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Russia's Grand Strategy for Ukraine Takeover Unmet, Says DOD Official

In the broadest sense, Russia has thus far failed to secure its strategic objectives in Ukraine, said the undersecretary of defense for policy.

Colin Kahl spoke about the war in Ukraine and the pacing challenge of China at the Center for a New American Security's National Security Conference today.

Troops cross a river in rubber floats.
Wet Gap Crossing
American and Polish troops of the Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland conduct a wet gap crossing training, June 9, 2022.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Walter Carroll
VIRIN: 220609-A-UA925-6512

"[Russian President] Vladimir Putin went into this war seeking to gobble Ukraine up. … I think he envisioned some kind of a thunder run to Kyiv that would change the regime. The Russians were badly defeated in the battle of Kyiv. They've also been pushed out of Kharkiv," he said.

In the south and east, the Russians have been making incremental gains, but they are not sweeping through Ukrainian defenses as they had hoped to do, Kahl said.

"The Ukrainians remain stalwart defenders. There are significant casualties, but that is true on both sides," he said.

Putin has mentioned imperial ambitions and seeking to reconstitute what he thinks is a glorious past of the Russian empire, Kahl said.

A helicopter flies over trees.
AH-64 Apache
A U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter with the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade conducts aerial operations during Combined Resolve 17, Joint Multinational Readiness Center, Germany, May 26, 2022.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Jason Greaves
VIRIN: 220608-A-DG300-0010

That's unlikely, he said. "The Ukrainians are holding tough. I do not think the Russians have the capacity to achieve those grandiose objectives."

The nature of the fight has shifted to an artillery duel, he said. That is why the Defense Department is supplying M-777 artillery to Ukrainian forces and is in the process of training their forces on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.

The munitions for the M-777 being provided have a range of around 70 kilometers, he said. "That will be useful to allow the Ukrainians to have more standoff. We expect those systems to get into the fight soon and we're committed to continuing the flow of those munitions and I know other allies and partners are too."

Kahl also mentioned that U.S., ally and partner nations' sanctions on Russia are having an effect. "This year will wipe out the last 15 years of economic growth in Russia and the impact of sanctions are only getting started."

Ships sail in a body of water.
Partnership Travel
Ships from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States sail in formation in the Baltic Sea, June 6, 2022, during exercise BALTOPS22.
Photo By: Navy
VIRIN: 220606-N-NO901-3006C

The export controls that the U.S. has put on Russia will make it very difficult for the Russian military to reconstitute their standoff munitions and precision guided munitions, he added.

Although Russian ambitions are a threat to the free world, China remains the department's pacing challenge, he said.

"China is really the only country with both the intent and the capability to systemically challenge the United States militarily, politically, diplomatically, economically, technologically--kind of across the board. And that is true not just in the moment, but for the foreseeable future," he said.

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