The White House offered a bureaucratic vote of confidence to the Ukrainian military Tuesday, despite slow progress in the summer’s counteroffensive and worries that Kyiv might not reach far into Russian-controlled territory. “We do not assess that the conflict is a stalemate,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. He said Ukraine is retaking territory “on a methodical, systematic basis.”
So why is the counteroffensive slow going? The New York Times reported Tuesday afternoon that U.S. and other Western officials believe that Kyiv isn’t concentrating enough of its forces in the south to focus on breaking the land bridge between Russia and Crimea. Some fault the Biden administration for not sending longer-range weapons. ATACMS, a missile system “would make Crimea, the decisive terrain of this war, untenable for Russian forces,” Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of United States Army Europe, told Semafor. (Kyiv has already received long-range missiles from France and the U.K.).
A senior Ukrainian official made the case to Reuters that Kyiv is succeeding just by moving forward with “fewer people and fewer weapons.” Ukraine appears to have calculated that moving faster would cost many more lives, said a Republican national security aide, who agreed with Sullivan that it wasn’t a stalemate.
But the offensive is unlikely to get any easier — the U.S. intelligence community reportedly assessed that the counteroffensive would stall before it reaches the key southeast city of Melitopol — and Kyiv is depending on U.S. and allied support. The slow going may further complicate the path forward on Capitol Hill for the White House’s $24 billion Ukraine aid request, which is already facing pushback from some Republicans. “It doesn’t help, but I think this was always going to get gradually more difficult,” the aide said.