After months of stalemate, Ukraine's military says it's gaining ground in the embattled southern city of Bakhmut.
In recent days, Russian troops have pulled back and Ukrainian forces have advanced more than a mile, according to Ukrainian officials. The Russian Defense Ministry, however, denies this.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the United States announced an additional $1.2 billion in military assistance for Ukraine.
To get more perspective on US support for Ukraine, The World's Daniel Ofman spoke with US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink in the capital Kyiv.
Daniel Ofman: For months now, there's been a lot of speculation about the Ukrainian counteroffensive. What can Americans listening at home expect from Ukraine's counteroffensive? What are you looking for?
Ambassador Bridget Brink: I would just say that it is one aspect of this war, and I think it's important for us to put it in the perspective of our efforts to enable Ukraine to push out and fight against the Russians that have invaded this country, that have tried to change the borders of Ukraine by force. So, I think that there will be a more kinetic period as the counteroffensive continues and moves into this phase. We also spent the whole winter in a very kinetic period where we actually had to move to bunkers almost 30 times because of massive missile and drone strikes. And I anticipate that we will just continue to do what we're doing, which is to support Ukraine in every way possible so that they can continue to liberate and take back their territory.
How do you and, by extension, the United States define victory for Ukraine?
Well, President [Joe] Biden has said all along that it will be up to President [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy as to when he decides to stop fighting and that all negotiations, all wars eventually come to some kind of end. And that decision is with the elected representative, the president of this country, and that our job is to support Ukraine in every way possible to enable them to take back as much territory as possible. So, when they do get to that point, they're in the best possible position at the negotiating table.
And are you concerned about war fatigue back in the United States?
I can say that from the level and frequency of visitors that we get here from our own government, our president, nine members of our Cabinet, a multitude of people under that level, as well as 40-plus members of Congress, I see no break in support and desire to ensure that we do everything possible to help Ukraine prevail.
Still, Americans are very familiar with long and drawn-out wars. Are you worried that, after a certain amount of time, people will say, "OK, how long is this going to go on? What are the results of our taxpayer money going here to Ukraine?"
It's certainly a question. But what I would say in being here is that this war is very important, of course, to the Ukrainians. It's an existential fight for their future, for their freedom. But it also is very important to the United States for many reasons. No. 1, our longstanding principle, and something which I have been a public servant for over 25 years promoting, is in support of freedom. This is ultimately a fight for freedom. No. 2, it's also a moral question to support Ukraine against what is a clear example of attacks on a country, not just a military attack, but attacks on people such as the critical civilian infrastructure, the energy grid, which would affect millions of people. Sexual violence at a level we have not seen in Europe in a very long time. Attacks which include stealing children from their families and filtrating them to Russia, attacks which include war crimes and atrocities that are unspeakable and not anything that we have seen since World War II in Europe.
So, I would say that the moral clarity of this is also a very important point and something that Americans really understand. I also believe there are tremendous impacts to this war on the economic side. So, obviously there's the grain impact, which is influencing and increasing prices of wheat around the world. But there also is the impact on energy and energy prices and Russia's use of energy as a weapon. In addition to even the economic impacts, there are ways in which Russia is fighting this war on the disinformation side, not just in Ukraine, but in Europe and also in America, which are very dangerous to our democracy. And then finally, there's a strategic reason that ultimately is very important to us in the United States, and that is, if we allow Russia to change borders by force, it potentially opens up instability all around the world.
Wars, armed conflicts, they tend to end at the negotiating table. How will the US know that it's time to negotiate?
So, President Biden has said that it's up to President Zelenskiy to decide when he would start negotiations. That time isn't yet.
Is the US making plans, though, in order to aid Ukraine in negotiations, facilitate negotiations? Because at a certain point, this likely will happen.
I would say that we are in support of the Ukrainian vision on the future. And so, we will do what we can to support them when that time comes.
So, we've seen this trend. We have seen time after time Ukraine asking for howitzers, then HIMARS. And after some time, the US would end up providing these weapons that the US beforehand was reluctant to provide. So, why the lagging behind? If Ukraine says we need weapon X in order to be successful on the battlefield, why this kind of lag in the US providing the weapons that they ask for?
I mean, I would maybe look at it in a little different way, that I think we have provided something, I think, along the lines of $36 billion worth of security assistance in the last year in a very fast and dynamic fashion in a way that is more than any other partner. So, I'm quite proud of what we have provided, to include advanced weaponry, that was not something that was even being considered a couple of years ago. So, I think we've been extraordinarily fast and extraordinarily nimble.
How about when it comes to F-16s? This is something that President Zelenskiy has been very vocal about in terms of fighter jets. Has the US moved when it comes to F-16s or other fighter jets that the Ukrainians are asking for?
I can say that under discussion are many different capabilities. And also under discussion is how and when we could provide or support various capabilities for the Ukrainians. And so, obviously, it's a lot to take on in one time. But I am very proud of what we've been able to provide. And I know that we will continue to adapt as the Ukrainian battlefield requires.
As you've noted, the US has provided tens of billions of dollars in support, military support, but just regular aid as well. How do you make sure that that money is used wisely and is accounted for?
Well, from day one, accountability for all US assistance has been, and is, one of my very top priorities. It's something I publicly said when I was first credentialed by the president and something that I have a whole team of people working on here. Essentially, we are required by law and regulation to take certain steps to account for US assistance. And I can say that I worked closely with my team to make sure that we are doing everything that we can. In addition, we have multiple offices of the inspector general who also advise us and oversee us as well as the Ukrainians. And this is how we are making sure that every penny of taxpayer assistance is being used in an appropriate way as intended.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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