White House warns Ukraine not to announce victory prematurely

Biden administration officials are trying to calm any overly optimistic expectations after Ukraine’s big gains against Russia in recent days.

Ukraine claims to have regained thousands of square miles of Russian-occupied territory in an offensive that began last week. Moscow acknowledged the “regroupment,” which others saw as a reversal.

“The path to victory is difficult, but we are sure: you are capable of it,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening speech on Sunday, praising his country’s forces for what he saw as victories. You will see our borders and the appearance of enemies. You will see the sparkle in the eyes of our people and the punishment of the occupiers.”

But in Washington, Pentagon, White House and State Department officials urged caution. They were reluctant to endorse the Ukrainian sense of victory early in the battle.

“It’s clear that they are fighting hard to defend their country and reclaim territory,” White House Press Secretary Karen-Jean-Pierre said Monday as she traveled with President Biden to Boston. “We will continue to support their need to succeed on the battlefield. That was our goal.”

US officials have said the back-and-forth trade of gains and losses by the Russians and Ukrainians is likely to continue despite Ukrainian pressure that appears to have reached part of the country’s border with Russia.

Arms supplies, weather, and resolve in Moscow as well as in Washington and European capitals will determine how the rest of the war unfolds.

Secretary of State Anthony J. But this will likely continue for a long period of time. There are a large number of Russian forces present in Ukraine, and unfortunately, tragically and appallingly, the President [Vladimir] Putin has shown that he will throw a lot of people into this at great cost to Russia.”

Blinken was speaking Friday at NATO headquarters in Brussels after an unannounced trip to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. But his comments reflected what the administration’s prevailing view continued on Monday.

Some Europeans who have supported and supported the US-led effort to arm Ukraine have expressed optimism that this potential breakthrough could be the moment when the arms buildup gives way to negotiations.

However, US officials said negotiations remain unlikely. They said that most of Russia’s inaugural bids on negotiations begin with a complete Ukrainian surrender – which is unsuccessful.

In May, Biden signed a new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. In the months that followed, US military assistance to Ukraine included heavy weapons, including howitzers, drones and advanced artillery missile systems known as HIMARS.

A senior US military official said Monday that the Pentagon confirmed some Ukrainian gains made over the weekend.

“We assess that the Ukrainians are making progress in their battle to liberate and reclaim territory in the south and east on the ground in the vicinity of Kharkiv,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss battlefield reports. We estimate that Russian forces have largely ceded their gains to the Ukrainians and withdrew to the north and east. Many of these troops moved across the border into Russia.”

US officials’ measured response to the new battlefield successes in Ukraine has been in line with the Biden administration’s approach to the conflict since the war began in February.

We have been very consistent in not speaking on behalf of the Ukrainian military, either in current or future terms. A senior administration official said they are fighting bravely and skillfully and should be allowed to speak for themselves.

Biden administration officials, who less than two years ago oversaw the United States’ withdrawal from the two-decade war in Afghanistan, understand that momentum in the war can change over time, and declaring victory too soon can end up looking like a fool for the run. the long.

Although the United States has sent $13.5 billion in aid to Ukraine since January, the White House has said throughout the conflict that it is neither America’s war nor a proxy war between Putin and the West.

Early on, Biden hesitated about sending weapons to Ukraine that might be seen as “offensive,” focusing instead on packages of Stinger and Javelin missile systems. Only after Ukraine resisted the initial Russian attack and the conflict faltered did the United States begin sending in more advanced weaponry, including HIMARS rocket launchers that the Ukrainians have used to devastating effect in recent days.

But US officials worry that a Washington victory at this point in a still-uneasy conflict could undermine Zelensky, adding to Putin’s claim that he is fighting a proxy war with NATO and the West.

While the Russian leader is undoubtedly frustrated by the lack of success of his army and an invasion that could turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes of the 21st century, any direct provocation of Putin remains unpredictable at odds with one of Biden’s. Overarching objectives throughout the conflict: Avoid any direct confrontation between the United States and Russia.

Although Biden may be reluctant to directly anger Putin, Ukraine’s gains over the weekend have changed the calculus. The war is “not a one-sided fight” with Moscow destined to be the victor, said Samuel Chcherb, a professor of political science specializing in Russia at Rand Corp. “

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