With limited battlefield wins and its status as a global pariah firmly in place, Russia is struggling to find leverage to wear down Western resolve to aid Ukraine as its war in the country nears the end of its first year.
We’ll share what experts are saying about Russian President Vladimir Putin and his options left in the war, plus how Ukrainian officials are pushing the West to send tanks.
Also: Details on the Navy veteran recently released from Russian detainment and President Biden’s words of praise at the service for the late former Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
This is Defense & National Security, your guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you?
Putin exhausting options to wear down aid to Ukraine
As the Russia-Ukraine war nears the end of its first year, Moscow is struggling to find leverage to wear down Western resolve to aid Kyiv.
With its battlefield wins now few and far between, an economy crippled by harsh sanctions, and increasing international isolation, Russian President Vladimir Putin is running out of options to expand its provocations beyond Ukraine to chip away at international support for Ukraine’s resistance, experts say.
‘Only getting worse’: The Kremlin has “basically lost on all fronts in terms of trying to exhaust and create fractures in the coalition between Ukraine and its Western allies,” according to Joseph Dresen, a Russia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. “I think Russia is in a bad situation. It’s been bad for a while. It’s only getting worse.”
Early roadblocks: When Moscow rolled its forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia expected the country to quickly surrender, failing to anticipate a mountain of resistance. Among the roadblocks for Moscow was the resolve of the Ukrainian people, the leadership of the then-untested Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the ill-prepared Kremlin troops.
What’s more, the former Soviet nation quickly galvanized Western support, with the U.S. and Europe funneling tens of billions of dollars’ worth of weapons and humanitarian aid to the embattled country.
Failed attempts: Moscow has tried to weaken global resolve to aid Kyiv, using cyberattacks, shipping blockades to prevent crucial grain exports, freezing gas supplies for Europe and threatening to halt all energy imports, a move Putin said would cause the continent to “freeze.”
But a warm winter combined with an international community that has collectively responded to each Russian threat with its own pushback — either through bolstered cyber defenses, energy replacements or economic sanctions — has kept Putin on his back foot.
Limited bandwidth: Now, after more than 320 days of a conflict the Russian leader initially claimed would last less than a week, Moscow is all but out of ways to wreak havoc outside of Ukraine.
- “I just don’t think they have the bandwidth to project power anyplace else right now,” Brian Whitmore, a Russian expert with the Atlantic Council, told The Hill.
- “I think their play was effectively freezing out Europe and making them suffer through the winter. That’s clearly not going to work right now,” Whitmore said. “They’re counting on the West’s resolve being diminished, and that’s not happened yet. … I don’t think we’re gonna get there, quite frankly.”
Other losses: Further limiting Putin’s options was Russia’s swift loss of economic relations with the West, a forfeiture of decades of painstakingly cultivated ties and an ousting from an information network Moscow can no longer use to its advantage.
Ukraine focuses on Western tanks to rout Russia
Ukrainian defense officials are zeroing in on tank deliveries from the U.S. and European partners, saying the firepower and security provided by the armored artillery vehicles will keep up the momentum in its efforts to rout invading Russian forces.
The Biden administration has increased the heavy artillery it is providing Ukraine, but has done so slowly and incrementally to protect against perceptions that Washington is provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pushing for tanks: Ukrainian officials have welcomed the Biden administration’s recent announcement to supply armored vehicles with machine guns — Bradley fighting vehicles — but are pushing for Washington to commit to sending Abrams tanks.
“Bradley’s are like a sandwich, it is good when you’re hungry. But an Abrams is like a full meal, it will really leave you satisfied,” Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of defense, told The Hill.
An important signal: Ukrainian officials say an announcement by the Biden administration that it would supply tanks would send an important political signal to Putin and Russia that the U.S. and its allies are united in their support.
And it would also push back against concerns that a new Republican House majority threatens bipartisan backing for Kyiv, or that Europe’s solidarity is fracturing in the face of Moscow’s havoc, they say.
What’s needed: Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, told The Economist last month that Kyiv needs 300 tanks to achieve a decisive victory on the battlefield against Russia, along with 700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers.
“I know that I can beat this enemy. But I need resources,” Zaluzhnyi told the Economist.
Biden: Ex-Defense chief Carter a ‘force of nature’
President Biden on Thursday eulogized former Defense Secretary Ash Carter as an innovative public servant who advanced the military’s strength and diversity through his work.
Biden spoke at a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral for Carter, who died in October after a sudden heart attack. He was 68.
Paying tribute: “This is beyond my capacity to accurately assess what an incredible man Ash was,” Biden said. “Ash was a force. He was a force of nature. His genius was evident, his integrity unfailing and his commitment to service before self was literally inspiring.”
A storied legacy: Carter started his career as a physicist and spent decades serving in the Pentagon, ultimately leading the Defense Department from 2015 to 2017 while Biden was vice president. During that time, Carter oversaw efforts to increase nuclear deterrence, manage emerging technologies and strategize the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda.
Carter also tackled numerous personnel matters during his tenure, including ending a ban on transgender officers in the military and opening all military positions to women in 2016 — the first time in U.S. history that women could enter certain combat roles previously only open to men.
A military made stronger: Biden on Thursday argued the military had been made “stronger and more inclusive by Ash’s principles and convictions.”
“I stand today as commander in chief of, as Ash always said, the finest fighting force the world has ever known, and that is not hyperbole,” Biden said.
RUSSIA RELEASES US NAVY VETERAN AFTER NEARLY A YEAR
Russia on Thursday released a U.S. Navy veteran after nearly a year of detention in a Russian province between Poland and Lithuania.
“Today, the Russian govt released my client, Taylor Dudley, a Navy vet, cross the Polish border,” Jonathan Franks, a spokesperson for the family, tweeted Thursday morning, saying he and the family were en route to Washington, D.C.
What we know: Dudley, 35, of Michigan, was detained in April after crossing into Kaliningrad, a Russian province on the Baltic Sea bordered to the north and east by Lithuania and to the south by Poland.
His detention was not widely publicized because his family wanted to keep the negotiations private, according to CNN.
Securing the release: The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, a nonprofit founded by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), led negotiations for his release.
The Steve Menzies Global Foundation, the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw and the James Foley Foundation also helped secure the release of Dudley, according to a statement Franks issued to CNN.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- President Biden will host Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for meetings at the White House
- Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service will host a discussion on “Displacement and Disabilities in Ukraine What’s Happened to Children with Disabilities in the Conflict?” at 12 p.m.
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