Ukrainian soldiers man artillery guns in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on April 24, 2023.

Ukrainian soldiers man artillery guns in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on April 24, 2023. Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

US ‘Very Confident’ Ukraine Has What It Needs For Counteroffensive

And China is paying a cost for its support of Russia’s aggression, U.S. Europe Command says.

Ukraine has what it needs for the counteroffensive it is expected to begin within weeks, the leader of U.S. European Command told lawmakers on Wednesday.

“Over 98 percent of the combat vehicles [the United States has recently promised Ukraine] are already there,” Gen. Chris Cavoli said at a hearing of the House Armed Services committee. “I am very confident that we have delivered the materiel that they need and will continue a pipeline to sustain their operations as well.”

That statement comes after a series of leaks revealed Pentagon leaders’ concerns that the counter-offensive could fall short of expectations and that Ukraine was on the verge of depleting key artillery stockpiles. 

Lawmakers also grilled Cavoli and Celeste Wallander, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs about why Ukraine wasn’t getting more military aid more quickly, such as F-16s and especially cluster munitions. 

On fighter jets, Wallander reiterated a familiar line: They aren’t a top priority. “Western modern aircraft is about eighth on the list” of Ukraine’s pressing war needs, she said. “We have focused resources on the highest priority capabilities, and that has been Air Defense Artillery and armor.”

On the possibility of giving cluster munitions to Ukraine, Cavoli described them as “a very effective munition. It's very effective against mixed targets of personnel and equipment, especially when those targets are gathered into dense formations.” But neither the Pentagon or the White House have responded publicly to Ukrainian requests for cluster shells. 

When one lawmaker pointed out that dense formations of mixed targets is a good characterization of the Russian forces around Bakhmut right now, Cavoli responded that the characterization was accurate. “It happens on most battlefields when one force goes on to the offense. So, as a strictly military matter, it is a useful and very effective munition.”

Pentagon: China’s support of Russia comes with a price

Chinese support for Russia’s war in Ukraine has helped the Kremlin continue to launch attacks, but that support has cost Beijing, Cavoli and Wallander told lawmakers.

China's diplomatic, political, and moral support for Russia “appears increasingly to be an uneven bromance…in which Russia could become the junior partner, but it is nevertheless a dangerous development or development of significant concern,” Cavoli said. “Our European allies have spotted this, have noticed this, and—with the encouragement of the United States and their own observations—are taking significant actions to limit the increasing influence and malign influence where it exists of the PRC inside Europe,” he said. 

Wallander agreed. For years, the United States had been warning allies, particularly in central Europe, that trade agreements with China were more trouble than they are worth, given the way China uses loans to extract political concessions. Many countries in Europe who made up the so-called 17+1 mechanism were still open to establishing trade and financial ties with China. But China’s support for Russia’s war has hurt the appeal of Chinese investment.  

“We have seen a change. Three of the countries [Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia] who've been members of the 17 + 1 arrangement by which China was seeking to build those kinds of dependencies through trade investment have actually…quit that structure, recognizing the challenges that China poses, the vulnerabilities that it seeks to create, and successfully often creates through technology, through problematic investment contracts, through acquisition of companies, imports. And so there is a greater awareness among European countries that, even as they trade with China, that they need to not allow themselves to become vulnerable to coercion,” she said. 

NATO’s reinforced eastern flank

Just before Russia’s expanded invasion in February 2022, the United States was already moving more forces into Eastern Europe. Now, the U.S. has “just shy of 20,000 deployed service personnel who are not normally stationed in Europe [deployed] forward in Europe,” Cavoli said. “We have all of the Army V Corps headquarters formed. We have two division headquarters, and we have five brigade combat teams” in places like Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia. He said his command also has a “large amount in Poland and each of the three Baltic countries”: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Cavoli also serves as Supreme Allied Commander of Europe. In that capacity, “I have over 40,000 troops turned over to my command right now. And nations are prepared to add more with regard to what else we can do to help Ukraine,” he said. 

The ascension of Finland into NATO will provide the alliance with new capabilities, Cavoli noted. 

“Finland brings a large army at full mobilization, 280,000 ground troops. [It] brings a very competent Navy, brings a large and growing Air Force. They're in the process of acquiring 64 F-35 [joint strike fighter aircraft] which will create 250 fifth-generation fighters across the northern three Scandinavian countries,” he said. 

Cavoli said the alliance is also working to better integrate those countries into a unified air defense regime. 

“We are in year three of a five-year special security cooperation initiative for integrated air and missile defense in the Baltics,” he said. “The first phase of that was to lay down the communications networks, and the secure communications necessary. That's been done. We're now in the phase where we lay out more sensors and importantly, integrate those sensors. We're doing pretty well with that. Phase three will be the last year of the five-year plan, and that is to put actual weapons systems in separately from that.”

When NATO leaders gather in July in Lithuania, Cavoli expects to discuss a “special air defense plan that will help us drive forward the rest of the Baltic Iand program.”

When asked if that was enough to meet the current threat, he responded: “We're resourced against the requirement we have right now. Should the situation change we're prepared to recommend different levels of posture.”