This time the West must escalate first. How to stop missile strikes on Ukraine
The only way to get a peace guarantee is to land American Tomahawks on Russia’s airbase for strategic aviation.
Ukraine is getting Patriot air and missile defence systems. One from the US and another one from Germany. We could bargain, of course, asking for more – at least two or three from each country. But it doesn’t really matter how many systems we eventually get. We will receive other military support, including different defence systems; although not many, again, we’ll be able to protect civilian critical national infrastructure. It has not been protected yet, as evident from Russia’s latest missile strike on Ukraine, when a rocket destroyed a turbine at one of the thermal power stations, putting it out of use for a very long time.
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Stability of the power grid
Even where air defence proves effective, some missiles still inevitably hit the target during mass strikes. According to Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the current effectiveness of the air defence in Ukraine is approximately 75%. It will never reach 100%, though. For example, if a 750-kVA transformer gets hit, restoring it will be extremely challenging and time-consuming; in fact, it may take months to get replaced. Besides, our manufacturers cannot produce many transformers at the same time.
The West cannot supply their replenishment either – they do not have the equivalents because our power grids have different technical specifications. With every new rocket strike on Ukraine, our national power grid gets weakened and debilitated. If you ask what ends first – our energy network collapsing or Russia running out of rockets to carry on mass strikes – the answer will likely be more pessimistic. On a positive note, Ukraine’s power grid has definite advantages (i.e. its extensive scale and a large amount of equipment available); plus, the allies do supply some spare parts for repairs, while Russian missiles often miss the targets.
However, despite the ongoing sanctions, the enemy continues manufacturing new missiles, still has plenty of old stocks and could potentially get more of Iran- and North Korea-supplied weapons. We might survive in the end, clinging to heroism and resistance, but the situation is generally grim. If the shelling continues with its current intensity for another six months, chances for the Ukrainian energy grid to remain intact become very slim. Should this happen, Ukraine won’t submerge into a blackout completely; still, power outages and electricity distribution will become even more uneven. Of course, we will install mini power stations and come up with other solutions, but this will also take time and may cause significant damage to the economy.
How to change the situation?
This game is unequal – whether we manage to protect our most critical civilian infrastructure or achieve the impossible and fix all the critical damages – Russia would still be destroying our high-rise residential buildings in almost every part of Ukraine.
The game will only become fair when Ukraine and the West start attacking sites where the Russian missiles are being launched. Ukraine attempts to use UAVs to reach Russian airfields with strategic aviation. We have succeeded twice in damaging the enemy equipment, but these attempts have been so insignificant that they do not change the overall situation.
Everything could radically change only when a Russian strategic bomber that sets off to carry out a rocket strike on Ukraine is shot down by a long-range missile over the territory of Russia. Or when a couple of dozen Tomahawks (long-range land attack missiles – TLAMs) land on a Russian airbase where strategic bombers are being prepared for the mission. We asked renowned Ukrainian military expert Mykola Bielieskov whether it is possible from a technical point of view, provided we set aside political concerns.
“Firing JASSM-ER air-to-surface cruise missiles at enemy targets from the airspace of Ukraine is certainly possible. Alternatively, we could launch TLAMs from the Black Sea. But this stops where fears and reservations begin," Mr Bielieskov confirmed.
Indeed, if the US has been signalling that it is ready to fight with its army for Taiwan if it gets attacked, how come they continue to refuse to get directly involved in Russia’s war in Ukraine?
The answer is simple: Russia’s nuclear arsenal outweighs China’s. China also depends on seaborne supplies of food, fertilisers and energy carriers. The probability that Beijing will start the war is little to none, no matter how many warnings it issues or flights over the demarcation line it makes. In contrast, Russia, on top of its immense nuclear power, has its own food supplies and energy sources (read here about the logic used by the USA to prevent a nuclear war with Russia). China’s persistent threats can always be countered by even bigger threats from the US while it’s serious business with Russia.
But sooner or later, the Western allies will end up getting directly involved in the war in Ukraine. And it makes better sense and value to do it sooner rather than later. Here is why.
A little later than needed
Let's have a closer look at the dynamics of Western aid. In months and months of warnings preceding Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine received no weapons except for the British NLAWs and the American Javelins, followed by the Stingers. Had these weapons been given earlier and had our military personnel’s training started earlier, the effectiveness of aid would have been undoubtedly higher; it could have even prevented the full-scale invasion.
When Ukraine asked for heavy artillery and HIMARs, they were provided, but much later than they were needed. The delay cost many lives. Some of our most skilled soldiers were killed in action in May-June 2022 when the Russian army engaged barrage fire tactics while brutally using artillery (read more about this in our interactive project ‘A Wall of Fire’). And we had had nothing to retaliate with except for standing our ground bravely. We withstood, but the price we paid will only be known when the war is over.
Then Ukraine asked for modern air defence systems, and the allies mulled over the decision until Russia started extensively targeting Ukraine’s civilian critical infrastructure. Had the air defence been given earlier, the national energy infrastructure and the economy would sustain fewer losses and the general fatigue would have been less palpable.
History is now repeating itself with the Western tanks. The allies might supply them but a little later than needed.
This is also the war of the West
In reality, the West will not withdraw its support and stand with Ukraine until the war sees its end. After all, it is also the West’s war. Both to defend values and the current world order, especially when freedom and democracy still play key role in global politics and — let’s be frank — influence. If Western values lose the war in Ukraine, their appeal, along with prosperity, stability, and secure life of the western societies, will vanish faster than ever. And the western partners are acutely aware of this.
Furthermore, the allies invested nearly 50 billion USD in aid last year. At the same time, despite the growing cost of living, public support in the West is still on our side. Of course, there is always a space to back down, but this retreat may cost the collective West even more and will be extremely painful.
At the peak of the escalation in Kremlin’s nuclear rhetoric, the United States and other western leaders warned Russia that the nuclear strike on Ukraine would have “devastating” consequences and potentially trigger a physical response from the allies. Despite toning down the rhetoric, Russia continues to ignore warnings from Washington, and has been doing so since November 2021. Russia exists in the Universe where the illusion of its greatness is a valid thing; they think nothing can stop them. It is, therefore, very likely that the US and the western allies will have to be first to strike back, mainly because Russia does not believe that the West will dare to attack them in the first place.
It will benefit us all in every sense: cost, efficiency, rationale if the West seizes the initiative from the Russians. Until now, the actions of the West were only a delayed response (probably for objective reasons) to each new Russian escalation. And, as we can see, those “tactical responses” do not work: the war risks drag on for years, and its intensity increases every single day.
And although Russia is constantly saying that it is not the war on Ukraine but on the collective West and the USA to establish the new world order, our cities bear the brunt of Russia’s missile strikes, and the prospects of ending them are nowhere in sight.
When the first Tomahawk, launched from an American warship by the American military, lands at the Engels airfield in Russia, the cities of Ukraine will have the opportunity to get the power, peace and security back. And the West to avoid a nuclear war.