Last year, the United States provided roughly $30 billion in military aid to Ukraine: 32 packages under the Presidential Authorization Program, when weapons are taken directly from U.S. stockpiles, and 10 under the Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative, when equipment is ordered from a manufacturer. The Pentagon says: at each stage of the war, they tried to prioritize the weapons most relevant at that time. On the eve of the anniversary of the full-scale invasion, US Deputy Defense Secretary Colin Kohl gave an exclusive interview to Voice of America, where he told whether Ukraine will receive ATACMS and F-16s, whether the Russian spring offensive could be effective, and why, according to the Pentagon, Russia already lost
Yulia Yarmolenko, Voice of America: Mr. Kol, thank you for agreeing to the interview. During his visit to Kyiv, President [Joe] Biden announced a new military aid package that includes more of the same systems that the US already provides to Ukraine. Or, according to the Pentagon, it is this weapon that will be most effective now, especially in countering the spring offensive? Which of these weapons will be the most effective?
Colin Kohl, US Deputy Secretary of Defense: Thank you for the invitation. As of today, we have already provided 32 assistance packages under the presidential powers program, and another 10 – under the initiative of the Promotion of Security of Ukraine. In total – by 30 billion dollars since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
At each stage, we tried to prioritize the weapons that were most relevant at the time. Therefore, at the beginning, we gave preference to anti-tank systems, MANPADS. This really allowed the Ukrainians to repel the Russians in the battle for Kyiv. And when things moved east, and turned into an artillery duel, we invested heavily in howitzers and HIMARS.
Air defense became our priority in the fall and winter, not least because of Russia’s attempts to destroy the energy infrastructure. And then we started building up Ukrainian mechanized and armored capabilities. And these are the capabilities that, when the weather changes, we hope will allow the Ukrainians to change the dynamics on the battlefield. Some of the things announced, including more Javelins, will also help. But really, a lot of the systems that we’ve invested in over the past few months — the Bradleys, the Strykers, the tanks promised by the partners — I think those systems will have a bigger impact.
Yu.Ya.: President Zelenskyi said on Monday that in a conversation with President Biden, they discussed the provision of long-range weapons. Is the provision of ATACMS still under consideration, and when does the Pentagon think it would be more appropriate to provide these systems, if not now?
We believe that there are targets in the so-called “military rear” where HIMARS cannot reach. But we believe that Ukrainians have a number of capabilities that can reach such goals
KK: I won’t speculate on whether or when ATACMS is being considered. I’ll just say this. We believe that there are targets in the so-called Russian “military rear” where HIMARS cannot reach. But we believe that Ukrainians have a number of capabilities that can reach such goals. Much attention is focused on ATACMS, which can be launched from HIMAR systems, but there are other capabilities in the hands of the Ukrainians to reach targets in the military rear. Therefore, we will help them think it through as best we can. But I think they will have the capabilities they need.
Yu.Ya.: What capabilities are you talking about? Are we talking about small-diameter bombs? If so, when will the Ukrainians be able to get them, because it was about a longer perspective? And again, does the transfer of ATACMS remain possible?
KK: They have a number of strike drones that can engage targets “in depth”. There are also some creative ways to use the available options, which I won’t go into, to achieve long-term effects.
You mentioned the small-diameter ground-launched bomb – its actual delivery is still months away. Look, I have no doubt that Ukrainians will continue to raise the issue of ATACMS. We will see where our estimates and their priorities converge. We also have to consider other factors, including what reserves are required by other contingencies around the world. And ATACMS are systems that we will need in many other places. And their number is not unlimited. So now we’re focused on helping Ukrainians think through how they can use the opportunities they have to create deeper impacts.
Yu.Ya.: There are criticisms that the United States and partners are waiting too long before providing the necessary weapons. As it was with the Javelin before the invasion, and now with the Patriot and tanks. What is your answer to this?
