Biden’s Mixed Signals On Ukraine Aid Suggest Kyiv Must Earn Congress’ Future Support, Experts Say

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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  • The Biden administration maintains it will support Ukraine’s resistance to Russia for as long as it takes but is signaling that support may fade in the future, according to media reports and experts.
  • Western officials expect Ukraine to conduct a successful offensive in the future, reports suggest.
  • Ukraine must “continue to be successful in order to persuade policy-makers on Capitol Hill that the war can be won on terms unfavorable to Russia,” Thomas Spoehr of the Heritage Foundation explained to the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Biden administration’s mixed signaling on weapons for Ukraine may not speed the war’s end, but it does demonstrate that Kyiv can’t count on weapons supplies indefinitely, according to experts and media reports.

Russia’s anticipated spring offensive has already begun, with conscripts pouring in, warships and submarines building up in the Black Sea and leaked plans to deploy not yet seen air assets, according to analysts and media reports. Western governments expect Ukraine to prosecute an effective counteroffensive with the mass of heavy weaponry donated throughout the winter months, and the condition could be future support — but it is unclear whether that is related to the administration’s broader policy goals toward Ukraine, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“There has not been a change in policy,” Thomas Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF. “What is new is the executive branch messaging Ukraine that they cannot count on Congressional support ad infinitum, especially if there are setbacks in the war for Kyiv.” (RELATED: US, Ukraine Clash Over War Strategy As Russia Makes Gains In The East)

U.S. officials have said the current moment represents the best time for Ukraine to effect a decisive victory on the battlefield as Western weapons to Ukraine are surging, The Washington Post reported.

“We will continue to try to impress upon them” — Ukrainian leaders — “that we can’t do anything and everything forever,” one senior U.S. official told the Post.

The administration believes congressional support for Ukraine will not sustain at the same level it did throughout 2022, the official added.

“’As long as it takes’ pertains to the amount of conflict,” the official told the Post, referring to the Biden administration’s oft-repeated pledge. “It doesn’t pertain to the amount of assistance.”

Experts had mixed reactions to the comments, including whether or not the implied policy would facilitate an end to the war.

“As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, now is the time for strong, consistent, and clear messaging” to bring the war to a favorable end. “Anything else gives succor to Russia,” Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the DCNF.

However, experts and officials have raised the alarm over the West’s will and ability to sustain supplies of advanced weapons and the mountains of ammunition Ukraine consumes on a daily basis.

“It’s always hard to read the tea leaves,” Concerned Veterans for America Deputy Director John Byrnes told the DCNF. “If this does signal that U.S. leaders within the Biden administration are working to define the limits of U.S. financial and military aid to Ukraine,” he added, “that could end the war and loss of life more quickly.”

Secretary of State Lloyd Austin joined North American Treaty Organization (NATO) counterparts in Brussels Tuesday to conduct regular discussions of ongoing military support to Ukraine. Announcements of significant new capabilities for Ukraine usually occurred during or near previous meetings, but this time the discussions centered around ensuring existing commitments reach the front lines and maintain steady supplies of munitions and maintenance, Stars and Stripes reported.

NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg warned Monday that Ukraine’s consumption of ammunition is outpacing the rate at which the U.S. and allies can produce enough to continue supporting Ukraine’s resistance to Russian forces, according to a transcript.

In past months, Western nations shifted away from artillery and anti-air weapons packages toward donations of heavy equipment, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles, Stoltenberg noted.

However, ministers bucked pressure to announce donations of F-16 aircraft, disappointing members of Congress and influential think tank experts who say the capability will be crucial to hasten the end of the war, according to Stars and Stripes.

“The issue of aircraft is not the most urgent issue now, but it is an ongoing discussion,” Stoltenberg said.

In a change of tune, the Biden administration told Ukraine it does not have sufficient spare Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to send to Ukraine without detracting from U.S. readiness for future fights, Politico reported, citing four people with knowledge of the discussions.

Previously, the administration denied Ukraine’s request for ATACMS on the ground that the weapon, which can reach targets up to 190 miles from the launch site, would allow Ukraine to strike Russian territory, according to Politico. Russia could portray such attacks as evidence of direct U.S. participation in hostilities against Russia and cross Russian President Vladimir Putin’s red line.

“There are other ways of providing Ukraine with the capabilities it needs to strike the targets,” a senior defense official told Politico.

The Pentagon has not evaluated arsenal needs since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Politico reported. The U.S. has sent $27.1 billion in weapons and military equipment to support Ukraine’s resistance so far.

At the same time, officials played down Russia’s manpower advantage in the war; Russia has lost “strategically, operationally and tactically,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley remarked.

Russia “continues to pour large numbers of additional people into the fight,” Austin said at a press conference Wednesday, referring to a renewed mobilization of Russian troops expected to fuel a burgeoning offensive in Ukraine’s south.

“And those people are ill-trained and ill-equipped. And because of that, we see them incurring a lot of casualties,” he added.

British Defense Minister Ben Wallace estimated that Russia has committed 97% of its available combat power in Ukraine, the BBC reported.

The Biden administration is signaling to Ukraine it must “continue to be successful in order to persuade policy-makers on Capitol Hill that the war can be won on terms unfavorable to Russia,” Spoehr explained to the DCNF.

“Our goal is to make sure that we give Ukraine additional capabilities so that they can be — not only be marginally-successful, they can be decisive on the battlefield in the — in their upcoming offensive,” Austin said.

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