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It’s Been Two Years And $73 Billion In US Aid Since The Start Of The Ukraine War. Here’s Where Things Stand

Two years into Russia’s war to seize control of Ukraine, and despite billions in Western aid to help Kyiv, Russia has the advantage, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Ukraine entered its third year of war on Feb. 24 after mounting a failed counteroffensive and facing the prospect of delayed and diminished Western support while Washington slogs through its own quagmire on future spending. While Russia has made only small, tactical gains at great cost, some experts disputed suggestions the war has reached a stalemate and told the DCNF that Moscow could seize the initiative and secure broader swaths of territory before the end of the year.

“Right now, the Russians very clearly have the advantage. The Russians have the initiative across the entire theater within Ukraine,” George Barros, the Russia Team leader at the Institute for the Study of War, told the DCNF.

“Only in will does Ukraine match Russia, but in all other categories, Moscow is on top,” retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a senior fellow and military expert at Defense Priorities, told the DCNF.

Most experts assess that neither side will accomplish major operational goals within the next twelve months. However, that does not preclude Moscow’s army from slowly pushing back Ukraine’s beleaguered, under-resourced units from positions on the front lines, Barros explained.

Russia is making small advances. Since the beginning of 2024, Russia has captured approximately 182 square kilometers, an area just larger than Washington, D.C., of Ukrainian territory, estimates from the Institute for the Study of War show, Barros said.

“Ukraine starts 2024 in a very difficult position,” Michael Kofman, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told NPR in an interview.

“This year is clearly looking like a year during which Ukraine is going to focus most likely much more on holding, defending, trying to rebuild and reconstitute the force,” he added.

In spite of significant losses, Russia is now better positioned than ever to replenish weapons, related military equipment and fighters, Barros said. Russia’s industrial base is operating in full swing and the Russian economy has shifted to a “wartime footing” as a consequence of policy decisions in the Kremlin made in late 2022 and 2023. The West has yet to catch up, he added.

In addition, the Russian military has improved tactically and strategically, having learned from many of the mistakes committed early on in the conflict, Barros told the DCNF. Tactical blunders marked the initial Russian offensive on the city of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine that began in October as Putin’s “human wave” tactics of endless frontal assaults met a wall of Ukrainian resistance.

However, Russian troops may have established temporary control of the skies and improved the links between airborne reconnaissance assets and artillery systems on the ground, ISW found.

Ukraine’s newly-instated top military commander ordered troops to withdraw from the city of Avdiivka in a Feb. 16 statement, bringing to a bitter end a months-long attritional battle to hold the city. Both sides endured staggering numbers of killed and wounded as the fight chewed up tanks, armored vehicles and thousands of rounds of artillery, The New York Times reported. Aerial bombing by Russian bomber fleets laid waste to the city.

Once a city of 30,000, the fall of the frontline city marked Russia’s first significant gain since the capture of Bakhmut in May 2023, according to the NYT.

Ukraine faces a 10-to-1 shell disadvantage while Russian forces continue to grind forward under constant bombardment, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who leads the Ukrainian forces in the south, said in a statement, according to the NYT.

“They lost brigades worth of mechanized equipment … for the poor Russian troops that ended up in those really poorly coordinated assaults, it did not go well,” Barros said.

“From a tactical and operational perspective, that’s not great. But we see other places where the Russians are learning,” Barros said, including an ongoing offensive in northeast Ukraine.

Russia could make some tactical gains over the coming months, including completing the capture of the Kharkiv oblast, but is unlikely to accomplish anything that would alter the course of the war, Barros said.

“That is still significant even if they don’t make an operational breakthrough because what the Russians will do is they’ll make these tactically significant advances,” he said. If the Ukrainian troops continue to deal with a lack of resources, “then the Russians will be able to just simply waltz into these tactical gains” and consolidate.

The West collectively provided more than $100 billion in military aid alone for Ukraine to mount a defense and counteroffensive against Russia in the first two years, according to data compiled by the the Kiel Institute. But, it remains an open question whether the political will exists throughout the world to maintain that level of support through the coming year and into the next.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urged Congress to authorize funds for Ukraine aid in a statement issued on the war’s second anniversary.

“I urge members of Congress to act quickly to pass the national-security supplemental to ensure that Ukrainian troops have what they need to defend their country and their citizens from Russia’s cruelty — and to send a strong message of America’s continued commitment to Ukraine’s freedom,” he said.

U.S. funds for security aid to Ukraine dried up at the end of the year, and the last time the Pentagon approved a security assistance package was Dec. 27. Congress continues to wrestle over a controversial government funding bill that includes $60 billion in aid to Ukraine,

Officials and experts have warned the consequences of a prolonged gap in U.S. assistance could be devastating and may have contributed to the loss of Avdiivka. The U.S. is by far the largest supporter of Ukraine in terms of weapons and military equipment.

Some experts questioned whether renewed U.S. support could put Ukraine on the right trajectory to negotiate for an end to the war from a position of strength.

“After two years of fighting, there is no valid path to any type of a Ukrainian military victory. Hard stop,” Davis said.

“Everything that goes into building national military power — air forces, air defenses, ammunition, manpower, military manufacturing base, and political will — are all in Russia’s favor and will be growing by the month in their favor,” he added.

The war will end when the world understands “that Putin has broken all the red lines, he’s an inadequate person that is a threat to the whole world, that he will destroy NATO — that’s his goal,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during a Fox News interview on Feb. 22. “When the world will understand that, OK, that’s it.”

Barros cautioned against believing the Ukrainian army can simply rest throughout 2024, and reconstitute with Western-supplied weapons, while looking forward to major offensives in 2025.

“If the Russians have the initiative, they can just keep blaring on — more attacks more offensives,” he said. “The theoretical supplies the Ukrainians will be accumulating in [2024], those will be whittled away.”

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Micaela Burrow

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Micaela Burrow
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