Has Biden’s rejection of MiG-29 fighter jets lost the war against Russia?

Is this the moment when Joe Biden lost the war against Russia? The moment when Poland’s MiG-29 fighter jets, delivered indirectly via the US to gallant Ukraine, could have made the vital though marginal difference between peace and war, between subjugation and freedom in Ukraine?

It is a depressing thought that such a golden opportunity is being tossed away because… well, because it might upset the Russians and cause a third world war? But it wouldn’t, because the Russians know they’d lose, and for that reason a third world war wouldn’t happen.

It is the seemingly forgotten doctrine of collective security and nuclear deterrence that has kept the west safe since the end of the Second World War. President Biden, a dedicated Atlanticist, seems to have mislaid his old Cold War instincts.

If we do not want Russia eternally threatening its neighbours with war, and the rest of the world (and the planet itself) with its nuclear arsenal, then we have to stop Vladimir Putin at the earliest opportunity. We cannot just say “you can have Ukraine, but not another inch” – because he knows we don’t mean it.

If America won’t lead the west in this resistance, and fight for Ukraine, why would they fight for Estonia, Poland… or Germany even? The answer that they are all Nato members means nothing if the calculus is that America doesn’t wish to be involved in foreign wars and has turned isolationist. If Putin miscalculates, and America really is willing to fight for Poland, then we will end up with a third world war anyway.

President Zelensky was smart and considerate enough to quote Churchill back to the British parliament in his video appearance from Kyiv. His armed forces, as is widely acknowledged outside the Kremlin (and possibly, quietly, in some corners there), have performed far better than expected, and slowed the Russian advance. In the Putin plan, Ukraine should have been occupied and pacified by now, a puppet government installed, the apparatus of a police state organised and just a little mopping up of “Nazi” elements required before the “liberation” of the Ukrainian people was complete.

It has not turned out that way. Ukraine has stood up for itself. It is not unlike the position Britain occupied in its darkest hour, when few expected it to survive, and Churchill half-anticipated invasion with his “fighting on the beaches” speech that Zelensky echoed.

Well, Zelensky should have used another famous rallying call made by Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt in February 1941, before Pearl Harbour, and before America and the USSR joined the war – when Britain stood alone. “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

It was what America did for the British under the lend-lease schemes, which loaned the British money to buy American kit immediately, in effect making America the “arsenal of democracy”, without committing troops, or declaring war. It was a very different world, obviously – a non-nuclear one – but the principle of maximum support short of formal hostilities and direct deployment of your own armed forces was and is a sound one for nations resisting aggressors. Indeed, Nato members have done as much with their plentiful shipments of stingers, anti-aircraft guns and rocket propelled grenades, and, we assume, much intelligence.

As in 1940 and 1941, a way can be found to help the Ukrainians, and if they need a few old MiG-29 jets to neutralise that sitting duck of a Russian armed column, then please, President Biden, let them finish the job.

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