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Russian Gains in Ukraine War Worry U.S. Officials

Just 18 months ago, White House and Pentagon officials were debating whether Russian forces in Ukraine could collapse and be driven out of the country entirely.

Now, after months of slow Russian advances on the ground and technological advances in the fight against U.S.-supplied weapons, the Biden administration is increasingly concerned that President Vladimir V. Putin is mustering enough he momentum to change the trajectory of the war, and perhaps reverse its once dark policies. perspectives.

In recent days, Moscow’s troops have launched a new offensive near Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, forcing Ukraine to divert its already depleted troops to defend an area it had recaptured from Russian forces during a resounding victory in the fall of 2017. 2022.

Artillery and drones supplied by the United States and NATO were neutralized thanks to Russian electronic warfare techniques, which arrived late on the battlefield but which proved surprisingly effective. And a months-long debate in Washington over whether to send Ukraine a $61 billion package of arms and munitions created an opening that Russia clearly exploited, even though the Congress ultimately passed the legislation.

In interviews, U.S. officials say they are confident that many of these Russian gains will be reversible once the spigot of new weapons is fully turned on, likely in July, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky finds ways to bring in troops more numerous – and younger – at the front. lines. But they are reluctant to predict where the battle lines will be, even in a few months, or whether Mr. Zelensky will be able to launch his long-delayed counteroffensive next year, after last spring’s failure.

U.S. and allied officials interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports and sensitive battlefield assessments. But some concerns emerged in public comments.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said with understatement Sunday that “there is no doubt that the long delays in shipping weapons have had a cost.” He insisted during his appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “we are doing everything we can to expedite this aid.” But U.S. officials say President Biden continues to reject French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion that deploying Western troops to Ukraine might be necessary, an assessment that Mr. Macron’s office recently said it “absolutely supports “.

Privately, some aides to President Biden fear that just as the United States has learned key lessons from the war — about which technologies work and which don’t — so has Mr. Putin. And their biggest concern is that as Russia replaces weapons destroyed in the first 27 months of the war, Mr. Putin could regain ground just as Mr. Biden prepares to meet his closest allies in of a meeting of the Group of 7 in Italy next month. It is unclear whether Mr. Biden will be able to repeat the assertion he made in Finland last summer that Mr. Putin “already lost this war.”

Some veterans of serial confrontations with Mr. Putin are not surprised by this turn of events.

“Russia often starts its wars badly and ends strong,” Stephen J. Hadley, national security adviser to President George W. Bush, said Friday at a conference at Harvard. Now, he says, Russia has “brought its weight” – a much larger population on which to draw its troops and a “huge military infrastructure” – to stage a return.

As Mr. Hadley suggested, there is no single reason for Moscow’s advantage on the battlefield. On the contrary, multiple factors contribute to Russia’s military advance.

Due to the delay in American funding, Russia was able to gain a huge artillery advantage over Ukraine. The lack of air defense munitions also allowed Russia to use its air power with greater impunity, attacking Ukrainian lines with glide bombs. With more air defense munitions, Ukraine would be able to push these planes further away, making it more difficult for Russia to attack from the air.

The delay in U.S. supplies was offset by an equally long delay by Ukraine in approving a mobilization law aimed at recruiting more, younger soldiers into its army. Ukraine suffers from a severe shortage of soldiers and struggles to provide adequate training to those it recruits into the army.

But all these Russian advantages won’t last forever, and Russian forces will likely make an effort this summer, said Michael Kofman, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“In 2024, the Russian army has a material advantage and a strategic initiative, although it may not prove decisive,” Mr. Kofman said. “This year represents a window of opportunity for Russia. But if the Russian military is not able to translate these advantages into battlefield gains and generate momentum, there is a good chance that this window will begin to close as we approach 2025.”

Whether temporary or not, Russia’s newfound momentum is particularly evident in Kharkiv, the scene of one of the greatest tank battles of World War II. In 2022, it was the center of fighting during the first year of the war, with the city coming under artillery fire from advancing Russian troops.

In a surprise counteroffensive that fall, Ukrainian troops repelled the advance toward the city and then pushed Russian forces out of the region, recovering a huge swath of territory. Russian humiliation there and in the southern city of Kherson was so extensive that it led to one of the greatest fears of this period of the conflict: that the Russians would only use a last resort as a nuclear weapon on the battlefield against Ukrainian troops. .

Since then, Ukraine has been able to use this reconquered territory near Kharkiv to carry out harassment attacks against Russia. The attacks have prompted Russians to retake land in recent weeks to create a buffer zone that Mr. Putin says will make it more difficult for Ukraine to carry out cross-border attacks. Recently, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence called the Russian advance near Kharkiv “critical.”

Some outside experts warn that Russia’s real strategic goal in seizing territory around Kharkiv is to force Ukrainian troops to move in to reinforce the city, thereby weakening front lines elsewhere. This could provide an opportunity for a new Russian offensive in June, in Donbass, the part of eastern Ukraine that the Kremlin has illegally annexed and is trying to seize.

“The Russian offensive objective is likely to draw in Ukrainian reserves and elite units and then pin them to Kharkiv, thereby weakening the rest of the front,” Mr. Kofman said. “Russia’s main objective still remains the reconquest of the rest of Donbass. »

Their ability to do so may depend in part on Mr. Zelensky’s success in finding new troops to relieve a tired and often demoralized force. He raised the age of Ukrainians subject to conscription from 27 to 25, despite considerable resistance from the Ukrainian public.

The United States is also trying to strengthen its technical advice in kyiv, hoping to counter Russian technological advances. In some cases, Russia was able to fool GPS receivers, thereby preventing the targeting of Ukrainian weapons, including a variety of missiles fired from HIMARS launchers, which Mr. Biden began supplying to Ukraine last year.

These launchers are rare, but the Russians are getting better and better at tracking their movements and, in some cases, destroying them even when they are well camouflaged.

These battlefield advantages are, of course, fleeting, and the war could be as different in 18 months as it was 18 months ago. But there is a growing sense in the Biden administration that the next few months could prove critical, because at some point the two sides could finally reach a negotiated ceasefire, an armistice similar to the one that ended active fighting in Korea in 2017. 1953 – or simply a frozen conflict.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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