Former MI6 officer Christopher Steele gives verdict on Ukraine war
Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive has come to a shuddering halt with just six miles of ground gained – increasing US gloom about the prospects of its success.
Kyiv launched its counteroffensive against Vladimir Putin’s troops at the start of the summer with staunch backing from Western allies, who have been providing billions of dollars of aid, as well as weapons and fighter jets.
But progress has been much slower than anticipated, leading to fears troops will struggle to recapture significant territory before the wintry muddy ground makes the battle increasingly difficult or they run thin on combat power.
Volodymyr Zelensky has seen Ukraine make some gains but US officials are reportedly preparing for what increasingly looks like a war that will last well into 2024.
Michael Kofman, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, has painted a bleak picture of the painfully slow progress of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
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He told the Financial Times: “It’s been about 10km of advance at most no matter where you look in this offensive.”
Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, said: “I don’t think that you’ll hear an argument from anyone that this is going well right now or that this is heading to a place that people would view as good, but there is not much by way of plan B.”
The counteroffensive worries come just weeks before a huge £43billion funding package from the US to Ukraine is set to expire, meaning Joe Biden’s administration will again have to secure congressional approval for more assistance for the war-torn country.
Despite this, the White House is continuing to publically voice its total support for Ukraine in the fight to defeat Russia in this brutal war.
US National Security Adviser Kake Sullivan said on Friday: “We’re doing everything we can to support Ukraine in its counteroffensive.
“We’re not going to handicap the outcome. We’re not going to predict what’s going to happen because this war has been inherently unpredictable.”
But tensions around how Ukraine has deployed its military during the counteroffensive have risen between the two countries, according to the Financial Times.
US officials are reportedly urging Ukraine to be less risk-averse and fully commit its forces to the center point of the counteroffensive in the south.
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This would provide its troops with the chance to penetrate Russian lines and reach the Sea of Azov – a move that would effectively cut Russia’s land bridge in southern Ukraine to the crucial annexed peninsula of Crimea.
Washington also wants Ukraine to send more of its supplied combat power to the south but Ukraine is instead deploying some of its most effective fighting units in eastern Ukraine in a battle to recapture Bakhmut.
Some experts have questioned Ukraine’s focus on long-range weaponry, as it has so far had a modest impact in a war increasingly fought with artillery, including the cluster bombs recently sent by the US.
Charap said: “It’s hard to make the case that long-range strike [missiles] can fix the problem of minefields or all these defenses. It will complicate Russian logistics but that’s not the main or the only problem the Ukrainians are facing today.”
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President Biden has planned another $13billion package of lethal aid for Ukraine in a supplemental budget request to Congress earlier this month that would potentially last until the start of 2024.
But this funding could face a bumpy passage to Capitol Hill amid fears of rising US Government spending levels.
Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the CSIS, a Washington think-tank, wrote in a note: “Blockage or reduction is unlikely, but a political battle is inevitable, given rising concerns on both the left and the right.
“So far however the opposition has not stopped or even reduced aid in the face of strong bipartisan support. What is new is the disappointing results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive so far.”
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