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US Claims Russia's 'Strategic Failure' Extends Beyond the Battlefield


The wreck of a Russian T-72 tank destroyed on the approach to Kyiv is placed in front of the Russian Embassy to mark the first anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in Berlin, Feb. 24, 2023.
The wreck of a Russian T-72 tank destroyed on the approach to Kyiv is placed in front of the Russian Embassy to mark the first anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in Berlin, Feb. 24, 2023.

Russia's blunders on the battlefield in Ukraine are scaring away longtime partners and other countries that have come to depend on Moscow for weapons systems, munitions and maintenance, according to a key State Department official.

Far from solidifying Russia's preeminence as a world power and a choice weapons provider, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Jessica Lewis warned the Kremlin's decision to launch a massive invasion of Ukraine has instead saddled Moscow with a "strategic failure" that is reverberating across the globe.

"We are seeing countries coming to us and saying [they] may need to diversify in ways they haven't before off of Russian equipment," Lewis told the Defense Writers Group during a meeting Friday in Washington, on the anniversary of the Russian invasion.

"They are seeing the failure of Soviet and Russian doctrine in the war [in Ukraine] but also seeing, raising questions I will say, about the equipment that Russia is providing and Russia's ability to keep providing that equipment," Lewis said, adding, "We think that this moment in time presents an opportunity for us."

Lewis declined to share specifics about the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on U.S. foreign military sales over the past year. But she said there has been a "tectonic shift" that started first with U.S. allies on NATO's eastern flank before spreading.

"We have deepened and strengthened our relationship with India," Lewis said, noting New Delhi's long-running dependence on Moscow for military systems.

"I feel very good about where that [U.S.-India relationship] is going," she said. "We are making very good progress on that front."

Lewis also cited Ecuador as a "good example" of a country with lots of Russian-made military equipment that has now turned to Washington.

"There are countries that we see in Africa that are interested," Lewis added in response to a question from VOA. "I've had countries in the Indo-Pacific region come to me."

Some of these countries, she said, are looking to replace Russian equipment and systems that no longer work. Others simply are looking for a more reliable partner, which has the added benefit of freeing up equipment that can be sent to Ukraine and used immediately.

"That is actively happening," Lewis said, when pressed by VOA.

U.S. arms sales have been on the rise. Data shared by the State Department last month showed foreign governments bought $205.6 billion in U.S.-made military equipment for fiscal 2022, a 49% increase from the previous year.

Some of the increase has been driven by a desire to move away from Russian-made systems, but the extent to which that desire is connected to the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine is unclear.

“This surge has mainly been driven by increased purchases in Asia and Eastern Europe, as countries in these regions look to the United States to lessen their dependence on China in the former case and replace legacy Russian systems that have been transferred to Ukraine in the latter,” Henry Ziemer, a program coordinator and research assistant at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA by email.

“In Latin America, which is generally marked by small or shrinking military budgets, there does not appear to be a similar surge in interest in U.S. military equipment,” Ziemer said.

There’s also debate over the extent to which Russia’s overall defense exports have been hurt.

“There is some evidence that Russian arms exports have declined, although it is a bit too soon to tell,” said Ryan Brobst, a research analyst at the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“Russia has continued fulfilling existing contracts for arms exports, although there are reports of delays in delivery,” Brobst told VOA by email, adding, “Russia has been documented using export models of tanks in Ukraine."

Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said last August that revenue from defense exports was expected to drop by about 26% in 2022, though by November, Russian state media quoted President Vladimir Putin as saying Moscow had secured $8 billion in sales, calling it a good result.

Despite such claims, however, U.S. officials remain optimistic that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will cost Moscow money and influence.

In particular, they argue Russia’s struggles in Ukraine combined with the success of Ukrainian forces using U.S. systems and with U. S. support have highlighted to countries why they may be better off getting their arms from Washington, as opposed to Russia or even China.

"This total package approach where people get the training, the maintenance and the sustainment over many years ... [is] part of what we offer that China and Russia don't offer," Lewis said.