If you had told me a year ago that we would be able to provide $30 billion in military aid in a year, I would have said you were crazy….What we have been able to do – in terms of volume and speed – is a miracle
KK: First of all, if you had told me a year ago that we would be able to provide $30 billion in military aid in a year, I would have said you were crazy. Because I used to work in the Pentagon and in the bureaucracy. What we have been able to do – in terms of volume and speed – is a miracle. This is a miracle. I understand that if you are in Ukraine, you are fighting for your life – nothing will seem enough and fast enough. And I do not condemn them. This is a struggle for existence. But when the president signs these aid packages from our own stockpiles, the weapons, in many cases, arrive in a matter of days. And at each stage of the conflict, we made choices about what was the highest priority.
I’ll give you an example: We spent $30 billion, but of course Congress didn’t immediately give us $30 billion at the start of the war. They gave us extra money and we spent every dollar that Congress generously gave us. But we had to make a choice, because money is not infinite. Why didn’t we deliver Patriot on day one? A Patriot battery costs a billion dollars, a billion dollars per battery. It takes over 12 weeks to train and also time to deliver it to the location. And it’s a very, very powerful system, but it essentially protects one place. So, at the beginning of the conflict, was it wiser to spend a billion dollars on a Patriot system that would arrive in 12 weeks and be able to defend one site, or to spend that billion on Stingers, which allowed the Ukrainians to effectively checkmate Russian helicopters, planes and drones, which flew at low altitude? The answer to this question is obvious: priority is given to short-range portable air defense systems.
Tanks are another example. Why not give them tanks right from the start? The M1 Abrams tank is very expensive, very difficult to maintain, and takes weeks and weeks to train. So at the beginning of the war, we could give them tanks, or we could give them Javelin anti-tank systems, which made it possible to destroy the Russian convoys coming from Belarus. So I understand. People would like us to spend 30 billion, maybe 50 or 100 billion, and give it right away. But the reality is that American taxpayers are extremely generous, and we’ve spent every dollar that Congress has given us on priorities at one time or another.
Y.Y.: Speaking of Patriot and Abrams, can you tell us at what stage the training programs on these systems are at?
Training on the Patriot is almost complete. And I think that everything is according to plan, so that the work of this system can be deployed already in the spring
KK: Training on the Patriot is almost complete. And I think that everything is according to plan, so that the work of this system can be deployed already in the spring. As for training on the M1 Abrams, training on American tanks has not yet begun, but training on Leopard tanks has begun. In fact, it is the Leopard tanks that can be delivered in a more reasonable time. So the Germans and other European allies are working on this preparation. Meanwhile, the US trains Ukrainian units in the use of Bradley and Stryker combat vehicles. The Minister of Defense has just been to Grafenwehr to observe this exercise. That’s why the training is in full swing.
Yu.Ya.: The Ukrainians continue to promote the idea of transferring the F-16. Is this possible?
KK: This is a very good example of what we were just talking about. Would it be useful for Ukraine to have fourth-generation fighters? At some point, definitely yes. Given Russia’s air defense capabilities, I don’t think a fourth generation fighter would be decisive at this point.
We are really focused on…so that Ukraine can protect its cities, protect its troops from Iranian drones, Russian cruise missiles and other air attacks. My guess is that talk of fourth-generation fighters will continue
And when it comes to air defense priorities, Ukrainian officials would say that their number one priority is to make sure that their air defense systems can continue to be operational by providing them with additional systems and additional interceptors. So we’re really focused on that part, which is for Ukraine to be able to defend its cities, defend its troops against Iranian drones, Russian cruise missiles and other air attacks. My guess is that talk of fourth-generation fighters will continue.
YU: Given that training on Western systems takes a long time, isn’t now a good time to start training on the F-16 so that when the Western countries decide to provide them, the pilots will be ready?
KK: We have already seen some announcements from Great Britain about training on fourth-generation fighters, other allies and partners may want to follow suit. But the US government has not yet made such a decision.
Yu.Ya.: We touched a little on the topic of the Russian spring offensive. In your opinion, does Russia have the capabilities to really launch an effective offensive?
