The White House on Friday worked to tamp down suggestions that it believes Ukraine is on a losing path in its ongoing war against Russia after a damning report based on a leaked U.S. intelligence assessment indicated the U.S. believes Kyiv’s counteroffensive is doomed to failure.
“I will say that over the course of the past two years, there have been a lot of analyses of how this war would unfold coming from a lot of quarters,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at Camp David shortly before President Joe Biden convened a trilateral summit with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan. “And we’ve seen numerous changes in those analyses over time as dynamic battlefield conditions change.”
Sullivan’s comments come after The Washington Post reported the conclusion, based on the intelligence assessment and statements from officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, that Ukraine does not have the resources or manpower to achieve its principal goals in its months-long counteroffensive – principally to break through Russia’s deeply entrenched front lines and cut off its land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula.
The government of Ukraine and its surrogates did not immediately respond to the report – a predictable silence for a government that has sought to wage war on its own terms.
The discouraging effect of the leak has become an all-too familiar sensation for leaders in Kyiv following the slow drip of similar intelligence leaks earlier this year when an Air Force analyst posted several classified assessments on social media.
The latest assessment, based around Ukraine’s likely inability to seize the city of Melitopol that sits at the crossroads of key logistics hubs in the area, represents a bitter conclusion for those who support Ukraine, particularly those who believe the U.S. and its European partners have not done enough to give Kyiv what it needs to win while holding it to unrealistic timelines to demonstrate battlefield success.
“The Pentagon has unfortunately been pushing this narrative for some time,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who previously oversaw all U.S. Army operations in Europe beginning the year Russia first invaded Ukraine, tells U.S. News.
Hodges, like others who have offered vocal support for the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has criticized the Biden administration for not offering more sophisticated missile systems, warplanes like the F-16 and other weapons that could give Kyiv an edge – but have also raised apparent alarm in the White House over fears of escalating the conflict with Russia.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because we don’t give Ukraine what is needed to win, to liberate Crimea or at least make it untenable,” Hodges says. “This flows from the inability or unwillingness of the administration to declare that our objective is for Ukraine to win – or to specify any strategic objective at all.”
“Shameful,” he added. “I don’t believe Ukraine will fail, actually, despite the shortcomings of our policy and our unwillingness to declare it’s in our best interest that Ukraine wins, even though it clearly is.”
Other analysts agree, and they point to indications that suggest Ukraine is positioned for new breakthroughs against Russia’s front lines, despite the dismal assessment from U.S. intelligence.
The independent Institute for the Study of War in its latest analysis note pays particular attention to the town of Robotyne, on the way to Melitopol, where Ukrainian forces appear to have made significant advances due to the degradation of Russian defenders there – what it considers a small part of a wider trend.
“Russian forces lack significant operational reserves, and the intense Russian effort to hold these settlements instead of withdrawing their forces means that Ukrainian forces have likely had to thoroughly degrade Russian units before advancing,” according to the institute. “The lack of Russian operational reserves means that Russian forces will have to reinforce certain areas of the front at the expense of others, likely weakening Russian defensive lines in aggregate and offering Ukrainian forces opportunities for exploitation.”
It cited a recent complaint from the ground commander of an elite Russian unit who lamented that his superiors failed to reinforce his “exhausted Russian forces” in eastern Ukraine, suggesting “that the Russian command is already making difficult choices about what sectors to prioritize as Ukrainian forces advance.”
“Russian forces increasingly appear likely to have to withdraw to secondary prepared defensive positions without significant support in the case of a Ukrainian breakthrough, and the further degradation of Russian forces creates opportunities for any Ukrainian breakthrough to be potentially operationally significant,” the institute concludes. The commander’s “apparent waning confidence in the Russian defense in southern Ukraine may indicate that he believes that recent advances have made a Ukrainian breakthrough more likely.”
Sullivan on Friday stressed that the Biden administration believes it has done “ everything we can to support Ukraine and its counteroffensive,” adding, “We’re not going to handicap the outcome.”
Ukraine did, however, celebrate news on Friday that the White House had cleared the way for allied countries in Europe to transfer their own F-16s to Ukraine after Ukrainian pilots completed training on them. Though analysts expect the Ukrainian military will not be able to field the fighter jets in battle for several months, they are widely seen as a potential game changer in support of its ground forces.
Source: US News