Despite Ukraine’s gains against Russia, the US expects more fighting

Despite the stunning gains of Ukrainian forces in the war against Russia, the Biden administration expects months of intense fighting with victories and losses for each side, galvanizing US plans for an open campaign with no prospect of a negotiated end in sight.

The sudden success of Ukrainian forces in areas occupied by Russian forces at the weekend has led to euphoria among Ukrainians exhausted by months of fighting. It also raised hopes among Kyiv’s many foreign backers that its failing army might be able to drive out a larger and better-armed Russian force.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, raising his country A blue and yellow flag on Wednesday over the liberated city of Izyumhe promised that it would be “definitely impossible to occupy our people, the Ukrainian people”.

Kyiv officials said the forces have recaptured about 3,000 square kilometers in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry described the disorderly withdrawal of its forces as a tactical “regroupment”.

Providing a quiet examination of the Ukrainian abundance, US officials said that while Ukrainian forces performed better in offensive operations than even their American backers expected, those forces would face a period of heavy fighting in the lead-up to winter as part of what was expected. They expect it to be a “non-linear” path to war.

A senior State Department official, who spoke like others on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning, said Thursday that while Ukrainian forces have proven they can reverse Russia’s advances following President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion, Russia has retained a strong force. .

“They have large equipment, weapons and ammunition stationed in the occupied territories, not to mention what they have in Russia,” the official said. “And so it’s not over yet, despite the momentum.”

These expectations support the US strategy of trying to accumulate international support and gradually expand US military assistance without the immediate injection of heavier weapons that could lead to a wider war.

Advances in Izyum and other areas — which allowed shocked locals to walk out of their homes, and share stories of occupation and abuse — have been even more dramatic in the wake of Ukrainian setbacks, including the withdrawal from the city of Lyschansk in July. After the weekend progress around Kherson, Russia Hitting power plants and other infrastructureThis indicates its willingness to strike civilian targets in an attempt to weaken the Ukrainian resolve.

US officials anticipate heavy fighting for the remainder of the fall, as both sides try to position themselves in the best possible position before the onset of winter making transportation and combat even more difficult.

Russian forces still control large parts of Ukraine — including the cities of Kherson, Melitopol, Mariupol and Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014 — and US officials speculate that Putin may use the colder months to rejuvenate him. spent, frustrated military Before launching a renewed campaign in the spring.

Putin remained defiant, threatening to cut off gas supplies to Europe even Hints for public opposition It raises questions about how long he can keep Russia behind what the Kremlin has called its “special military operation.”

Pentagon officials said they are looking at ways to assist Ukraine’s evolving defense needs, focusing on areas including air defenses, surveillance, and combat capability. To date, US security assistance to Ukraine has totaled about $15 billion since the Russian invasion.

Despite Ukraine’s constant calls To get new and more advanced military equipmentUS officials do not plan to immediately expand the range of weapons they offer, which includes highly mobile artillery missile systems armed with medium-range multiple launch missile systems. So far, officials have not released systems with much longer ranges, including the Army’s tactical missile systems.

On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry made clear the risks of such decisions when it warned against supplying Ukraine with long-range missiles It will cross the red line for Russia and making countries providing them a “party to the conflict,” reinforcing previous suggestions that Russia could strike at NATO countries if it allowed shipments of more powerful weapons.

Russia’s setback in Kharkiv has fueled speculation about whether Putin will have to resort to general mobilization to fuel his war – a possibility The Kremlin has now sacked Or even the use of a nuclear device as Russia seeks to compensate for its defeat.

Samuel Chcherb, Russia expert at Rand Corp. The success of the counterattack was shaping the dynamics around the conflict, in part by demonstrating Ukraine’s ability to successfully conduct full offensive operations.

“We had no evidence of that before,” Sharap said. “This very fact is likely to discourage them from seeking a compromise because they think they can do more.”

So far, US strategy has been partly informed of what US officials consider following any possible negotiations to stop the fighting. flurry of attempts To ignite substantive conversations early in the fight It faded as each side adopted a tougher line.

At the moment, the Ukrainians do not have a viable map through which to negotiate. Twenty percent of their land was gone. “30 percent of their industrial and agricultural potential has been lost,” a senior State Department official said last week. “That’s why we support this counterattack.”

US officials predict that it would be difficult for Zelensky to negotiate a settlement even if he wanted to, after Russian abuses have hardened public opinion against potential concessions to Moscow’s war objectives. Moreover, officials say, Russia remains an untrustworthy negotiating partner, and Putin’s war objectives have changed repeatedly as the tactical situation has evolved.

The goal of the United States remains to help Ukraine make progress on the battlefield that would strengthen its negotiating position in the event of negotiations with Russia.

The current moment is drawing attention to the tension behind America’s war strategy, as officials direct massive military support to Ukraine, fueling a war with global consequences, while trying to remain neutral about when and how Kyiv might strike a deal to end it.

President Biden pledged to support Ukraine in asserting its independence and sovereignty, promising In an opinion article This spring to do so without pressure on Kyiv to make territorial concessions. However, he did not explicitly support the goal of restoring all the territories occupied by Russia, including those captured or disputed since 2014.

The first senior State Department official said another key part of the Biden administration’s plan to advance the conflict toward a settlement is its efforts to weaken Russia’s economic and technological advantage through sanctions and other means.

“But telling a sovereign country what success looks like for them, or what a negotiated solution looks like, that’s not where we want to be,” the official said.

So far, U.S. officials appear to have stuck to that pledge, taking a laissez-faire approach that stands in sharp contrast to U.S. actions in places where officials have sometimes adopted a more expansive approach to dealing with foreign leaders backed by U.S. aid.

“For both political and strategic reasons, they have not been interested in drawing the lines on the map and I think they are fully justified in that reluctance,” Daniel Fried, a veteran diplomat who served as US ambassador to Poland, said this week.

Biden will try to bolster international support for Ukraine’s self-defense at the United Nations next week, using the annual General Assembly meetings as an opportunity to mitigate friction caused by global inflation and war-related food insecurity. The design of European countries in particular, which have been among the biggest supporters of Ukraine, will be tested this winter due to higher energy prices.

But experts, including Alexander Vershbow, who served as the US ambassador to Russia and deputy secretary-general of NATO, say the tension could eventually come to a head, for example if Ukraine faced a choice between settling in the territories it controlled before February 24, embracing a longer conflict with the goal of retaking all areas under Russian control since 2014.

“The Ukrainians are now insisting that they will say we are not going to give up an inch, but at some point difficult choices will be needed,” Vershbow said on Thursday. But for now, “the management doesn’t want to take a stand.”

Fried said the Biden administration was right to treat the coming months with caution, but said Ukraine is different from other recent US conflicts.

We have been deeply pained by our failures in Afghanistan and, in part, in Iraq. “This is a situation where actual success is possible — not inevitable — and not out of reach,” Fried said. “The tendency to this possibility is in our national interest.”

Dan Lamothe and Alex Horton contributed to this report.

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