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Can Ukraine Defeat Russia?

Kyiv forces have been fighting for over two years, but to what end?

Ukraine has been fighting Russia for two years now – but to what end? Clarity on the beleaguered nation’s progress against the Russian invaders is hard to determine. Success, where there is any, is measured in meters forward and back from the line of action. Some analysts have described the situation as a stalemated war of attrition. The assessment is not good for Kyiv. Russia has many more troops to throw at the conflict. Furthermore, Moscow has shown no reluctance to sacrifice Russian soldiers in the combat meat grinder.

Little has changed over this last year of fighting. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has rearranged the senior leadership directing his forces, but the battle lines have not moved much. Zelensky hopes to breathe new life into the flagging Ukrainian troops. The main Russian force in eastern Ukraine is moving slowly against Ukrainian ground troops in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast (region). The war has become a slugfest with the Biden administration not leaning forward to help.

Ukraine Is Short of Ammunition

A military assistance package that would provide badly needed artillery ammunition, anti-aircraft missiles, and other weapons to bring down Russian drones and cruise missiles is stalled in Congress. Much of the lack of enthusiasm and reluctance to pass the military aid legislation for Ukraine stems from the Biden administration’s failure to tell Congress and the American people what its strategy for defeating Moscow’s invading army is. After 25 months, the White House cannot convey a consistent and compelling message for what it’s trying to do. The narrative of the national security team is confused and often contradictory.

The consequence is that the courageous Ukraine army that Biden assured America would support is facing a dangerous scarcity of artillery shells. Reports from the front lines are that the requirement is for Ukraine to be able to fire as many as 8,000 rounds per day to keep Russian forces from advancing. The reality is the daily rate of fire is down to 2,000. The Kremlin is not holding back. Most recently, “Russia has increasingly relied on glide-bomb strikes to hammer Ukrainian defenses while keeping its attack aircraft mostly out of harm’s way,” Jake Epstein reported for Business Insider.

Had the Biden administration agreed to provide US-made F-16 Falcon fighter jets with more effective air-to-air missiles when Kyiv first asked for them over 18 months ago, Russian bombers could be kept further away. But Biden’s key advisors worried providing the aircraft would escalate the war. So, they dithered until the war escalated anyway and then agreed to provide F-16s. That was nearly a year ago, and there are still no Ukrainian-piloted F-16s in the skies over the battlefields. With almost every piece of modern warfighting equipment desperately needed to beat back the Russians, the Biden administration dithered, stewed, and finally relented – but only long after it was needed.

US Late in Providing Needed Weapons

The story was the same with the US providing modern Abrams M1-A1 battle tanks, Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries, and Highly Mobile Artillery Rocket System, so very effective in denying Russians the ability to concentrate forces to launch major attacks. It’s a vicious cycle: First, Biden’s national security team denies Kyiv’s request for the weapon systems, then when Russian pressure becomes oppressive, the Washington brain trust gives in. Then, it’s months before the critical weapons get to the battlefield.

Within the last month, we learned that Biden’s foreign policy leadership has reached a low water mark in feckless decision-making. Faced with unprecedented attacks on its energy infrastructure, the Zelensky government fought back. In a March 29 Institute for the Study of War assessment of the Russian offensive campaign, the analysts reported:

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Russian forces deliberately targeted the Kaniv and Dnister hydroelectric power plants in Cherkasy and Chernivtsi oblasts during the March 28-29 strikes… Russia’s newly emerging pattern of striking Ukrainian dams and hydroelectric power plants is a significant inflection and an escalation of Russia’s strike campaign against Ukraine. Russian forces did not previously conduct sustained missile strikes against Ukrainian dams and hydroelectric power plants.”

Ukraine responded like any nation would when under siege by a determined enemy; Kyiv launched a counterattack of drones against Russian oil refineries. According to David Ignatius, columnist for a prominent Washington, DC, news source, “Zelensky argued that he could check Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid only by making Russia pay a similar price.” The Ukraine leader told Ignatius, “Why can’t we answer them? Their society has to learn to live without petrol, without diesel, without electricity… It’s fair.” That is an excellent question. Instead of cheering on the brave Ukrainians, the Biden administration took an inexplicably duplicitous and self-serving approach to the Kyiv government. London’s Financial Times reported, “The US has urged Ukraine to halt attacks on Russia’s energy infrastructure, warning that the drone strikes risk driving up global oil prices and provoking retaliation, according to three people familiar with the discussions.”

No one has accused the Biden White House of being particularly adept at understanding armed conflict, but this is a new low. Ukraine is fighting for its very existence. Meanwhile, the US is telling Kyiv not to take the fight to the enemy because it might raise oil prices. The Biden administration has done a good enough job all on its own in raising oil prices. To borrow from the old saw, with friends like Biden, who needs the Russians?

Many commentators look to the rest of 2024 and 2025 for a change, one way or the other, in the course of this war. However, if the Kyiv government is to be victorious, the Biden administration is going to have to communicate a winning strategy and adopt more timely decision-making. Until now, that has not proven possible.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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