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Former ambassador says supplying Ukraine with needed military supplies to fend off Russia serves American interests

APTOPIX Russia Ukraine War
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
A Ukrainian serviceman inspects a kindergarten classroom with a sign "Z" on the door that was used by Russian forces in the recently retaken area of Kapitolivka, Ukraine, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Russian president Vladimir Putin is sending 300 thousand additional troops to Ukraine to beef up the nation's flagging invasion effort.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst said while the war is going badly for Putin on several levels, Ukraine still needs Western assistance, and it's in America's best interests to provide it.

"The smartest play to protect American interests, critical American interests, is to give Ukraine all the weapons they need to defeat Putin, to stop being intimidated by Putin's nuclear threat," said Herbst. "Because you can be sure, if Putin wins in Ukraine, he will start sending us nuclear threats as he threatens Estonia, Latvia, or for that matter, Poland."

U.S. State Department
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst

Herbst was ambassador to Ukraine from 2003-2006. He said Putin is facing criticism to the invasion not only at home from protestors, but also from politicians and nationalists. Friendly countries like China and India are also blasting his handling of the war.

"This partial mobilization does not require him to declare war. You know, he's labeled this massive invasion of Ukraine, a special military, tactical, or special military operation," said Herbst. He said that was an effort to keep the conflict low-key, an effort which now appears to be backfiring on him politically.

"This demonstrates something that we've known, I mean, experts have known for some time. This is not Russia's war in Ukraine. This is Putin's war," he said.

Herbst said the Biden administration's approach of providing weapons to Ukraine, sanctioning Russia, and strengthening NATO forces in eastern Europe is the right strategy, but he criticized the "rather slow and even timid fashion" of the implementation.

"Too many senior officials have said, well, we can't do that, because we don't want World War III. That smells of weakness. And weakness means Putin will pounce," he said, noting he believes Biden's remarks before the United Nations and in a recent 60 Minutes interview struck a better tone.

He said it's important for Americans to view this war as a piece in the broader existential threat Putin's Russia poses to the country - particularly among those who compare the Ukrainian war support to America's two decades of Middle Eastern wars.

"I understand why people are frustrated with our incompetent foreign policy in the greater Middle East. But they should not, in avoiding that mistake, make a new as bad or even worse a mistake by not providing the support Ukraine needs," he said. "So that defeats Putin for us, and we don't have to defeat him with American lives."

Herbst spoke last week to the Peoria Area World Affairs Council at Bradley University.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.