The US slow climb up the escalatory ladder in Ukraine appears to be moving a bit faster — without a lot of talk about consequences.

by Anatol Lieven, Responsible Statecraft

Immediately after the United States and Germany announced that they are sending main battle tanks to Ukraine — immediately, without any pretense of a decent interval — the Ukrainian government, backed by some East European members of NATO, has raised a demand for the latest U.S. fighter jets; and discussions of this within NATO are reportedly already under way.

So far, the Biden administration has described this as a “red line,” and West European diplomats have expressed private “concern.” But given that one NATO weapon after another that was previously seen as absolutely tabooed has been supplied since the Russian invasion began, Ukrainian officials have good reason for expressing confidence that the Biden administration and NATO will  sooner or later agree to this.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visit Kharkiv during Russian Ukrainian war. Kharkiv, Ukraine

If it is correct that several recent Russian missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure have been launched from long-range Tupolev bombers flying over Russian territory, then if the Ukrainian armed forces receive fighters capable of shooting them down, there is little reason to think they will not do so. They would indeed be perfectly within their rights. Whether it carries an acceptable level of risk, however, is another matter.

There are a couple of curious features about this progressive escalation of Western military aid to Ukraine; ironic in one case, extremely dangerous in the other. The first is that when Russia invaded almost a year ago, and most NATO military analysts predicted a sweeping Russian victory, there was no official talk of heavy weapons for Ukraine — and indeed, the Ukrainian forces stopped and turned back the Russian advance with a combination of their own courage and grit with light Western infantry weapons: Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

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