Opinion | Lloyd Austin is right. Russia must be weakened.

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True to the definition of a Kinsley gaffe – a politician who accidentally tells the truth – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this week: “We want to see Russia weakened to such an extent that it can not do that kind of thing, as it has done by invading Ukraine. “

In some corners of the punditocracy, the remark was met with alarm. SSome critics were worried that it would anger Russian President and war criminal Vladimir Putin. Others insisted it marked a shift in American politics.

In fact, Austin simply stated the obvious. The US goal from the beginning of Russia’s aggression has been to defend an independent, democratic Ukraine. This is done by defeating the attacker, which necessitates weakening it. It is not news that US economic sanctions are designed to destroy the Russian economy and thus make Putin (or others with influence) consider ending the debacle. It is also not news that the United States is arming Ukraine to give it the means to destroy Russia’s military.

What is accurate is that the pace, scope and breadth of the operation to arm Ukraine has increased as the war has moved to the Donbas region of Ukraine. The Post reports on the efforts of the 40 countries to ensure that Ukraine has everything it needs to win this match:

“We have to move at the speed of war,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters after the day-long meeting [in Germany] with delegations from more than 40 nations gathered to hear the latest military assessments of the conflict and coordinate their efforts to help Ukraine. “The briefings today clearly explained why the coming weeks will be so crucial for Ukraine,” Austin said. . . .

“We’ve been pretty clear from the start,” Austin said at his news conference. “We want to make it harder for Russia to threaten its neighbors.” In the 62 days since the invasion began, he said, Russian land forces had been affected “in a very significant way” with significant losses, depleted stocks and equipment losses, including the sinking this month of Moscow, the flagship of Russia’s Black. Navy, by a Ukrainian missile attack.

Russia will have difficulty reconstructing its forces due to Western sanctions and trade restrictions, he said.

Army General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also confirmed that the defense of Ukraine will “involve a weakened Russia, a strengthened NATO… And a unit in the West.”

Putin officials have now begun to whine that this is a “proxy” war that arouses Russian paranoia that the West is out to surround and destroy Russia. Well, this safe is a proxy war insofar as the United States supports Ukraine while fighting on the front lines for self-determination and democracy. That is the whole reason why President Biden has organized an international economic sanctions regime, and why countries that abhor supplying lethal weapons to an ally are now doing so (albeit stopping in the case of Germany).

But Putin is taking one thing very wrong: True to NATO’s mission as a defensive alliance, the West did not start the war in Ukraine. The conflict was a choice. Putin and Putin alone brought the violent reaction from the West, just as Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union provoked a huge reaction that eventually helped destroy the invaders. As Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon tweeted: “We can disagree on American politics… But never lose sight of what unites us – and the fact that this is Putin’s war.”

There has been some criticism from the right and from the armchair district of the national security community that Biden has acted too slowly and not done enough to arm Ukraine. These critics argue that the administration needed their convincing encouragement to get its policy towards Ukraine right. The self-serving view may be correct, but it is equally possible that the amount of military aid now being provided to Ukraine in the early stages of the war was unnecessary and could not have been adequately absorbed by its forces. (They have to place the weapons in a safe place against Russian attacks.)

As Pentagon spokesman John Kirby has reiterated several times, the United States has coordinated with Ukraine’s military from the beginning to provide what it needed. The main “question” that the Biden administration rejected – by using aircraft from a NATO base to defend Kiev – was, it turned out, not necessary to reject that part of the Russian attack.

So yes, the United States is seeks to weaken Russia in a proxy war on behalf of democracy and a rules-based international order. And no matter how difficult it may be for critics to acknowledge, Biden has directed one of the most effective economic and military aid operations in modern history. Putin has already failed his goal and hampered his own country. For that, the brave Ukrainians and the Biden administration deserve ample honor.

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