The slow pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive against entrenched Russian forces is dimming hopes that negotiations for an end to the fighting could come this year and raising the specter of an open-ended conflict, according to Western officials, pointes ‘The Wall Street Journal’.
A potential stalemate would test President Biden’s stated strategy of pouring billions of dollars in military aid into Ukraine, to enable Kyiv to negotiate with Russia from a position of strength. It could also challenge the West’s continuing ability to supply weaponry that is already in short supply, and provide political fodder to those opposing U.S. support for the war.
Backing away from Ukraine and allowing even a partial Russian victory “would be the signature failure of Biden foreign policy that would dwarf the Afghan withdrawal,” said John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who is now at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank.
With neither Russia nor Ukraine inclined to negotiate, the White House has few options for now but to stay the course, hoping for an eventual battlefield breakthrough against entrenched Russian forces — or new political cracks in Moscow.
U.S. officials acknowledge the counteroffensive is going slowly, but say it is too soon to assess the effectiveness until Ukraine commits more of its combat brigades, especially those that have been trained by the U.S. at bases in Europe in armored maneuver warfare.
“If they commit their reserves and their reserves aren’t successful, then we will have to determine the way ahead,” said one U.S. official.
Kyiv’s mission is a difficult one, said a senior European official. “We are not expecting that they will be able to recover all the territory that was lost to Russia, especially if you are considering Crimea and even the territory which was lost in 2014 with Donbas,” said the official, whose government is among Ukraine’s strong supporters.
Another challenge facing the U.S. and its allies are dwindling reserves of key weaponry, a shortfall Washington recently sought to partly address by supplying Kyiv with cluster munitions.
One Western diplomat in Washington said the U.S. may have to accept that the war in Ukraine isn’t going to end soon, and allies need to prepare to supply Kyiv for a conflict that lasts for years.
The question is whether the U.S. and its allies have the resolve to continue support, or even expand it, if the offensive continues to fall short of expectations. High on Ukraine’s wishlist are U.S.-made ATACMS long-range missiles and faster acquisition of F-16 fighters.
Speaking last week at the Aspen Security Forum, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland openly worried about the ability of Western allies to stay the course.
“My biggest fear for Ukraine, actually, is us,” she said.