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Mick Mulroy: Ukraine’s cost of freedom

As it has become clear that the Ukrainian counteroffensive will not end the war soon, many have begun to talk about the need to push Ukrainians to the negotiation table. Although perhaps well intended, many of these people are the same people who overhyped the counteroffensive in the first place.

Simply put, those expectations were unrealistic based on the enormity of the Ukrainian military task. Russia has had many months to build a complex defense with concentric rings of minefields and obstacles to channelize any Ukrainian advance.

The Ukrainians not only do not have the breaching equipment and weapons systems needed to penetrate multiple Russian defensive positions, but they also don’t have air superiority or the long-range fire that the US military would require for even attempting to ourselves. And we are the most advanced military in the world.

We should recognize that on the eve of the invasion in February of 2022, most military analysts thought Kyiv would fall within weeks. We are now complaining that the Ukrainian counteroffensive is not taking back terrain more rapidly. Lesson learned, do not underestimate the Ukrainians and recognize what they have managed to do so far.

Our NATO allies’ support has been instrumental. However, our efforts to avoid provoking Russia by not introducing certain weapons systems immediately into the battle space have not helped.

We need to allow the Department of Defense to analyze what they would need to remove all Russian forces from Ukraine and then use that as our list of weapons, equipment, aircraft, vehicles, etc., to provide the Ukrainians without delay. We need to stop just announcing the “what” of our support and start talking all about the ‘why” of the support. Most Americans are just hearing about how much money it costs them to support the Ukrainians without any perspective or purpose.

The perspective is that the costs of the war in Ukraine to date are less than just a few months of the war in Afghanistan at its height. It is not charity; it has so depleted Russian military capability that it has been worth every penny from a purely US national security perspective.

And, like most foreign policy positions, nothing is in a vacuum. In addition to being in our own national security interest, the United States is the leader of the free world. That is our purpose. That position requires action; it requires being the partner and ally we would want if we were in a similar situation. Freedom is not free, and the cost of leadership is not cheap.

President Putin only understands strength; any weakness or perceived softening of support will further embolden his desire to erase the Ukrainian state. He is currently pinning his hopes on the support from the West to Ukraine falling apart.

That cannot happen because if it does, this conflict will go on and on, and it could very well spread to other nations, including those in NATO. If your neighbor’s house is on fire, not only is it morally right to help put it out, but it is in your own interest.  After all, your house may be next.

The United States needs to provide the Ukrainians with what we would require to expel Russia from all of Ukraine, including the Crimean Peninsula. We need to explain why it is in our own interest. In doing so, we send a clear message to those that would use force to take what is not theirs, a flagrant disregard for the international rules-based order. They will face opposition from all the countries of the free world.

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Mick Mulroy is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, retired CIA paramilitary officer and US Marine. He is the co-founder of the Lobo Institute in Whitefish, and an ABC News national security analyst.