- JUNE 26: Sen. Angus King (I-ME) speaks with reporters following the weekly policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol June 26, 2018 in Washington, DC.

- JUNE 26: Sen. Angus King (I-ME) speaks with reporters following the weekly policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol June 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Ukraine Needs US Help in Fighting Two Wars, Sen. King Says

The Maine independent recently returned from meetings with leaders in Ukraine.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has effectively become a World War I-style trench war in the Eastern portion of Bakhmut and Soledar, but elsewhere it remains a struggle for daily survival amid Russian drone and missile attacks, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in a Tuesday interview. 

That’s why the United States must continue to provide air defenses and ramp up training for combined arms operations, said King, who just returned from meetings with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and military leaders in Ukraine. 

“There are really two wars going on in Ukraine at the same time,” he said: the artillery campaign aimed at civilian infrastructure and the slow-moving trench fight near Bakhmut.

Air defense is key to the first war, King said. “That's why the Patriot missiles that were announced on Friday…that's a big deal.” 

As well, “they needed equipment that would help them with this grinding war in the east,” he said. “That's the Bradley Fighting Vehicles that were also part of the drawdown on Friday. There's also this work they've done on additional mobile weapons systems, from other countries in NATO.” 

In addition to the Bradleys and the AMX-10 RC armored combat vehicles that France has said it will send, pressure has grown on Germany to provide Leopard tanks, possibly opening the door for other countries to provide similar ground armor. 

But none of that equipment will be available immediately. On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Gen. Pat Ryder said the Bradleys won’t arrive in Ukraine for several more weeks. Meanwhile, around 100 Ukrainians will train on the Patriot system at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill over the course of “several months.” Germany will also donate a Patriot missile battery and will train Ukrainians there. 

Why is the fighting in Bakhmut and Soledar so particularly intense? A senior military official on Monday told reporters that Russia is using poorly trained conscripts and mercenaries drawn from prison populations as essentially cannon fodder. 

“They have these rolling volleys of artillery fire, and then the Russians...will follow that with all sorts of people that are not their best fighters. So read, you know, the prisoners from Wagner Group, read mobilized soldiers. And then once those folks go up and, you know, essentially take the brunt of whatever Ukrainian response there is, then you have better-trained forces that move behind them to claim the ground that these individuals have walked over,” the officials said.

Ukrainian military intelligence officials have said that Russia might soon mobilize an additional 500,000 conscripts.

What leverage can lawmakers exert over Russia? King pointed to the sanctions that have already passed and new sanctions on their way, such as a provision he sponsored in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act that targets Russia’s $127 billion in gold reserves. 

But King also expressed skepticism about many other types of sanctions that hurt populations of targeted countries but that don’t hit leaders. 

“The problem with dealing with an autocrat is that he's always going to get his caviar,” he said. “What's happening to the broad swath of the population doesn't necessarily translate into a political problem, because they don't really get a voice. So I've always been skeptical of the efficacy of sanctions against [dictators].”