The White House administration is losing confidence that Ukraine will be able to regain all the territories it lost in the four months of war against Russia, even if Kiev receives the heavy and sophisticated weapons promised by the United States and its allies. said some US officials for CNN.
Joe Biden’s advisers have begun to debate discreetly whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should change the definition of a Ukrainian “victory” in order to adapt to the possibility of an irreversible downsizing.
However, US officials told CNN that despite this more pessimistic assessment, Washington does not intend to put pressure on Ukraine to make official territorial concessions in order to end the war.
In addition, there is hope for the time being that Ukrainian forces will still be able to reclaim significant chunks of territory in a likely counter-offensive later this year.
A congressional adviser familiar with the talks told CNN that this recovery of territories is possible, but that it depends on Kiev’s allies. “Ukraine’s ability to reclaim these territories depends largely, if not entirely, on how much support we provide,” the adviser said.
He said Kiev had formally requested a minimum of 48 multi-launch missile systems from the United States, but so far the Pentagon had promised only eight.
Not everyone in the White House administration is equally concerned. Some believe that Ukrainian forces could once again defy expectations, as they did in the early days of the war, when they rejected an advance on the capital.
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In this context, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan remained very involved with his Ukrainian counterparts and spent hours on the phone last week, discussing Ukraine’s reconquest efforts with Ukrainian Defense Chief of Staff and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark. Milley, officials familiar with the conversation told CNN.
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These talks come at a time when Biden has met with US allies in Europe at the G7 summit and the NATO meeting, where he will try to send an optimistic message about the course of the conflict.
“We must stay together. Putin relied from the beginning on the fact that, in a way, NATO and the G7 will split, but we did not and we will not do it, “Biden said on Sunday, while at the G7 summit in the Alps. Bavarian.
Meanwhile, the US continued to send aid to Kiev.
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Last week, the administration announced another $ 450 million in security assistance, including additional missile launch systems, artillery ammunition and patrol boats.
The United States is also expected to announce this week that it has acquired an advanced ground-to-air missile defense system, called NASAMS, for Ukrainian forces.
Biden said in an opinion piece earlier this month that he is committed to helping Ukraine gain the advantage on the battlefield so that it has a leverage in negotiations with Russia.
The mood has changed
Despite the confidence shown and the constant help sent to Kiev, the mood has changed in recent weeks, as Ukraine has failed to repel Russia’s advance into the Donbas, meanwhile suffering worrying losses of troops.
Ukrainian forces are depleting their equipment and ammunition too quickly, so the West cannot replace them.
A U.S. military official and a source familiar with Western intelligence have admitted to CNN that Ukraine is unlikely to be able to recover all the territory lost to Russia during the fighting – especially this year, as Zelenski announced.
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A strong counter-offensive could be possible, with more weapons and training, the sources said, but it is equally true that Russia could also have the opportunity to regain its strength during this time, so there are no guarantees.
“Much depends on the possibility of Ukraine being able to recapture the territory at least until February 23 (before the invasion begins),” said Michael Kofman, a military expert at the Center for Naval Analysis.
“If Ukraine can get there, then it could probably take over the rest (territories). But if she can’t, then she may have to rethink the best strategy for victory, “he said.
Russian forces are gaining ground
Russian forces currently control more than half of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, Pavlo Kirilenko, the head of the military administration in the area, said on Thursday. Ukrainian troops withdrew on Friday from the country’s key eastern city, Severodonetsk, after weeks of bloody fighting.
Last week, Russian forces made progress and captured territories around Lysiciansk, the last city in the eastern Luhansk region still controlled by Ukraine.
Ukrainian military commanders could eventually accept the reality and withdraw from the area to defend a more westerly territory.
Meanwhile, Russia’s revenues from oil supplies have only risen, despite sanctions, as the price of crude oil has skyrocketed. US officials said on Monday that the US and its allies would try to cap the price of oil so that Russia would not take advantage, but it remains to be seen how and when this cap will take effect.
Some Biden administration officials believe that Zelenski will have to start lowering his expectations about the future of the conflict.
The president of Ukraine said at the end of last month that he would “consider a victory” an advance “without unnecessary losses”, until the February 24 line. He reiterated this goal just last week.
“We have no choice but to move forward – to move forward to liberate all our territories,” he said in a post on Telegram. “We need to get rid of the invaders from the Ukrainian regions. Although the width of the front lines reaches over 2,500 km, we feel that we have the strategic initiative “, he added.
And on Monday, he set a deadline: an end to the war, with a victory for Ukraine, by the end of 2022.
Obviously, Russia also suffered heavy fighting losses and lost a third of its ground forces in four months of war, according to US officials. Officials also said publicly that Russia will have difficulty securing serious territorial gains further west without a full mobilization of its forces.
But Moscow believes it can maintain its commitment to the conflict, weakening the determination of Ukrainians and Westerners as the global economic effects of the war become more serious, officials told CNN.
At the moment, writes CNN, Moscow is mainly looking to exploit the issue of Kiev’s arms supply.
And that’s because Ukraine has few Soviet-type ammunition left and will need time and training to adapt to modern Western-style weapons received from allies.
A senior defense official told CNN that Soviet-era stocks were “dwindling,” but said Ukraine had not yet reached the “bottom of the bag.” The official said that some Eastern European countries would still have Soviet-type ammunition and weapons to offer, but only if their Western partners replaced them with modern weapons.
Meanwhile, the US and its allies searched around the world for the type of ammunition from the Soviet era and that matched Ukraine’s weapons, including 152 mm artillery ammunition. This in the conditions in which the weapons to NATO standard shoot with bigger bullets, of 155 mm.
But a U.S. defense official told CNN that the effort was coming to an end.
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