Peter Morici: America needs to take more risks in Ukraine

America will have to take more risks to accomplish its legitimate objectives in Ukraine.

We should want the Ukrainian army to push back the Russians to its preinvasion borders. Retaking the Crimea as President Volodymyr Zelensky aspires, is a terribly remote prospect absent direct NATO military engagement.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the United States hopes the war weakens Russia’s ability to pursue more land grabs but an equally important objective should be to send China the message that invading Taiwan or similar adventures in the Pacific would come at terribly high costs.

Unfortunately, the Ukrainian army is simply outnumbered and outgunned. President Joe Biden has refused to equip Ukrainian soldiers with longer range rockets, artillery and intelligence to reach inside Russia, strike Moscow’s military leaders, and cripple its supply chain.

NATO is losing the long game

America and allies have chosen a white-glove war by relying on economic sanctions and leaving Ukrainian soldiers to suffer unsustainable losses and civilians to bear indiscriminate bombing and war crimes.

NATO is losing the long game—the sanctions war and the contest for European public support.

Western sanctions will shrink Russian GDP by 10% this year and stifle long-term growth. But for a people complicit with President Vladimir Putin’s quest to re-create the empire of Peter the Great, those are proving bearable sacrifices.

Popular support for the war in Russia is holding up, and the invasion enjoys the blessings of the Russian Orthodox Church.

European and American sanctions on Russian oil are only partially curtailing exports, as those get rerouted to China, India and elsewhere in Asia. That process has raised prices

enough that Moscow’s oil revenues are increasing and more than adequate to finance its invasion indefinitely.

U.S. and European energy policies are maddening. The Dutch are shutting down the largest natural gas field in the EU, and Biden’s war on U.S. oil and gas will significantly curtail U.S. LNG exports to Europe.

Mood for appeasement

Meanwhile, Russia’s counter sanctions—slowly turning the screws by cutting off or reducing natural gas 

exports to most EU consumers—promise a cold winter, shuttered factories, and unemployment.  

Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports is limiting Ukrainian grain exports and driving up European and U.S. inflation. It’s imposing terrible hardships and creating destabilizing consequences in developing countries forced to compete financially as global markets ration scarce grain

and other foodstuffs.

In contrast to the solidarity of the Russian people, European popular support for continued aid to Ukraine does not match sentiment for a negotiated peace—polite words for appeasement.

Granted, sentiments vary. In Poland defeating Putin remains a high priority, but about half of the German and Italian public favor immediate peace.

The bottom line is political leaders in Europe are losing the war on the home front.

After U.S. midterm elections, it could prove unsettling to see how much a new Republican majority or a barricaded progressive caucus in the House backs Biden’s expensive, tightly circumscribed support for Ukraine. And how much opposition wells up among Republican aspirants for the White House.

In Asia, China is becoming more assertive in its warnings to U.S. military that the Taiwan Straits are not international waters—something U.S. policy does not concede. And Beijing could interpret that the U.S. reluctance to risk its military in the Ukrainian conflict indicates the Americans will have little stomach for a sustained conflict to defend Taiwan.

To maintain popular support and discourage Chinese aggression, war aims and supporting domestic policies must be clear and strategies must make sense, but Biden offers neither. Merely stating we will accept no peace terms unacceptable to Ukrainians is ridiculous when Zelensky says he wants to retake the Crimea.

The Europeans and Americans need to realign their domestic fossil-fuel strategy to a wartime footing—while continuing to build wind and solar capacity quickly.

Break the Black Sea blockade

NATO can’t invade Russia and overthrow Putin, but it can crack the agricultural commodities embargo, increase domestic natural gas production and equip the Ukrainian army with the materiel and intelligence to destroy Russia’s supply chain and target critical infrastructure and military leaders inside Russia.

NATO could relieve pressure on its economies by organizing naval convoys for Ukraine’s grain and guaranteeing the security of Ukrainian Black Sea ports. It could position substantially more troops in Poland, the Baltics and elsewhere along its eastern flank to occupy the resources of Russian military planners. And position naval assets for a hellacious response—including sinking Russia’s Mediterranean fleet and blockading its ports—should Russia attack NATO ships opening Ukrainian ports for commerce or threaten the use of nuclear weapons.

Such actions would likely lead to a more favorable outcome to the conflict for Ukraine and send a rather sobering message to the advocates of military adventurism in Moscow and Beijing.

Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

More from Peter Morici

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Defending Taiwan starts with standing up to Putin

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