Disagreement Between U.S. and Ukraine on Next Steps after Disappointing War Effort
After Ukraine’s war effort experienced a disappointing second half in 2023, the U.S. and Ukraine are at odds regarding the next course of action. While Ukraine’s leaders favor an aggressive approach to retake Russian-held territory, U.S. officials view this as unrealistic. However, there are signs of potential compromise and consensus.
Looking ahead, Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes that 2024 will be the year when the U.S. and Europe lose patience with the war, allowing Russia to permanently claim large parts of Ukraine. President Biden warned that Putin is relying on the United States to fail in delivering for Ukraine.
In terms of the military situation, Russia’s invasion in February 2022 did not result in the swift toppling of Ukraine’s government, but it did make significant advances. Currently, Russia controls almost 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory, including the Crimea peninsula. Ukraine’s counteroffensive this summer aimed to reclaim enough territory to weaken Putin’s forces, but it did not succeed. Ukrainian forces struggled to break through Russia’s fortified lines, partly due to Russia’s use of drones to monitor and respond to attacks.
Despite these challenges, Ukraine managed to inflict damage on Russian ships in Crimea, which was seen as a major naval victory. Longer-range British missiles damaged targets in Crimea, leading Russia to withdraw parts of its fleet from the region. However, these operations did not result in Ukraine retaking any territory.
Ukraine’s leaders still hope to reclaim territory in 2024, but U.S. officials believe a more realistic goal is to prevent further Russian advances while Ukraine rebuilds its military and launches targeted attacks. The aim would be to create a credible threat that could prompt Russia to engage in meaningful negotiations in late 2024 or 2025.
On the political front, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Washington to seek continued U.S. support in terms of weapons, equipment, and ammunition. While Biden and most Democrats in Congress support providing additional aid, many Republicans condition their approval on measures to address illegal immigration. Zelensky’s visit reflects concerns about the fragility of American support, particularly if former President Donald Trump were to return to office and potentially cut off aid.
Support from Western Europe is also uncertain, with Hungary poised to veto an E.U. aid package and Germany struggling to fund its own pledge. Some European defense officials acknowledge that the weapons and ammunition currently being sent to Ukraine may not be sufficient. Without additional aid from the United States, Ukraine could face shortages next year.
Many U.S. and European officials believe that a negotiated settlement is the likely outcome in the end. However, there is a difference between a settlement based on the possibility of Ukraine collapsing and one based on the expectation of a prolonged stalemate.