I believe that the “big offensive” that everyone is talking about has already started, but it is not very consistent, and is unlikely to be effective
KK: I don’t think so. First, I believe that the “big offensive” that everyone is talking about has already started, but it is not very consistent, and it is unlikely to be effective. What the Russians are doing is just throwing bodies at the problem. I call it the “bahmutization” of the conflict, where they throw away hundreds of lives every day to get some extra gains that aren’t strategically important.
I think we can expect that to continue, I think that Gerasimov, since he replaced Surovikin [as commander of Russian forces in Ukraine], has been selling Putin on what Russia can achieve. I don’t see how the Russians can make major offensive gains in the coming months. But I think they will continue to throw bodies at the problem. Therefore, the main thing is not that the Ukrainians fight back, like the Russians, but that the Ukrainians fight differently and change the dynamics on the front line. And I think that’s what a lot of people are focused on when it comes to applying some of the new capabilities in armored vehicles.
Y.Ya.: Could you clarify something for us? What is the current policy of the US Department of Defense: to help Ukraine defend its territories, or to help Ukraine win this war, which means taking back all its territories, including Crimea?
Ukrainians have to decide what their territorial ambitions are when it comes to their sovereign territory. And our policy is to make this struggle possible
KK: First of all, there is no policy of the Ministry of Defense, there is a policy of the US government. And this policy remains very consistent: we will not define what constitutes victory. Ukrainians will determine this. Certainly, Russia occupied 20 or 25 percent of Ukraine. They absorbed part of Ukraine in 2014, seizing and illegally annexing Crimea and starting a separatist movement in Donbas. Now they hold a little more territory in the similar and south. Ukrainians certainly have a legal right to want these territories back. And as the president said, we will be with them as long as it takes. But Ukrainians have to decide what their territorial ambitions are when it comes to their sovereign territory. And our policy is to make this struggle possible.
Yu.Ya.: But the Ukrainians have decided, and President Zelenskyi clearly states this: he says that victory will be the return of all Ukrainian territories, including Crimea. Does the American government support this, and does America believe in the victory of Ukraine?
K.K.: Ukraine is a democracy. Zelenskyi was elected by the people, and he has the overwhelming support of his people. His government and Ukrainians will decide what constitutes a victory. It would be the height of arrogance for the US to tell Ukraine what victory looks like. They will define their goals. And in accordance with them, they will determine the priority list of necessary assistance. We will see what we can provide, when, in what terms, to make them as effective as possible. But we will not tell them what their victory is.
Yu.Ya.: If Ukraine’s goal is to return Crimea, do you support it?
K.K.: Crimea is Ukraine. And I think that in the near future, this is a rather hypothetical question, because, of course, there are many Russian-occupied territories in the south, between the mainland of Ukraine and Crimea. So I don’t know if we’re done discussing this. But in the end, Crimea is Ukraine.
Yu.Ya.: A year has passed since Russia launched a full-scale war against Ukraine. What is the main conclusion you have made for yourself after this year?
My main conclusion is that Putin miscalculated at every stage of the conflict
K.K.:In fact, my main conclusion is that Putin miscalculated at every stage of the conflict. He miscalculated the will, stability, capacity and determination of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the United States, the West and the wider international community. And he overestimated his own strength and his own strategic acumen. And there are many uncertainties in this war. But I think one thing is clear as day. And this is what Russia has already lost. Russia wanted to absorb all of Ukraine into the new Russian Empire. This did not happen and will not happen. Putin wanted to overthrow the government in Kyiv, he wanted to destroy Ukraine as an independent state, destroy its democracy – but sovereign independent democratic Ukraine will endure. He wanted to divide NATO – NATO more than ever. He wanted to Finlandize NATO – instead, he NATOizes Finland. He wanted to get out of this conflict by showing that Russia is the second best army in the world and a major power in the new multipolar world – and instead Russia will come out of this war defeated in terms of its military power. So I don’t know what the final outcome of the war will be. But from the point of view of Putin’s strategic goals, he has already lost.
Yu.Ya.: Thank you very much.
KK: Thank you.
Source : Голос Америки