Pentagon Faces Congressional Pressure to Free Up More Aid for Ukraine
A bipartisan group of senators is looking to free up more assistance for Ukraine by pushing the Pentagon to reassess its requirements for a potential war with Russia’s now-degraded military. Four Senate Armed Services Committee members sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urging his department to “undertake an urgent and comprehensive update to its warfighting requirements for confronting Russia in Europe.”
As the senators noted, Russia’s military has lost enormous quantities of men and materiel during its war in Ukraine. While Moscow could theoretically still mount a relatively small-scale attack against NATO in Eastern Europe, the Russian military will likely need years to restore its pre-war strength. Yet, the Department of Defense “has not reassessed its European theater warfighting requirements since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and does not anticipate significantly changing them until FY2026,” the senators asserted.
For months, Pentagon officials have pointed to Russia-related munitions requirements to justify the Biden administration’s decision not to provide certain munitions to Kyiv, causing frustration on Capitol Hill. In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Defense Department would review its requirements. But the senators’ letter suggests that the assessment hasn’t taken place.
U.S. officials have falsely claimed the American military cannot spare any Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS). This system would allow Ukrainian forces to strike high-value Russian military targets far beyond the range of their current rocket artillery, degrading Russia’s ability to resist Ukraine’s coming counteroffensive. The administration’s contention seems intended to cover for the White House’s true reason not to send ATACMS to Kyiv: fear of Russian escalation.
Pentagon officials have reportedly also said that warfighting requirements restrict donations of other munitions, including 155mm artillery shells, on which Ukraine is running desperately low. This concern seems more understandable. Having already pledged more than 1.5 million 155mm shells to Kyiv, Washington’s stockpiles are dwindling. But given the degraded state of Russia’s military, which has also depleted its own artillery ammunition stocks, the United States may have more room to spare — especially since Ukraine would use the shells to further attrit Russian forces. The Pentagon intends to increase shell production more than fivefold by 2025, allowing the United States to replenish its stockpile.
Russia Rumored to Have Fired Another Top General
Numerous Russian military bloggers and war correspondents are reporting that Moscow has fired Colonel-General Rustam Muradov, commander of Russia’s “Vostok” (or “East”) Group of Forces, which is fighting in parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions. Russia’s Ministry of Defense hasn’t confirmed whether Muradov was dismissed. If he was, he would join a long list of Russian generals fired during the war.
Vostok is one of Moscow’s four groupings of forces fighting in Ukraine, each roughly corresponding to Russia’s eastern, western, central, and southern military districts. Muradov assumed command of the Vostok grouping last July after beginning the war as deputy commander of Russia’s Southern Military District (SMD). Russian sources say Lt. Gen. Andrey Kuzmenko, who reportedly took Muradov’s place as SMD deputy commander, is now interim commander of the Vostok grouping.
Russian military bloggers, and troops under Muradov’s command, have criticized him for stubbornly throwing forces into costly battles for little to no gain. Last fall, the Vostok grouping launched an assault on the southeastern Ukrainian town of Pavlivka, led by the Pacific Fleet’s 155th Naval Infantry Brigade. The group eventually took Pavlivka but only after heavy losses. Vostok forces then attacked nearby Vuhledar in January. They again suffered heavy casualties, including a brigade commander, but this time failed to take the settlement. Russia lost numerous armored vehicles near Vuhledar by sending them on fruitless assaults without first clearing the area of mines.
Rather than firing Muradov, Moscow initially did the opposite. He received a promotion in February, gaining a third star on his shoulder. Some Russian military bloggers have held him up as a poster child for systemic problems in the Russian military’s command culture. He was still in command as of March 4, when Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met with the general during a visit to southeastern Ukraine.
Now, it seems Moscow’s patience may have finally run out. Only time will tell whether Muradov’s successor proves more successful on the battlefield or more responsive to his troops. But neither the Kremlin nor Vostok’s rank and file should hold their breath.