U.S. weapons and intelligence have played a critical role as Ukrainian troops make gains in Kiev’s counteroffensive against Russia.
We’ll look at how Washington has helped the new strategy. Plus, Democratic divisions are looming within legislation aimed at bolstering Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
US weapons, intel boost Kiev in Russia fight
The U.S. has played a quiet but crucial role as Ukrainian troops have made stunning gains this week in a counteroffensive that dealt an embarrassing blow to Russian forces.
Kyiv’s military strategy, which has allowed it to take back thousands of kilometers worth of Russian-occupied territory within days, is the cumulation of months’ worth of planning helped by U.S. war modeling and expertise.
In addition, artillery and heavy weapons provided by the U.S. have provided immediate firepower and long-term confidence that Ukraine’s troops will remain equipped for the longer fight.
State of play: As of Thursday, Ukrainian troops had taken back nearly all of the Kharkiv province in the northeast and continued to liberate several villages in the southern Kherson region, according to officials in the country.
The gains are part of a two-front counteroffensive that began at the start of September and made major headway in the past week — particularly in Kharkiv, where Ukrainian troops’ lightning-fast advance seemed to catch Russians forces on the back foot and forced them to rapidly retreat.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said earlier this week that Ukrainian forces had retaken 6,000 square kilometers (2,317 square miles) of Russian-held territory since the beginning of the month — about 3,400 kilometers (2,113 miles) of that in the north just in the last week.
How the counteroffensive took shape: The counteroffensive was the result of months of discussions, war strategizing and intelligence sharing between senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials, as well as a steady buildup of Ukrainian firepower with the help of U.S. weapons shipments, according to defense officials and experts.
Zelensky in midsummer relayed to his top military brass that he wanted to make a major push to show that Ukraine could kick back at the Russian incursion, and he had his generals create a plan for a broad offensive across the south and east, CNN first reported.
The strategy, which was then shared with U.S. defense officials, was assessed to likely fail, and the Ukrainians went back to the drawing board, according to The New York Times.
The role of weapons: The carefully planned operations were then bolstered by U.S. weapons, including precision armaments such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, which allows the Ukrainians to precisely strike and take out high-value Kremlin targets, said Steven Horrell, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
As of this week, the U.S. has committed nearly $15 billion in lethal aid to Ukraine since the start of the Feb. 24 invasion.
And since April, the U.S. government has also led a 50-country effort known as the Ukraine Contact Group to coordinate the flow of military assistance to Kyiv.
Not over yet: Despite Ukraine’s recent successes — with country officials calling it one of the major turning points of the war — others have warned the fight is still far from over.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday he thinks a peace deal to end the conflict isn’t likely anytime soon
And Biden administration officials have been hesitant to label the quick Ukrainian territorial gains as a turning point in the war.
U.S. defense officials point out that the Russians still have large amounts of manpower and weapons in Ukraine and still hold important territory, including key cities and towns in the easternmost Luhansk region.
Blinken announces $600M in military aid for Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced an additional $600 million in military assistance for Ukraine.
“Together with our Allies and partners, we are delivering the arms and equipment that Ukraine’s forces are utilizing so effectively as they continue their successful counter-offensive against Russia’s invasion,” he wrote in a State Department release.
Blinken authorized the 21st shipment of military munitions from the U.S. to Ukraine since September 2021, which will include arms and other equipment from the Defense Department.
A statement from the Department of Defense said the package included more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS); 36,000 105mmm artillery rounds; 1,000 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds; and four counter-artillery radars, among other equipment.
Democratic divisions show in Taiwan policy bill
Democratic divisions over U.S. policy in Taiwan were put on display this week with a committee vote on legislation that would increase American military and diplomatic support for Taipei.
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were split on the measure, with those opposed saying Thursday that it risked undermining Washington’s long-standing “One China” policy and further inflaming relations with Beijing.
Background: The measure — introduced by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — would authorize $4.5 billion in foreign military financing to Taiwan over four years for accelerating Taipei’s defense capabilities.
And it would designate Taiwan as a major non-NATO ally, which will bolster its security cooperation with the West and provide U.S. support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations and multilateral trade mechanisms.
The Senate panel voted 17-5 to advance the Taiwan Policy Act, with Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Ed Markey (Mass.) and Chris Murphy (Conn.) joined by Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) in voting against it.
The objections: Some Demcrats took issue with a remaining provision of the bill that directs the secretary of State to rescind any guidance that prohibits members of Taiwan’s military and governmental officials from displaying “symbols of Republic of China [Taiwan] sovereignty” at U.S.-hosted events, including wearing official military uniforms or displaying the island’s flag.
Schatz told The Hill that his vote against the bill was “a closer call than I anticipated,” and said that provision of the bill was unnecessary to the bill’s main objective of helping to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
“If you’re going to do something to make a potential adversary angry, you have to know why you’re doing it. And those symbols were exactly that they were symbolic in nature,” Schatz said. “So, I’m more interested in assisting Taiwan to be prepared, and that I think that is the core of the bill. But these other parts, I found to be less helpful.”
Van Hollen told The Hill that the provisions dealing with symbols of sovereignty is “very arguably” seen as a departure from the One China Policy.
“I know that’s not the intent,” he said, “But I think it veers too far in that direction without any tangible benefit to the people.”
It’s not the end: Despite the concerns, Democrats say they are united behind the bill’s main goal, which is to improve Taiwan’s defense capabilities. It’s unclear when exactly the full Senate will consider the bill, or how much it will change before a floor vote.
Menendez told The Hill that he continues to work with his colleagues on their concerns about the legislation, and expects that it will eventually become part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
“There are a few members who have a few issues, and we will continue to work with them,” he said. “We think we’ve made a lot of changes to the bill, brought it over a long way.”
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
- The Air Force Association will begin the “2022 Air, Space and Cyber Conference” at 7:30 a.m.
- The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will hold the “Ocean Nations: The 2nd Annual Indo-Pacific Islands Dialogue” at 9 a.m.
- The Middle East Institute will hold a book discussion on “All Necessary Measures? with Ian Martin” at 9 a.m.
- The Brookings Institution will hold the “The 2022 Knight Forum on Geopolitics” at 9 a.m.
- The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments will hold a webinar on “Arming America’s Allies and Rings of Fire” at 1 p.m.
- The Wilson Center will hold an event on “The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism” at 4 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Lighter click: 🏈 The Hill’s Photos of the Week