With scant options in Ukraine, U.S. and allies prepare for long war

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The United States and its allies are making preparations for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine, officials said, as the Biden administration attempts to deny Russia victory by surging military aid to Kyiv while scrambling to ease the war’s destabilizing effects on world hunger and the global economy.

President Biden’s announcement this week of an additional $1 billion in security aid for Ukraine, the single largest tranche of U.S. assistance to date, offered the latest proof of Washington’s determination to ensure Ukraine can survive a punishing battle for the eastern Donbas region. European nations including Germany and Slovakia unveiled their own shipments of advanced weapons, including helicopters and multiple-launch rocket systems.

“We’re here to dig in our spurs,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said after convening dozens of nations in Brussels to pledge greater support for Kyiv.

The decision to supply Ukraine with increasingly sophisticated arms such as anti-ship missiles and long-range mobile artillery — capable of destroying significant military assets or striking deep into Russia — reflects a growing willingness in Western capitals to risk unintended escalation with Russia.

The support appears to have emboldened the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who this week vowed to retake all of Russian-controlled Ukraine, even areas annexed by Moscow long before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion.

But analysts say that despite the surge in outside aid, and strong morale among Ukrainian troops, Kyiv and its backers can hope for little more than a stalemate with Russia’s far bigger, better armed military. Unlike in Moscow’s failed attempt to seize the capital Kyiv, the Donbas battle has played to Russia’s military strengths, allowing it to use standoff artillery strikes to pound Ukrainian positions and gradually expand its reach.

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Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who now heads the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said the battlefield impasse leaves the United States with a stark choice: either continue to help Ukraine sustain a potentially bloody status quo, with the devastating global consequences that entails; or halt support and permit Moscow to prevail.

“That would mean feeding Ukraine to the wolves,” Daalder said, referring to a withdrawal of support. “And no one is prepared to do that.”

A senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe ongoing international deliberations, said Biden administration officials had discussed the possibility of a protracted conflict with global spillover effects even before February, as U.S. intelligence suggested Putin was preparing to invade.

The Biden administration hopes that the new weaponry, in addition to successive waves of sanctions and Russia’s diplomatic isolation, will make a difference in an eventual negotiated conclusion to the war, potentially diminishing Putin’s willingness to keep up the fight, the official said.

Even if that reality does not materialize immediately, officials have described the stakes of ensuring Russia cannot swallow up Ukraine — an outcome officials believe could embolden Putin to invade other neighbors or even strike out at NATO members — as so high that the administration is willing to countenance even a global recession and mounting hunger.

Already the war, compounding the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, has plunged the world economy, now expected to suffer years of low growth, into renewed crisis. It has also deepened a global food emergency as the fighting pushes up prices of basic goods and cripples Ukraine’s grain exports — which typically feed hundreds of millions of people a year — pushing some 44 million people closer to starvation, according to the World Food Program.

“While it’s certainly challenging — we’re not certainly sugarcoating that — in terms of how to navigate these stormy waters, our guiding light is that the outcome of Russia being able to achieve its maximalist demands is really bad for the United States, really bad for our partners and allies, and really bad for the global community,” the State Department official said.

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On Friday, Ukrainian forces attempted to defend dwindling areas under their control in Severodonetsk, a strategic city in Luhansk province that Pentagon officials expect to fall soon.

In a sign of how Western weaponry has the potential to pull the West deeper into the war, a U.S. defense official on Friday confirmed that a U.S.-made Harpoon anti-ship missile had struck a Russian tugboat in the Black…

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