This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin made multiple miscalculations in launching his invasion of Ukraine, a senior U.S. official has told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, repeating U.S. assurances that Washington will continue to provide Kyiv with assistance, including military equipment, to “win this war” and rebuild the country after the conflict ends.
Robin Dunnigan, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, was speaking on May 7 in a video interview from the Polish city of Rzeszow. Her comments came amid claims by Ukrainian officials of battlefield advances in the east and just days before Russia holds ceremonies on May 9 to mark Victory Day, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany.
A speech by Putin on May 9 will be closely watched to see if he will announce a general mobilization or some other major strategic shift, in a bid to turn the tide of the war, now in its 73rd day.
“I don’t know what Putin’s plans are for May 8th or May 9th,” Dunnigan said. “I do know that it will not change our strategy, which is to continue to do everything we can with security assistance to help Ukraine win this war, and to continue to put economic sanctions [on Moscow] that are so severe that it cripples the Russian economy, and [to] continue to strengthen our own forces along NATO’s eastern flank.”
Washington has also approved legislation that would streamline a World War II-era military lend-lease program to more quickly provide Ukraine and other Eastern European countries with American equipment to fight the Russian invasion, Dunnigan noted.
“We’ve just requested another $33 billion from our Congress for Ukraine and $20 billion of that would be in security assistance,” she said. “That’s just an indication of our commitment to continue delivering security assistance to Ukraine day and night, 24 hours a day, to help Ukraine defend itself. Also in that $33 billion is another $8.5 billion for economic assistance and $3 billion for humanitarian assistance.”
Support for Ukraine is deep not only in Congress but across the United States, Dunnigan said.
“You have seen in the United States from the American people, from our Congress, bipartisan members of Congress from the administration, you have seen an unwavering willingness to support Ukraine. And I know that people are working 24 hours a day. Our Department of Defense, our humanitarian officials, everybody is working 24 hours a day to identify what Ukraine needs on the battlefield [and] to get it to you as fast as we can,” Dunnigan added.
Dunnigan also expressed shock that, more than 70 years after the end of World War II, Europe finds itself again engulfed in conflict.
“When we think about May 8th and May 9th, it’s always important to remember what…May 8th at one time meant for all of us — that it was the day where Europeans came together and liberated Europe from the scourge of Nazism and fascism during World War II,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable that here we are this year with Russia, you know, ignoring all international norms, its own commitments under the UN Charter, and waging an unprovoked, unjustified war against Ukraine.”
Dunnigan’s comments come also as the last Ukrainian defenders of the besieged port city of Mariupol face a bloody final confrontation with invading Russian forces, as the Kremlin seeks a symbolic win ahead of its May 9 holiday.
All women, children, and elderly civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said on May 7, after a weeklong effort rescued hundreds of people during an ongoing Russian assault on the plant.
“What is happening in Mariupol is a tragedy. Deliberate destruction of civilians is a war crime,” said Dunnigan.
After suffering significant setbacks in the earliest weeks of the invasion of Ukraine, failing to seize Kyiv or other major cities, and incurring major casualties, Russian commanders and political leaders have recalibrated, shifting nearly all military units eastward for an offensive in the Donbas.
Russia’s failures on the battlefield are a result of a string of miscalculations by Putin, Dunnigan said.
“The Kremlin’s been wrong about a lot of things. The Kremlin’s been wrong about how it was going to take Kyiv in a week, and here we are…. They were not able to take Ukraine. They were forced to retreat to the east, and Ukrainians continue to fight with resilience and bravery.
“They were wrong about NATO being divided. In fact, NATO is stronger than ever and more united than ever,” Dunnigan said. “Russia was absolutely wrong about Ukrainians’ willingness to defend their country. I think Ukrainians have never been more united than they are today. And the resilience of Ukrainians has humbled people around the world, and your bravery.”
Dunnigan also addressed recent media reports that the United States was providing Ukraine with intelligence in its fight with Russia, but suggested some of that reporting was misleading.
News reports on May 6 said the United States provided intelligence that helped Ukraine sink the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva last month.
The reports, by The New York Times and NBC News, followed other U.S. reports that said Washington had provided Ukrainian forces with intelligence to target Russian generals on the battlefield.
An unusual number of Russian generals have been killed during more than two months of fighting in Ukraine, with at least eight deaths confirmed.
“Now you may have seen reports that we’ve provided intelligence that’s been used to kill Russian generals, and we do not provide intelligence to specifically target Russian generals. I also want to say that this is Ukraine’s field of operation. Ukraine has its own battlefield intelligence. It’s excellent intelligence,” Dunnigan declared.
“This is Ukraine [and] Ukrainian military and intelligence officials know more about the battle in their country than anybody else does. So they’re also acting on their own actually excellent intelligence.”
Dunnigan also addressed EU plans to phase out Russian energy to punish the Kremlin, which is dependent on revenue from oil and natural-gas exports, for its unprovoked invasion.
The European Commission has proposed a new package of sanctions against Russia, the sixth since the invasion was launched on February 24. The centerpiece of the package is a full phasing out of oil imports from Russia to the EU by the end of the year.
Hungary and Slovakia immediately received exceptions to that deadline by another year, while the Czechs have also sought a more generous phase-out period. All three countries are heavily reliant on Russian energy.
“[The United States] implemented our own embargo on oil, gas, and coal from Russia in March, and we welcomed the EU proposal to do the same with oil. But we also recognize that Europe is in a different position than the United States,” Dunnigan explained.
“We are fortunate to have our own natural resources. And Europe is still in many cases…dependent on Russia for oil and natural gas. However, we welcome the commitment to try to decrease that dependence as quickly as possible.… We should work as hard as we can in the coming months and years to really become — once and for all — not dependent on Russian energy,” said Dunnigan, who served as deputy U.S. assistant secretary for energy diplomacy in the State Department from 2014 to 2017.
The United States, Dunnigan said, is ready to help Ukraine rebuild from the devastation wrought by Russia’s invasion, with cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv largely reduced to rubble.
Physical damage to Ukraine’s buildings and infrastructure from Russia’s invasion has reached roughly $60 billion and will rise further as the war continues, World Bank President David Malpass said in an assessment on April 21.
“This war is taking a terrible toll on Ukraine’s economy. Some estimates are that the economic damage will be — or is already — $1 trillion,” Dunnigan said. “I don’t think any of us know yet exactly what the damage is, but we know it’s big. So the question is: How do we help Ukraine rebuild after you win this war? And that is something that I know we, and our partners and allies around the world, are ready to do.
“We’re already talking about reconstruction and look, you know, I’ve…been all over Ukraine. I’ve been in Kyiv before the war and seen the sort of hardworking entrepreneurial attitude of Ukrainians. And I think that we’ll all work together after this war is over to rebuild your economy.”