US, Ukraine officials privately say counteroffensive against Russia has ‘failed’

10:14 10.12.2023 •

“Cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield,” Shalanda Young, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Photo: WSJ

Aseries of meetings over the last month between U.S. officials and representatives of Ukraine’s presidential office and defense ministry concluded that the months-long counteroffensive against Russian forces has failed to meet its objectives and reached a stalemate, The Messenger has learned.  

Amid the backdrop of a high-stakes debate in the U.S. Congress over continuing American military and financial support for Ukraine, multiple U.S. defense and intelligence officials told The Messenger that the meetings held in November and December surfaced a range of political and military issues which could undercut Ukraine’s war efforts. The American officials spoke under condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive national security matters.

Beyond the slow pace of the counteroffensive, those issues included a growing rift over the course of the war between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his top military commander, setbacks in troop mobilizations and desperately low stocks of artillery ammunition. 

The U.S. officials said that participants in the meetings agreed that key objectives of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which began in June, have not been met and that there was little chance that they would be, particularly if American aid was suspended. Those objectives included driving Russian forces from land taken in the eastern Donbas region and reaching the Sea of Azov to cut the land bridge between the Crimean Peninsula and the Russian mainland.

On Thursday a U.S. official told The Messenger that U.S. policy "will continue to be that it is up to Ukraine to define victory and that it should remain up to Ukraine to decide how this war ends."

The U.S. defense and intelligence officials told The Messenger that the meetings raised questions about the fraying relationship between Zelenskyy and several Ukrainian generals, including his top military commander Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, and how these tensions may be impacting the war. The U.S. officials noted that such political-military tensions were not unusual in wartime and that the rifts in Ukraine had not yet reached a crisis point.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst told The Messenger that tensions between Zaluzhny and Zelenskyy have been evident since the early days of the war, and had grown in recent months.

“We're hearing about it again and even more loudly, which is not surprising because we are at the most dangerous moments of the war,” Herbst said. “And the reason why this moment is so dangerous is because at this point, the unreliability of American support for Ukraine.”

On Wednesday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said “We would agree that (the Ukrainians) didn't go as far, as fast, as they, themselves, wanted to go. And again, as winter sets in, I don't think we should expect any more than we did last winter that the fighting is just going to stop.”


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