Leading American politicians, generals, and pundits continue to push for unwavering support for Kyiv in their conflict with Russia. However, a closer examination of Ukraine’s recent summer offensive reveals that the immense sacrifices made by Ukraine have yielded little progress in evicting Russia from its territory. It’s imperative for Washington to reassess its approach and develop a new policy based on the harsh realities on the ground. Such a shift in objectives could safeguard Ukrainian lives and protect American interests.
Washington’s current policies are failing to achieve these goals.
Ukraine’s offensive, which had been in the making for months, stumbled right from the beginning. This outcome should not have come as a surprise to anyone in the White House. As early as April, I cautioned that Ukraine’s troops lacked essential air power and artillery ammunition, making them susceptible to significant casualties with little to gain.
In a revelation that confirmed these concerns, The Washington Post disclosed a leaked Top Secret U.S. intelligence assessment, predicting that Ukraine’s offensive would likely fall well short of expectations due to enduring deficiencies in training and munitions supplies. At that point, the estimated Ukrainian death toll stood as low as 17,500.
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Approximately a month before the offensive commenced, I reiterated the immense challenges Ukraine faced. To succeed, Ukraine would have to mount a combined arms operation against a well-prepared enemy, all while grappling with limited artillery ammunition and airpower. Nevertheless, on the eve of battle, some Western analysts clung to optimism.
Once the offensive started on June 5, that optimism quickly dissipated. In the initial two weeks, Ukraine’s spearhead brigades suffered severe losses in armor and personnel while gaining no significant territory. By the end of the third week, they had lost an estimated one-fifth of their strike force, forcing Ukraine to alter its tactics drastically. The focus shifted from armored vehicles to infantry-centric attacks.
While this adjustment did result in incremental gains, it came at a staggering cost. On August 29, the BBC reported an explosion in Ukrainian battle deaths since the offensive began. The death toll skyrocketed to 50,000 additional casualties, bringing the total to 70,000 dead and 120,000 wounded.
If it wasn’t evident before the offensive began that Ukraine faced formidable odds, it is now abundantly clear. Although Ukraine has managed to breach the first line of Russia’s main defense, it still must confront hundreds of kilometers of obstacles, including dragon’s teeth, tank ditches, and vast minefields.
It remains uncertain whether Ukraine possesses the necessary strength to breach Russia’s second main line, which is followed by a third main line and a fortress-defense at Tokmak, still 75 road kilometers from the Azov coast. Given these realities, Ukraine’s best course of action for the rest of the year may be to maintain its current positions and prevent further territorial losses to a potential Russian counteroffensive this fall.
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The United States should adjust its policies to align with the reality of Ukraine’s limited chances against Russia’s fortified defenses. Washington has poured nearly $113 billion into the conflict, supplying Ukraine with modern arms, ammunition, training, and intelligence support. Despite nearly a year of preparation, it has barely made a dent in the Russian lines.
It is not realistic to expect Ukraine to achieve its strategic objective of reclaiming all its territory, including Crimea. Instead, the focus should be on providing Kyiv with the means to defend itself against further Russian incursions, while shifting more of the burden for arms and ammunition to European allies. The U.S. should also work to contain the conflict within Ukraine’s borders and intensify diplomatic efforts with relevant parties to secure the best possible terms for Kyiv, all of which align with American interests.
Rather than persisting with failed strategies that could result in further losses for Ukraine, it’s time to acknowledge the objective reality and adopt policies with a higher chance of success.