Helping Ukraine Win Against Russia Is a Vital NATO Interest

By Paula Dobriansky and Richard Levine

The West can’t continue to pretend that a negotiated peace is possible in Ukraine. Not after Russia killed 57 civilians with a ballistic missile at the Kramatorsk train station. Any settlement could only legitimize Russia’s control of Ukrainian land. That’s unacceptable. Ukraine must be victorious, and any instrument of peace should document this fact.

In war, geography determines tactics. Fighting in urban areas conveyed important advantages to Ukrainian forces. Small, highly mobile groups, armed with man-portable antitank and antiaircraft weapons, inflicted grievous losses on Russia. Deprived of his conquest of Kyiv, Vladimir Putin seems poised to fight two battles. One is in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine; the other seeks to establish a permanent land bridge to Crimea and thus deny Ukraine access to the Sea of Azov. The Donbas is composed of the energy-rich Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. Mr. Putin would love to get his hands on their natural gas and coal reserves. Both areas are predominantly Russian-speaking and contain self-described breakaway republics.

If Ukraine is to challenge Russia for control of the Donbas, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must provide Kyiv with main battle tanks, tracked howitzers, multiple-launch rocket systems, infantry fighting vehicles and armored troop carriers. The Czech Republic has transferred Soviet-era fighting vehicles and tanks to Ukraine. This is an important demonstration of solidarity, but this equipment was designed in the 1960s and is antiquated.

NATO should proceed in phases. First, send into Ukraine heavy weapons that can be immediately adopted by Ukrainian forces, with little or no training. Next, provide Western-designed armored equipment as soon as possible, along with training packages that will allow Ukraine to deploy the new weapons quickly. American or British tanks, with composite armor and superior targeting systems, will be vital if the war becomes protracted.

Integrated land and air operations will be crucial if Ukraine is to win. Reconnaissance drones are useful, but fighter aircraft are essential. The Ukrainians need fighters like the Mikoyan MiG-29 or other fourth-generation aircraft, and they need them now. The official U.S. position is that MiG-29s can’t fly directly to Ukraine from NATO bases in Germany. To get around this, NATO must find ways to move these fighters into the country using decoys and electronic deception to prevent the Russians from figuring out their points of departure.

Additional antiship missiles like the American-made Harpoon will be necessary to prevent the Kremlin from establishing the land bridge it desires. The Russian navy can’t be allowed to use the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to assault the cities and ports that dot Ukraine’s coast. Neither can Moscow be allowed to unload troops and equipment.

Faced with staggering losses, Russia has resorted to attacks on civilians. Ukraine needs a defense against medium-range ballistic missiles such as the one used on Kramatorsk. Depending on its configuration, the S-300 surface-to-air missile system may not be up to the task. U.S.-made Patriot batteries can intercept ballistic missiles. Over shorter ranges, the SAMP/T air-defense system, which is used by France and Italy, can also accomplish this job.

Mr. Putin’s barbarism is intended to demoralize Ukraine’s population. NATO must increase its humanitarian aid immediately. The U.S. Navy’s Sealift Command should sail America’s two hospital ships to the region, perhaps docking them in Romania. Each of these vessels has 1,000 beds and is guarded from attack by international conventions to which Russia is a party. These ships would provide medical care to Russian prisoners of war in addition to Ukrainians.

The West shares with Ukraine a conception of liberty that isn’t based on race or heritage but inalienable rights. No tyrannical force must ever be allowed to destroy this profound link. Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine with the goal of erasing the identity of its people, much as Joseph Stalin hoped to do in 1932-33, when he murdered as many as 10 million Ukrainians through starvation in the atrocity known as the Holodomor. Such horror defined the last century. It can’t be allowed to define this one.

Ms. Dobriansky served as undersecretary of state for global affairs, 2001-09 and is a Trustee of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Mr. Levine served as the first deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for technology transfer and security assistance, 1986-88.

Originally published in The Wall Street Journal.