Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a news conference in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Dec. 12, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a news conference in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Dec. 12, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. wants Ukraine to sharpen its plan for fighting Russia’s invasion as the war heads into its third year and is expected to raise the issue with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Davos next week.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is likely to bring up the topic with the Ukrainian leader on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum and American officials will continue to push the point in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the planning who asked not to be identified to discuss matters that aren’t public.

Washington’s effort is the latest sign of friction between Ukraine and its most important ally. More than $110 billion in European and U.S. aid for Kyiv remains held up and Ukraine’s counteroffensive last year — heavily backed by U.S. and European arms and training — failed to deliver a major breakthrough.

Officials in Washington are concerned differences between Zelenskyy and his army chief, Valeriy Zaluzhny, are slowing efforts to crystallize a new strategy, the people said.

Spokespeople for the White House National Security Council declined to comment.

Zelenskyy warned Wednesday that allied hesitancy “only increases Russia’s courage and strength.” Speaking in Lithuania, he warned that air defenses are running short as Russia has stepped up missile strikes in recent weeks.

Allied officials remain hopeful the aid may be released by next month, the people said, though there’s no sign of a deal in Washington yet.

Ukraine’s military is currently developing plans for 2024 and a full range of options are under consideration, one of the people said. The U.S. wants to determine how it can best align its support to help Ukraine defend itself in the coming year, the person added.

Zelenskyy, who is on a trip to NATO’s three Baltic states, ruled out on Thursday any pause in fighting as it would give Russia the opportunity to replenish its troops and military stockpiles, enabling it to strike with greater force. With a decisive breakthrough unlikely in the coming months, Kyiv’s allies say designing a clear military strategy for how to defend current positions and then break through Russian lines is crucial.

Kyiv tensions

Tensions between Zelenskyy and his military chief emerged in November when Zaluzhny publicly described the war as having reached a stalemate, irritating the president, who has repeatedly pledged to drive Russian forces from his territory. Zaluzhny later walked back the comments, but stresses have remained despite official assertions the leadership is unified.

The two have been at odds over the need to lower the draft age in order to rebuild the ranks of the military, where losses have been heavy.

In December, Zaluzhny criticized the slow pace of conscription after Zelenskyy delayed signing a bill that would have lowered the recruitment age. The cabinet has since submitted a new draft bill to parliament. Zelenskyy has indicated that Ukraine’s military leaders have asked to mobilize as many as 500,000 people.

Lawmakers discussing the draft bill this week sent it back to the cabinet on Thursday together with their proposals, David Arakhamiya, a member of parliament from Zelenskyy’s party, said on Telegram.

“We understand the request of the military leadership and we are ready to play ball. All political forces understand and support the need of mobilization,” Arakhamiya said. “But not everything can be backed as some articles violate human rights, some are not formulated in the best way.” No time frame was given for when the draft law will be re-submitted to parliament.

To be sure, Kyiv’s efforts to make progress on the front lines have in part been hampered by the slow delivery of key supplies, such as longer-range missiles and fighter jets, and some allied states are falling short in fulfilling pledges they made to provide Ukraine with more weapons and artillery ammunition.

In recent weeks, Russia has fired some of its largest missile barrages of the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin may become even bolder once the formality of his reelection is out of the way in March, according to an assessment by one Group of Seven member.

Ukraine’s air defenses, in particular, depend on steady supplies from Western allies.

Aid stalled

The U.S. and its G-7 allies are also working with Ukraine to finalize longer term bilateral security commitments, which they’re hoping to conclude in the next month, the people said.

The Biden administration’s request for $61 billion in aid to Ukraine for this year has been stalled for months amid Republican opposition in Congress, including calls for more clarity on Ukraine’s plans for keeping up the fight.

“We need to know what their plan is and I’m sure that’s what the administration is pushing for as well,” Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst said Wednesday. “They can’t clearly speak to what winning looks like.”

The U.S. and Ukraine have differed on military strategy before. American officials would have preferred Ukraine focus last year’s counteroffensive on concentrated efforts to punch through Russian lines in southern Ukraine rather than stretch its resources across a larger front.

Kyiv — and some other allies — believe Ukraine’s approach of working to wear down Russian forces and supplies was the right one, given that it didn’t have air cover and would have struggled to sustain the losses that attacking without it would have caused.

With assistance from Natalia Drozdiak, Daryna Krasnolutska and Ott Tammik.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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