Vladimir Putin has “given up” taking Kyiv to focus on the separatist areas of Donbass and the outcome of the war in Ukraine “remains to be seen”, senior US military officials said on Thursday.
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“Putin thought he could very quickly take over Ukraine, very quickly take over the capital. He was wrong,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a congressional hearing.
“I think Putin has given up on his efforts to capture the capital and is now focusing on the south and east of the country,” he added before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But the outcome of the war, which promises to be long, remains uncertain, indicated for his part the American Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley.
“It will be a long-term job,” he said. “There is still a major battle ahead in the southeast where the Russians intend to amass forces and continue their assault. So it remains to be seen, how this is all going to end.”
Ukraine has received some 60,000 anti-tank systems from the United States and its allies, and the Ukrainian army uses anti-personnel mines which force Russian soldiers to fight in areas where they are more vulnerable, the general noted. Milley during the same audition.
The West also provided the Ukrainians with some 25,000 anti-aircraft systems of various types which prevented Russia from taking control of Ukrainian airspace, added the highest ranking American.
He noted that the Ukrainian army was now asking for tanks and artillery to be able to repel the next Russian offensive.
“The terrain (in the southeast) is different from that in the north. It is much more open and supportive of armored operations on both sides,” he explained. “They could do with more tanks and artillery, and that’s what they’re asking for.”
The Minister of Defense seemed to recognize that the United States considered, at least at the start of the conflict, that Ukraine would be unable to regain control of the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, in the Donbass which is now the objective displayed from Moscow.
Insistently questioned by Republican Senator Tom Cotton on the information that US military intelligence shares with the Ukrainians, Mr. Austin admitted that they did not cover the separatist regions so far.
“We provide them with intelligence to carry out operations”, including in the Donbass, he began to say.
But when Mr. Cotton asked him explicitly whether this information related to areas controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists, he acknowledged that the instructions given to military analysts so far were “unclear”.
“We want to make sure it’s clear to our forces,” he added. “This is the objective of the new instructions (which) leave today.”
American intelligence had announced the war in Ukraine with remarkable accuracy, but they had not anticipated fierce Ukrainian resistance. They feared that Kyiv would fall in 48 hours and that Mr. Zelensky would be immediately deposed to be replaced by a pro-Russian regime.