Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for the United States and its European allies to furnish Ukraine with more advanced weapons systems to help it combat a Russian missile onslaught on its energy and other infrastructure systems as winter sets in.
“I don’t understand why we have imposed those restrictions on our weapon deliveries that prevent the Ukrainians from doing all they could to retake lost land, so that’s why I’m in Washington right now to urge the Americans to lift all the self-imposed restrictions on weapons deliveries,” Rasmussen told Voice of America in a recent interview.
“We have set a limit on how far missiles can go, so to speak; there’s a clear difference between missiles with a range of 120 kilometers and missiles with a range of 300 kilometers … we should deliver all the means that the Ukrainians need, they have the will to fight, it’s our obligation to give them the means to fight.”
Rasmussen is not alone in calling for a more robust response from the U.S. and its allies to Ukrainian appeals for more advanced weapons systems. A bipartisan group of 16 U.S. senators urged the Biden administration late last month to give “careful reconsideration” to Ukraine’s request for a sophisticated unmanned drone system known as the MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
“The MQ-1C, along with already provided long-range fires capabilities, provides Ukraine additional lethality needed to eject Russian forces and regain occupied territory,” the senators said a November 22 letter addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Among those signing the letter, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, was Republican Senator Joni Ernst, one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine who has said that time spent in a homestay program in Ukraine during her youth has played a critical role in shaping her views of the region.
It was also signed by outgoing Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Republican James Inhofe, Republican Lindsey Graham, and Democrats Tim Kaine, Joe Manchin and Mark Kelly.
And in a recent interview with VOA’s Georgian service, Republican Senator Jim Risch said he has “wanted to ratchet up” U.S. support to Ukraine for some time.
“The Ukrainians are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. They’ve got a country adjacent to them that has invaded them and is committing all of these atrocities,” he said. “On top of that, over the recent weeks, [the Russians] have done everything they can to totally eliminate [Ukraine’s] infrastructure for heat and electricity and everything else. We can’t stand by and watch that happen.”
Billions in aid already
As of mid-November, the U.S. alone had authorized $68 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and asked Congress to approve another $37.7 billion, according to figures compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The assistance has been so extensive as to significantly reduce U.S. stockpiles, causing weapons delivery to other allies and partners, including Taiwan, to be pushed back.
However, the administration of President Joe Biden has consistently refused to equip Ukraine with weapons that would allow it to strike deep into Russia, citing concerns that the U.S. and NATO could be drawn into a wider war with Moscow, with potential nuclear consequences.
Early in the war, the U.S. and its allies rejected Ukrainian requests for jet fighters that would help it prevent Russia from gaining control of its skies. And this week, it was reported that highly effective HIMARS missile systems shipped to Ukraine had been modified to limit their range.
The West also has been slow to respond to Kyiv’s latest appeal for sophisticated Patriot missile systems to help shield the country’s electrical grid and other vital infrastructure against a daily deluge of Russian missiles and suicide drones.
“It’s not only Patriot missile systems,” Rasmussen told VOA. “It’s all missile systems that the Ukrainians need: French [missiles], American HIMARS, Patriots, everything!”
“So far, we have delivered some, but not enough,” he said. “So I would also encourage the Europeans to step up on delivering missile systems as well as heavy tanks; for instance, the Germans should deliver heavy Leopard tanks, the Ukrainians need desperately those tanks.”
Patriots a high priority
While Ukraine is anxious for all the weapons it can get, the Patriots — considered one of the most effective air defense systems available — are a high priority for Kyiv as winter sets in and Moscow focuses more intently on its long-range aerial assaults.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stressed the need for more advanced air-defense systems and gear to maintain the country’s electrical grid during a late November meeting of NATO ministers in Bucharest, Romania, The Associated Press reported.
Speaking before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Kuleba said that Ukraine at the session had received “a number of commitments, new commitments, from various NATO members with regard to providing Ukraine with more defensive weapons and energy equipment.”
But when asked if that included Patriots, Kuleba declined to answer. He did say his country would be happy to receive the Patriot systems that Germany has offered for deployment in Poland. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak made clear this week that Poland would have preferred Germany send the systems to Ukraine instead, even as Warsaw announced it would host Patriots offered by Berlin on its territory.
Determined to fight
In Washington, visiting Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko expressed frustration this week at his inability to get straight answers from administration officials about the request for the Patriot systems.
“I can’t receive an explanation on Patriots,” he told guests attending an event hosted by American Purpose, an organization established by Francis Fukuyama and other thinkers to deliberate on current events.
“Speaking about other weaponry, I hear about ‘escalation.’ About Patriots, just no explanation,” Goncharenko said.
But in spite of the loss of heat and power as winter sets in, the lawmaker insisted that the Ukrainian people are determined to carry on the struggle against Russia for as long as it takes, despite the hardships of coping with the scarcity of heat and electricity.
“We are ready to fight,” he said. “If it would take two winters, five winters, 10 years. We will fight till then.”