US leaders avoid victory dance in Ukraine

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WASHINGTON (TBEN) — US leaders, from President Joe Biden further down, are careful not to announce a premature victory after a Ukrainian offensive forced Russian forces into a messy retreat to the north. Instead, military officials look to the battles to come and plan to give Ukraine more weapons and expand training, while they wait for Russia’s response to the sudden, staggering losses on the battlefield.

While Ukraine’s victories were widely celebrated this weekend, US officials know that Russian President Vladimir Putin still has troops and resources to tap, and that his forces still control large parts of the east and south.

“I agree that no ball should be played because Russia still has cards it can play,” said Philip Breedlove, a retired US Air Force general who served as NATO’s top commander from 2013 to 2016. “Ukraine is now clearly making lasting changes to its east and north and I believe that if the west equips Ukraine well, they will be able to hold onto their gains.”

In particular, lawmakers pointed to the precision weapons and missile systems that the US and Western countries have supplied to Ukraine as key to the dramatic shift in momentum, including the precision-guided High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and the High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile. , or HARM, which is designed to target and destroy radar-equipped air defense systems.

“They’re here, they’re in the theater and they’re making a difference,” Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the hands of highly motivated Ukrainian fighters who make the most of weapons ranging from ready-made drones and abandoned Russian weapons to advanced weapons from the West, the HIMARS will enable Ukrainians to “dramatically turn the tide,” Coons said. . .

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Meanwhile, a senior defense official said the US is looking at future needs, including discussions about providing more intensive combat training for larger Ukrainian units, a change from current training aimed at smaller teams learning how to handle specific weapons. It is also considering sending additional air defense systems, as well as deadly attack drones and more surveillance drones. The official was one of two who briefed reporters Monday on condition of anonymity to discuss details about the schedule.

Ukraine’s launch in recent days of a long-awaited counter-offensive — in a different part of the country from where Russian forces occupying Ukraine had the massive strength to deal with it — has sparked the biggest territorial changes in months in the 200 years. Day War, launched when Putin rolled Russian troops into the neighboring country and targeted his west-oriented government.

The US officials acknowledged that the US had provided information to aid the Ukrainian counter-offensive, but declined to say to what extent or whether Western officials helped devise a strategy to misdirect the Russian armed forces by drawing attention to plans of attack in the south, when in fact a more formidable campaign in the east.

The US provided information “about the conditions” in the country, one of the officials said, but “in the end, this was the Ukrainian choice. The Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian political leadership have made the decisions about how to conduct this counter-offensive.”

Ukrainian troops on Monday claimed they had recaptured a wide swath of territory and more than 20 Ukrainian settlements from Russia, all the way back to the northeastern border of the two countries. Russian soldiers surrendered in such numbers that Ukraine struggled to make room for them, Ukrainian military officials said.

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Ukrainians have fired on a total of 400 targets with the HIMARS since the US began resupplying them. They used them “with devastating effect,” Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters late last week as Ukraine’s counteroffensive launched. .

The truck-mounted, GPS-guided systems fire faster, farther and more accurately than the Soviet-designed rocket launchers otherwise used by both Russia and Ukraine. They can hit targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away. Ukrainian forces have used the 16 HIMARS and several similar systems to attack supply lines, ammunition depots and other key Russian targets.

The Ukrainians “believe that this happened because of the new technological equipment and weapons we sent them. They… said if you sent them six months ago,” said Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. “Six months ago we didn’t have them, but you know, we had to build the guns, and their people on it. training takes time.”

Yet Ukrainian leaders are still pushing for more, including fighter jets and the long-range military Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, a surface-to-surface missile the US has so far refused to send.

A key question going forward will be how much more Congress and the American public are willing to spend on the war in Ukraine, which the US and the West also believe poses a significant threat to Europe.

It is unclear if, and how, the successes of Ukraine’s fighters over the past day will influence the ongoing debate. The White House has asked Congress to green-light an additional $11.7 billion in aid as part of a general government funding measure that lawmakers must approve before the end of the month.

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“I haven’t seen a lack of appetite so far” for continuing funding for Ukraine, said R-Mo Senator Roy Blunt. “I think the ability to take the help they’ve been given and then be clearly successful in some of their endeavors encourages them to want to do more of that.”

The US – the main contributor to Ukraine’s war effort among NATO members – has deposited more than $15 billion in weapons and other military aid into Ukraine since January.

Biden acknowledged the battlefield win for Ukraine over the weekend, but declined to say more. “I’m not going to talk about that now because things are going on,” he told reporters.

Breedlove noted that despite the recent battle losses, Putin still has “a lot of tanks and a lot of trucks and a lot of people he can still throw at this problem. They’re just not his best tanks, his best trucks or his best people.”

But he warned that winter can be the biggest challenge. Putin’s moves to cut fuel supplies to Europe, which is expected to raise prices, are likely to change public opinion across the region.

“Although Mr Putin’s army has taken a beating on the military front, its big card, but probably playing how well Europe can cope during a winter that Mr Putin will make the European people completely miserable, Breedlove said: “I think Mr Putin is desperately trying to hold on to winter because his great hope now is to separate the European people from their European political leadership.”

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The Bharat Express News writers Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.