US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had given up on the conquest of Kiev after his troops were solidly repulsed by the Ukrainian army.
“Putin thought he could take over the land of Ukraine very quickly, capture this capital very quickly. He was wrong,” Austin told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Congress.
“I think Putin has given up his efforts to conquer the capital and is now focusing on the south and east of the country,” Austin said.
But the path of the total war, six weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, remains uncertain, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told the same hearing.
For Ukraine to “win” the battle, it must remain a free and independent nation, with its recognized territory intact, he said.
“That’s going to be very difficult. That’s going to be a long battle,” Milley said.
“The first part of it was probably fought successfully,” he said of the war that began on February 24.
“But there is still a major battle ahead in the southeast, down around the Donbas region, where the Russians aim to create massive forces and continue their attack,” he said.
“So I think it’s an open question now how this ends.”
Austin told a panel of lawmakers that the United States is providing intelligence to Ukraine’s military to support its fight in the Donbas, where Moscow-backed sessionists have been fighting over government forces since 2014 and now have the direct support of Russian troops.
But Milley said the fighting in that area would be difficult, and that in order to try to drive out the Russians, Ukraine would probably need more weapons support, such as tanks.
“The battle in the southeast – the terrain is different than in the north,” Milley explained.
“It is much more open and lends itself to armored, mechanized offensive operations, on both sides. And so those are the systems they are looking for,” he said.
“They are asking for and they can probably use extra weapons and artillery,” he said.
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