders in NATO, the UK and Germany have joined the US in support of a long war. However, there is anxiety among some in the Western alliance that war fatigue will set in and support for Kiev will dry up.

The Post reported an unnamed senior State Department official said, "Biden administration officials had discussed the possibility of a protracted conflict with global spill-over effects even before February, as U.S. intelligence suggested Putin was preparing to invade."

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, "We’re here to dig in our spurs." Austin made the comment during a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. At the conference, the defense secretary announced Germany was sending long-range rockets to Kiev, and Slovakia was sending Mi-series helicopters.

The White House followed the conference by announcing a $1 billion weapons transfer to Ukraine. The package includes Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 155MM howitzers. On Friday, Ukrainian officials claimed a Harpoon missile was used to sink a Russian tug boat in the Black Sea. In a now-deleted tweet, a Ukrainian official said that Western countries were planning to arm Ukraine with the anti-ship missiles to sink Russian ships in the Black Sea.

On Sunday, NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg said, “We must prepare for the fact that it could take years. We must not let up in supporting Ukraine.” He added, "Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, also because of rising energy and food prices.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his second trip to Keiv since Russia invaded on February 24. While meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Johnson pledged the UK would train 10,000 Ukrainian troops every 120 days. "The UK is with you, and we will be with you until you ultimately prevail,” Johnson said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz indicated Ukraine should expect more support from the West. He said at an upcoming Group of Seven summit the attendees will make clear Kiev can expect to receive the support it needs "for as long as necessary."

The Washington Post report says the White House hopes transferring the increasing advanced weapons to Ukraine will lead to a negotiated settlement. However, the weapons seem to have emboldened officials in Kiev who now want an outright military victory.

Last week, Zelensky said his forces would reclaim the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. "We will liberate our Crimea!" he said in a video address. In a separate speech, Zelensky noted, “There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we receive, the faster we can liberate our people, our land.” A top aide to Zelensky said that if Ukraine receives heavy weaponry soon, the war could be won in three to six months.

Ukrainian leaders misreading the White House’s intentions does not appear to be changing the Biden administration’s plans. Politico reports the next weapons package to Ukraine will include four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMRAS). David Arakhamia, the majority leader of Ukraine’s parliament and Keiv’s top negotiator, said the war was transforming into a "distance fight," and a supply of long-range artillery was essential.

However, Kiev is concerned some of its NATO partners are not committed to the long-term fight and will succumb to "war fatigue." Zelensky said, "The fatigue is growing, people want some kind of outcome (that is beneficial) for themselves, and we want (another) outcome for ourselves."

While Ukraine is concerned about losing support, it’s unclear how long it can keep fighting Russia in a lengthy war. Last week, Chair of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley stated the numbers favor Russia. "In terms of artillery, they do outnumber, they out-gun and out-range," he said.

A UK defense ministry daily assessment said Ukraine was suffering desertions among its ranks. "Combat units from both sides are committed to intense combat in the Donbas and are likely experiencing variable morale." It continued, "Ukrainian forces have likely suffered desertions in recent weeks."

Ukrainian forces are also taking high losses in battle. Arakhamia recently assessed casualties to be as high as 1,000 a day with 500 deaths.

Oleksandra "Sasha" Ustinova, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, told Politico that her countrymen are being exhausted by the war. "One of the strategies the foreign partners are looking at is exhausting Putin. I’m sorry, we are exhausting our own people. We are literally losing our people," she said.

Kyle Anzalone is the opinion editor of Antiwar.com, news editor of the Libertarian Institute, and co-host of Conflicts of Interest.