Ukraine's Success Was a Surprise Only to the Russians

Ukraine’s success in its counteroffensive against the Russian invasion did not surprise its allies and partners, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

“I think if anyone was surprised, just based on the reports that we’ve seen in terms of the Russian military’s response, it was probably the Russians,” he said. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told reporters that Ukrainian service members had liberated more than 2,300 square miles of the country from the Russians. The president said Ukrainian troops are pressing Russian forces northeast of Kharkiv and many of the invaders have fled across the border into Russia.  

“Certainly, since the beginning of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, we’ve seen the Ukrainians demonstrate a remarkable adaptability and their ability to use their warfighting capabilities to great effect,” Ryder said during a Pentagon news conference. “So, it’s not surprising to us that they have pushed as quickly as they have.” 

The Ukrainian military also took advantage of military opportunities that presented themselves on the battlefield. The Kharkiv counteroffensive is proof of that, the general said. 

Western weapons and supplies played a part in the success of the counteroffensive and at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and counterparts from nearly 50 other nations pledged to keep the supply chain moving and increase aid that can be applied to mid-term and long-term Ukrainian defenses, Ryder said.

Russians unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a challenge to the international rules-based order that has prevented wars among major powers since the end of World War II.

Countering Russia requires a mix of aid that will make a difference today, and aid that presents Ukraine the capabilities it will need to fight and/or deter Russia in the future, defense officials have said. 

“Secretary Austin and other U.S. government leaders continue to regularly engage with our Ukrainian counterparts,” Ryder said during the press conference. “I think last week’s meeting at Ramstein is a good example of how seriously we’re taking this and that we are constantly engaged in a dialogue to determine what are the needs of our Ukrainian partners, based on the conditions on the ground.” 

In the counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces are using the equipment they have to great effect, and they have changed the dynamics on the battlefield, the general said. The Ukrainian military also has learned as the conflict has continued. The Ukrainian military adopted the NATO battle tactics, embracing combined arms as a way of war. The Ukrainian military has been able to adapt older, Soviet-era military equipment with these new tactics and outfight the Russians. Ukrainian service members also learned western systems like the M777 howitzers and HIMARS and drones and more and were able to use them with the older systems and integrate them into the battle tactics they are using.

“It is just that remarkable adaptability on the battlefield to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that exist to use not only equipment that they’ve already had in their inventory, but the equipment that has been provided to them by the U.S. and other international partners,” Ryder said. “So, it is very evident that they continue to figure out ways to fight.”

The fifth Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base last week is indicative of a global effort to support Ukraine and defend the rules-based order. Russia is isolated. This isolation is exemplified by the fact that the only two countries that have supplied arms to Russia are Iran and North Korea. 

War is uncertain, but right now, “Ukraine continues to use the aid provided by the United States and other international partners to great effect on the battlefield in their fight to defend their country,” Ryder said.

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