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Russia is unlikely to make any substantial territorial gains in its second year of conflict with Ukraine, according to the U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl.
Speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 28, Kahl noted: “You may see small portions of territory change hands in the coming weeks and months.
“I do not think that there’s anything I see that suggests the Russians can sweep across Ukraine and make significant territorial gains anytime in the next year or so.”
The stated purpose of the hearing was for the committee to conduct oversight of the military support that the United States has thus far provided to Ukraine as the country fends off Russia’s military assaults.
Providing an update on the effectiveness of that support, Kahl was largely optimistic in his assessment, pointing out that Russia had failed to achieve “any of its objectives” after one year of fighting.
“[Russia’s] military is paying tremendous costs, Ukraine remains united and determined to expel Russia’s invading forces from its territory, and NATO unity is stronger than it has been in decades,” he added.
Rep. Dan Smith (D-Wash.), the committee’s top Democrat, agreed with that evaluation noting that most people had believed Ukraine “didn’t stand a chance” in holding off Russia and certainly not for as long as it has.
Others, however, questioned whether the $31.7 billion in military support that the United States has provided to Ukraine was being applied appropriately.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), for instance, asked Defense Department Inspector General Robert Storch if he could testify under oath that in providing weapons to Ukraine the department had complied with existing end-use monitoring requirements, which ensure that exported arms are not misused or diverted in violation of the terms of their provision.
Storch did not provide a direct response to the question, citing a classified report that the department issued previously.
“I think everyone watching this can see that, if you could testify to that, you would,” Gaetz said, adding that he felt the American public deserved to know whether the law was being followed.
Other Republicans expressed the opinion that the Biden administration had been too hesitant to provide Ukraine with the necessary assistance to end the war.
“Since the beginning, the president has been overly worried that giving Ukraine what it needs to win would be too escalatory,” committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said.
“This hesitation has only prolonged the war and driven up costs in terms of dollars and lives.
“This conflict must end,” Rogers added. “And the president must be willing to do what it takes to end it.”
In addition to scrutiny of past support, the hearing also touched on the topic of future military assistance, with several representatives questioning whether F-16 fighter jets would be provided in the near future.
Kahl, noting that F-16s could take 18 to 24 months or longer to deliver to Ukraine, said he found the associated costs difficult to justify at the moment.
The United States continued provision of billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine has come under increasing scrutiny amid pressing domestic concerns like the mounting national debt, escalation of the immigration crisis at the U.S.–Mexico border, and the environmental fallout of a Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Alluding to that scrutiny, Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-N.C.) asked Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, how he should defend his support for continued assistance to Ukraine to his constituents.
“As an American, this is what we do. This what we’ve fundamentally done for decades,” Sims replied.
“When people are wrong, we stand up for them. And in this case, the invasion of [Ukraine by] Russia, everyone has said it was illegal. Everybody says it is wrong.”