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What Is the West's Objective in Ukraine?

Russia's failure to achieve a rapid victory over Ukraine has forced the West to consider what its own goals in the conflict should be. In doing so, it must walk a fine line between the disgrace of insufficient action and the risk of strategic hubris.

VIENNA – We know what Russian President Vladimir Putin wants in Ukraine: to wipe the country off the map. We also know what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wants: to keep Ukraine alive as a democratic state. The question is what the West wants. What is its strategic goal?

So far, the West’s objectives have been framed in the negative: to avoid being drawn into a war with Russia, while still doing whatever possible to help the Ukrainians. That has meant saying no to Zelensky when he asks for a NATO-enforced “no fly zone.” But the West’s war strategy cannot be built on what it will not do. NATO and its allies must define a positive objective.

At the beginning of the invasion, when many predicted a quick Russian victory, the West could stick to virtue signaling, congratulating Zelensky and his government on their courage while discreetly preparing to evacuate them to exile. Zelensky refused the offer, and now that the Ukrainians have shown what they can do, NATO is pouring anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles into the country and sharing military intelligence with Ukrainian commanders.