Secretary of Defense Austin’s plan to weaken Russia could become a Ukraine game changer

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Monday morning in Poland, after his visit to Kiev, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin laid out a new view of Russia with these six words: “We want to see Russia weakened.”

Wow. Austin is the first senior cabinet member to declare its intention to weaken Russia’s military. Usually they talk about deterrence.

It seems that the Pentagon finally found its sense of urgency, and a little more. On Tuesday, Austin hosted 40 nations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to line up more military aid to Ukraine.

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But as Austin’s statements make clear, this is not just about helping Ukraine. It is also about dismantling Russia as a land power.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
(Office of President Volodymyr Zelensky)

“We want to see Russia weakened to such an extent that it can not do the kind of thing that it has done by invading Ukraine,” Austin said. Russia has, according to Austin, lost “a lot of military capability” and troops. He wants to make sure that Russia can not “very quickly reproduce that capacity.”

“I think the Secretary said it very well,” repeated Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was standing right next to Austin in front of shrink-packed pallets of military aid on its way to Ukraine.

As Winston Churchill said, Americans will do the right thing after trying everything else.

Now Austin must provide adequate military assistance, training and tactical coaching for Ukraine to destroy Russia’s forces.

What changed? Thank you for Ukraine’s success on the battlefield and Zelensky’s leadership. Russia’s brutality is an equally important factor. From the destruction of Mariupol to Bucha’s tombs, Putin has unleashed horrors not seen in Europe since World War II.

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Shutting down Russia’s military capability is the only way to ensure that this does not happen again.

Austin has quietly moved American politics to an attitude that was almost unthinkable two months ago.

Maybe it was the train ride from southwestern Poland to Kiev and back on an Orthodox Easter Sunday gloomy with “despair and blood,” as the Washington Post put it.

Or maybe it was the actual meeting with President Zelenskyy where Blinken and Austin came face to face with a Ukrainian management team they had greatly underestimated.

In Kiev, “the Americans expressed our deepest sympathy for the loss of so many civilians, and of course the loss of the brave troops who have done such a magnificent job of pushing back Russian forces,” Austin said Monday.

Now Austin must provide adequate military assistance, training and tactical coaching for Ukraine to destroy Russia’s forces.

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That’s obviously the plan. On Friday, the Pentagon’s new senior arms buyer sent Dr. William LaPlante an urgent request to the US industry for ideas for weapons systems or commercial capabilities for Ukraine, including air defense, anti-tank, coastal defense, anti-battery radar, drones, secure radios and satellite internet.

Zelenskyy will not get US ground troops. Ukraine has never asked for them. So much is running on heavy artillery, deadly drones, better battlefield intelligence and exploitation of the Russian army’s limitations in maneuver and command and control.

Of course, victory comes to Ukraine first. “They have the mindset that they want to win; we have the mindset that we want to help them win, and we will do that,” Austin said.

In my opinion, Austin is still the first US Secretary of Defense to have a chance to do more than deter Russia. If Ukraine defeats Russia’s invading forces, Austin could reset US and NATO security for a generation.

There are plenty of challenges left, like Russia’s growing nuclear arsenal and their ties to China.

At that point, Austin’s new goal of weakening Russian forces – and hampering Russia’s efforts to rebuild its military losses – pays double. A deteriorating Russian military being knocked down on the battlefield will also not be such an attractive military partner for China.

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Perhaps this is the Austin doctrine – to weaken Russia’s military to increase world security.

Churchill would approve.

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