Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is “nervous” about the current state of the war in Ukraine, saying that the “stalemated” conflict could raise concern about Ukraine’s ability to hold their ground on the battlefield.
“It’s been basically stuck for several months and that makes me nervous,” McFaul told former Obama adviser David Axelrod on Thursday’s podcast episode of the Axe Files. “That makes me nervous about the ability of the Ukrainians to hold on and to keep us engaged in the long haul.”
It’s been more than a year since Russia invaded Ukraine and while Ukrainian resistance has been able to fend off the Kremlin offensives, Russia’s recently made some gains in the Bakhmut region on the frontlines of the war.
On Thursday, Russia launched a broad hypersonic strike, involving 81 missiles, in one of the largest aerial attacks in weeks. More than half of those missiles hit their target, suggesting that Moscow has been able to improve its success rate through the new long-range Kinzhal missiles.
Kinzhals were originally developed to help Russia breach American anti-missile defense systems. The U.S. is currently racing to develop and deploy similar hypersonic missiles.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech in Moscow on March 8, 2023. Inset: Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul listens during a panel discussion at a dinner of the 2022 House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference on March 10, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Mikhail Metzel/Alex Wong/Sputnik
McFaul, who served under the Obama administration for five years, said that while he applauded the Biden administration on its response to the war, the battle is not over.
“Nobody remembers who was winning the war in the first year, they remember who won the war in the last year,” McFaul said, adding that Ukrainians themselves need the conflict to be resolved quickly.
“The Ukrainians don’t believe time is on their side,” the former ambassador said. “They don’t want a long war because they don’t think they can sustain a long war—one because they’re going to run out of soldiers and two they’re worried they’e going to run out of support from the West.”
Considering the Ukrainian’s own outlook on the war, McFaul said the Biden administration should be doing more to help Ukraine defend itself.
Although some have expressed concerns over Ukraine’s ability to stave off Moscow for an extended period of time, U.S. intelligence officials say Russia is unlikely to make any “major” gains unless it receives an influx of weapons from China or announces another a new draft of soldiers.
Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that the “incremental” progress Russia has made has not be “strategic,” thus resulting in personnel and ammunition shortages for Moscow.
“If Russia does not institute a mandatory mobilization and identify substantial third-party ammunition supplies, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain even the current level of offensive operations,” Haines told lawmakers. “We don’t see the Russian military recovering enough this year to make major territorial gains.”
However, like McFaul mentioned, Haines said time will be a key factor in the outcome of the war.
“Putin most likely calculates the time works in his favor and that prolonging the war, including with potential pauses in the fighting, may be his best remaining pathway to eventually securing Russia’s strategic interests in Ukraine, even if it takes years,” she said.