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Frustrated Zelensky Says Ukraine’s War Effort Is Being Underestimated

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President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has expressed frustration over what he has labeled unrealistic expectations for rapid success on the battlefield amid concerns that slow progress against entrenched Russian forces will discourage Kyiv’s allies from sustaining military aid.

“The modern world quickly gets accustomed to success,” Mr. Zelensky said in his nightly address on Tuesday, complaining that Ukrainian troops’ achievements “are perceived as a given.”

Mr. Zelensky’s comments came as the Biden administration seeks congressional approval for a $105 billion aid package that includes assistance for both Israel and Ukraine. But some Republicans oppose sending more aid to Ukraine — and have moved to separate the funding request from aid for Israel.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III warned American senators on Tuesday that if they cut off funding to Ukraine, as some Republicans have vowed to do, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would win the war.

“I can guarantee you that without our support, Putin will be successful,” Mr. Austin told a Senate hearing. “If we pull the rug out from under them now, Putin will only get stronger and he will be successful in doing what he wants to do in acquiring his neighbor’s sovereign territory.”

Funding for Ukraine has become a toxic issue among Republicans. Some argue that too much money has already been spent on backing Kyiv’s war effort with little progress to show for it, and support prioritizing military aid to Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

“The American taxpayers have become weary of funding a never-ending stalemate in Ukraine with no vision for victory,” eight U.S. House Republicans wrote in a letter addressed to President Biden on Tuesday.

While the naysayers represent a minority overall in Congress, the shift in Republican sentiment has left Ukraine’s boosters in the party angry, alarmed and working to figure out how to reverse the trend before a lapse in funding hampers Ukraine on the battlefield.

The aid package put forward by the Biden administration includes over $60 billion for Ukraine, which would help Kyiv sustain what has largely become a war of attrition against Moscow.

Both sides have been burning through enormous quantities of ammunition. On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said that Russia had shelled nearly 120 settlements over the last 24 hours — more than in any single day so far this year.

“This is a record number of towns and villages that have come under attack,” Ihor Klymenko, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, said in a statement. The east and south of Ukraine were the hardest hit, according to Mr. Klymenko, who said at least three civilians were killed and that residential buildings and an oil refinery came under fire.

Ukraine officials have warned that Moscow was likely to renew its assaults on energy infrastructure as winter looms, but say they are prepared for such a campaign, having improved defenses around energy facilities and received more air defense systems from Western partners.

But Kyiv’s forces are also contending with fierce fighting along the front line. Russia has been on the offensive around the eastern towns of Avdiivka and Kupiansk in recent weeks. Ukrainian troops have faced repeated assaults and shelling, but have largely withstood the attacks and ceded little ground.

Vitalii Barabash, the head of the military administration in Avdiivka, said the town, already devastated by months of shelling, was bracing for another wave of attacks. “The enemy is regrouping, bringing in equipment and personnel,” Mr. Barabash told national television on Tuesday. “We hear and see it.”

In an effort to hamper Moscow’s fighting abilities, Ukraine has increasingly targeted Russian military equipment and depots using long-range strikes. And to sustain what many analysts believe will be a protracted fight, Ukraine has stepped up its domestic weapons production, committing over $1 billion to drone manufacturing.

However, analysts say that with the current growth of military production in Russia, Moscow will likely have a material advantage on the battlefield in the coming months. Which is why continued assistance from allies like the United States — Kyiv’s largest military backer — is critical, according to Ukrainian officials.

“If we continue our joint cooperation, we will win,” Oleksiy Danilov, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said in an interview on Tuesday. “If you leave us to our own devices, it will be much more difficult for us then.”

Mr. Zelensky has acknowledged in recent weeks the risk that the world’s attention could shift away from Ukraine. In his nightly address, he noted how his country’s forces had driven Russia’s Black Sea Fleet away from Ukraine’s western coast and forced some ships to relocate away from the illegally-occupied Crimean peninsula. That has limited Moscow’s ability to use its ships to strike Ukraine and helped Kyiv to secure a shipping route to export its grain.

“Ukraine’s success in the battle for the Black Sea is what will be in history textbooks,” Mr. Zelensky said.

But, in a sign of his frustration, he added, “It’s not discussed as often now.”

Marc Santora contributed reporting.

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