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On Wednesday, the Pentagon finally admitted what was clear to serious intelligence analysts from the start: Ukraine has no military path to victory against Russia. 

“A Ukrainian military victory — defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine … the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high,” the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told reporters.

After nine months of relentless assault by the Russians, a large swath of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure is decimated, leaving its residents without electricity, heat and water as temperatures have dropped to freezing levels. But one is hard-pressed to argue that Moscow is about to celebrate some kind of triumph. 

Russia has lost some 100,000 personnel to death or injury; scores of military-age men and families have fled their homes to avoid mobilization, creating a major brain-drain; and Moscow is relying on Iran and North Korea for replenishing its diminishing weapons arsenal. And Putin’s grand plans to topple Kyiv are on hold, at best. So who is popping champagne corks as the brutal Russia-Ukraine war continues with no end in sight? 


The winner is undoubtedly China. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in Beijing, capital of China, July 1, 2021.  
(Ju Peng/Xinhua via Getty Images)

There’s a shrewd Chinese allegory that captures the essence of China’s thinking on this conflict: “As two tigers are fighting ferociously in the valley, a sage monkey is sitting on top of the mountain, looking down and waiting to see how it will end.” 

The two tigers are Russia and the United States, both considered by China to be its top adversaries. China is the wise monkey patiently waiting as Moscow and Washington are eroding their respective combat power, fighting a proxy war over control of Ukraine. 

According to the Congressional Research Service, from 2014, when Russia first attacked Ukraine, annexing Crimea, through October 14, 2022, the United States has provided more than $20.3 billion in security assistance “to help Ukraine preserve its territorial integrity, secure its borders and improve interoperability with NATO.” 

This aid came in the form of training, equipment and advisory efforts to “enhance Ukraine’s defensive capabilities.” The funds have been directed for logistics support, supplies and services; salaries and stipends; sustainment; weapons replacement; and intelligence support. But the fact that Washington spent more money in the nine months in Ukraine than it did in five years in Afghanistan for what essentially is an unwinnable war is not the main problem. 

The issue is that the Pentagon is rapidly depleting the country’s weapons stockpile to dangerous levels, eroding its own combat readiness. An unnamed defense official told the Wall Street Journal the stockpile of 155mm combat rounds in U.S. military storage has become “uncomfortably low,” suggesting it wasn’t sufficient “to go into combat.”

The Biden administration has continued to fund Ukraine against Putin's invasion.  

The Biden administration has continued to fund Ukraine against Putin’s invasion.  
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky  |   Photo by Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images  |  Getty)

Substantial aid was provided under Barack Obama, but the Trump Administration initiated the provision of lethal weapons — firearms, ammunition, ordnance, laser, imaging and guidance equipment. The Biden Administration ramped up assistance to Ukraine to include sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, counter-artillery radars, Mark VI patrol boats, electronic warfare detection and secure communications, satellite imagery and analysis capability, counter-unmanned aerial systems (UAS), air surveillance systems, night vision devices and other equipment.


Washington has been sending greater and greater amounts of sophisticated military hardware to Kyiv since Feb. 24, when Putin assaulted Ukraine for the second time. As of Oct. 14, the U.S. sent 20 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and ammunition, with 18 HIMARS on the way. 

A partial list also includes 8,500-plus Javelin anti-armor systems and 32,000-plus other anti-armor systems; 1,400-plus Stinger anti-aircraft systems; hundreds of armored Humvee vehicles and 440 mine resistant vehicles; 200 M113 armored personnel carriers; 10,000-plus grenade launchers and small arms; and untold amounts of communications and intelligence equipment. 

The exact levels of U.S. weapons depletion as a result of supplying Ukraine is classified. But, by the Pentagon’s own admission, our military industrial production capacity is strained, with defense contractors unable to ramp up production fast enough to backfill U.S. weapons supplies.

Fighting in Ukraine has shifted to the eastern part of the country.

Fighting in Ukraine has shifted to the eastern part of the country.
(Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)


Russia’s arsenal is similarly declining. Having launched some 4,000 missiles, Moscow is buying drones from Iran and artillery shells from North Korea. Its military industrial production capacity is hampered by sanctions, since Russia relies on foreign high-tech components like microchips, semiconductors, connectors, transistors and other parts for weapons development.

China’s grand plan is to become the dominant world power by 2049, replacing the United States both economically and militarily. Xi has recently all but secured a life-long presidency, having won a third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party. His aggressive rhetoric on the subject of the “One China” policy suggests he may choose to establish control over Taiwan by military force in the near term rather than by gradual integration. 

In this April 12, 2018, file photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks after reviewing the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy fleet in the South China Sea. 

In this April 12, 2018, file photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks after reviewing the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy fleet in the South China Sea. 
(Li Gang/Xinhua via AP, File)

During a recent visit to China’s armed forces’ operational command center, Xi directed China’s military to be ready for war. 


“The entire military must … concentrate all energy on fighting a war, direct all work towards warfare and speed up to build the ability to win,” Xi said. 

As the war in Ukraine depletes Moscow and Washington’s weaponry stocks, Xi is surely feeling better about such preparations. The time for the monkey to safely descend into the valley may be coming.


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