Washington, D.C. – Colin Kahl spoke about the war in Ukraine and the pacing challenge of China at the Center for a New American Security’s National Security Conference today.
“[Russian President] Vladimir Putin went into this war seeking to gobble Ukraine up. … I think he envisioned some kind of a thunder run to Kyiv that would change the regime. The Russians were badly defeated in the battle of Kyiv. They’ve also been pushed out of Kharkiv,” he said.
In the south and east, the Russians have been making incremental gains, but they are not sweeping through Ukrainian defenses as they had hoped to do, Kahl said.
Putin has mentioned imperial ambitions and seeking to reconstitute what he thinks is a glorious past of the Russian empire, Kahl said.
That’s unlikely, he said. “The Ukrainians are holding tough. I do not think the Russians have the capacity to achieve those grandiose objectives.”
The nature of the fight has shifted to an artillery duel, he said. That is why the Defense Department is supplying M-777 artillery to Ukrainian forces and is in the process of training their forces on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.
The munitions for the M-777 being provided have a range of around 70 kilometers, he said. “That will be useful to allow the Ukrainians to have more standoff. We expect those systems to get into the fight soon and we’re committed to continuing the flow of those munitions and I know other allies and partners are too.”
Kahl also mentioned that U.S., ally, and partner nations’ sanctions on Russia are having an effect. “This year will wipe out the last 15 years of economic growth in Russia and the impact of sanctions are only getting started.”
The export controls that the U.S. has put on Russia will make it very difficult for the Russian military to reconstitute their standoff munitions and precision-guided munitions, he added.
Although Russian ambitions are a threat to the free world, China remains the department’s pacing challenge, he said.
“China is really the only country with both the intent and the capability to systemically challenge the United States militarily, politically, diplomatically, economically, technologically–kind of across the board. And that is true not just in the moment, but for the foreseeable future,” he said.