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Top Ukrainian general’s gloomy view of Russia war fuels military aid debate
November 2, 2023


By: Joe Gold and Alexander Ward

A top Ukrainian general’s assessment that the war with Russia is a stalemate is fueling partisan passions as a debate on whether to bolster Kyiv with more weapons roils Congress.

The stunning admission by Gen. Valery Zaluzhnyy, commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, is reverberating on Capitol Hill — where Republicans are arguing his comments are a reason to rethink America’s as-long-as-it-takes support for Kyiv. And that could make Ukraine’s uphill climb against Russia and in the halls of Congress even steeper.

Without a sudden boost in technological superiority, “there will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough” against Russia, Zaluzhnyy told The Economist in an interview posted Wednesday night. The war is at a stalemate, he said, and took the blame for believing Russian President Vladimir Putin would change course after losing roughly 150,000 troops. “In any other country such casualties would have stopped the war.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a skeptic of more aid to Kyiv, said that Zaluzhnyy’s candor blew a major hole in the administration’s Ukraine policy. Their pitch, Hawley contended, is “we need to keep funding Ukraine, in all aspects, not just militarily, we need to provide money for their pensions and all the rest so that it can remain a stalemate.”

“That naturally raises the question: What exactly is our endgame strategy?” he asked. “What’s the plan here? I don’t think they have a plan.”

Zaluzhnyy’s assessment is “consistent with what we’ve been informed,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “There was hope that they would make more gains,” he continued, hoping that Ukraine can hold what it has taken back from Russia with America’s support. Ukraine has only advanced about 10 miles since the counteroffensive started in the summer.

The Senate is likely to approve more aid to Ukraine, part of President Joe Biden’s $106 billion request that also includes support for Israel and Taiwan, as well as more resources for the southern border with Mexico.

But House Speaker Mike Johnson has more skeptical colleagues to convince. The top House member told Senate Republicans on Wednesday that he is for sending more weapons to Ukraine, but claims he can only get lawmakers to approve of those deliveries separately from an Israel-focused measure.

Zaluzhnyy’s message seems aimed at influencing the American congressional debate. The general, like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is desperate for more advanced fighter jets, drones, longer-range missiles and artillery to punch through Russian lines.

“Ukraine’s armed forces need key military capabilities and technologies to break out of this kind of war. The most important one is air power,” Zaluzhnyy wrote in a separate essay for The Economist that was published Wednesday. Russia, he adds, “will have superiority in weapons, equipment, missiles and ammunition for a considerable time.”

Kyiv is increasingly eager to move beyond waiting for donations, and is looking to start partnering with the U.S. and European defense industries to enter into co-production deals so they can build their own weapons. BAE Systems and Germany’s Rheinmetall AG have already signed deals, though no production has started yet.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who has openly called for ending military assistance to Kyiv, said Zaluzhnyy’s remarks expose deep-lying fractures within Ukraine’s leadership.

“Zelenkyy’s war aims are not consistent with reality, and you have some of his inner circle pushing back,” he told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday. “This was always going to end with Russia controlling some Ukrainian territory and a negotiated settlement. I’ve been saying it for a year. It was obvious to anybody who paid attention to realities on the ground.”

Vance and Hawley’s arguments are still the minority view in the Senate, where most senators from both parties still say they want to keep helping Ukraine push past the stalemate. But the protestations are finding a larger audience, especially as the nation’s attention turns to helping Israel in its war against Hamas.

Zaluzhnyy’s comments, though, hasn’t weakened the support from Congress’ most vocal Ukraine supporters.

“The nature of the war in Ukraine is that it will be mile-by-mile,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a Senate Armed Services Committee member who has visited with Zelenskyy multiple times. “The United States should continue to support Ukraine because it’s vital to our national security, even though there won’t be a gigantic breakthrough.”