The success of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s last-ditch mission to Washington, to rally US Congressional support for a much-needed $61B defense package for Ukraine, remains unclear. Though the Ukrainian leader’s meetings with arms manufacturers and Senate leaders appeared productive, there were causes for concern.
In the same news cycle as Zelensky’s DC visit, Republican leadership in the House announced that they will be pressing forward with an attempt to impeach President Joe Biden for connections to his son’s alleged illicit business dealings in Ukraine and China; despite admissions there is no evidence linking the POTUS (President of the United States) to these activities. The process itself is on track to become a partisan battle which will likely further deepen the rift between Ukraine and the GOP.
However, it is not only in the US that tensions and uncertainty are brewing. Last week, before President Zelensky’s trip to DC was even announced, an insider within the Ukrainian military told Kyiv Post that “Zelensky’s office has already decided on a candidate for the new commander of the Ukrainian [military]. Now this candidacy must be agreed upon in Washington.”
Zelensky is rumored to be considering Mykhailo Zabrodsky as a replacement for Zaluzhny. Zabrodsky is a retired general who once served in Parliament and is a member of former President Petro Poroshenko’s rival political party. Zabrodsky is known to speak fluent English and is thought to have established a strong rapport with Washington.
The Washington Post earlier reported on mounting frustrations at the Pentagon over Ukraine not having implemented counteroffensive plans that were devised with American support, leading to the current situation where “Ukraine’s most senior military officials acknowledge that the war has reached a stalemate.”
In an extensive piece published by The Economist, Zaluzhny also acknowledged that the war has reached a “stalemate” that will not be broken until a new element is added to the battlefield.
During a recent meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that Zaluzhny’s entourage proposed a paradigm shift by saying that Ukraine would need 17,000,000 artillery shells, a number exceeding America’s capacity to currently provide Ukraine and a badly timed request given that the US Congress has continued to hold-up aid for Ukraine.
The motives underscoring Congress’ inaction, and the White House’s inability to reach a deal on US border security (a popular bargaining chip for Republicans), are met with skepticism by some as it coincides with a recent article in Bild that argued the West was seeking to intentionally starve Ukraine of weapons to force it into peace talks with Russia.
The White House’s dithering, for more than a year, before sending several weapons systems that Ukraine had requested, coupled with its continued refusal to send long-range missiles systems, such as ATACMs, has allowed Russia to regain some of the advantages it lost early in the war. Russia has extensively seeded the land with hundreds of thousands of landmines and has been able to increase its troop count in theater despite enormous losses. An estimated 170,000 Russian troops were initially committed to the invasion, however, current estimates put the number of illegal invaders at greater than 420,000.
A stark contrast to the American Congress, the Kremlin has a clear strategy to further prosecute the war in Ukraine, it simply must outlast American interest. Moscow has also committed 29.4 percent of its overall Russian federal budget next year to military spending. Comparatively, while overall US spending on defense is seven times more each year, the defense budget is still only around 13 percent of total federal spending.
One unnamed Ukrainian elected leader, who receives detailed security briefs, speaking to Kyiv Post in confidence, said that it seemed clear that the inertia on the frontline would not change in the near term, as inexpensive Russian drones and landmines are presenting a stunning challenge. The official said that high explosives attached to drones had made the use of many Western military vehicles untenable. The official’s remarks echoed those of Oleksii Reznikov, the former Ukrainian Defense Minister, who is quoted to have said that Ukraine’s troops “can’t maneuver because of land-mine density and tank ambushes.”
Aside from apparent tensions on the front, there are also ongoing reports of disagreements in Kyiv, between Ukraine’s top elected official and military leadership, as the US is allegedly pushing the war-torn nation to hold national elections. Despite Zaluzhny having never officially commented on the matter, rumors have also circulated that the Office of the President is concerned that Zaluzhny may challenge Zelensky in elections.
Zelensky would be the obvious frontrunner in a national election, however, recent opinion polls indicate that Zaluzhny could become a serious presidential challenger, with 83 percent of Ukrainians indicating they trust Zaluzhny, versus 72 percent trust President Zelensky.
With so much uncertainty, the next move for Ukraine will be threading an auspicious needle between competing interests on the front, in Kyiv, DC, and elsewhere in Europe. In all cases, the best outcome requires that America put its own national security interests first, bolstering the defenses of US allies who fight for US interests, by sending more weapons to defend Ukraine, quickly. However, at present, it appears many games are being played, and it is not as simple as one side, or the other, in Congress.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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