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Plan B for war: Can Ukraine hold its ground without US support

Plan B for war: Can Ukraine hold its ground without US support The Ukrainian army is already implementing Plan B due to the lack of regular American assistance (Photo: Getty Images)

The Ukrainian army has been fighting for several months without adequate supplies from the United States, its main donor. The reason is a blocked package of over $60 billion in Congress, and while overseas partners are sorting out internal issues, the Russians have taken the initiative on all fronts, pushing the Defense Forces out of Avdiivka and preparing for a new offensive.

Whether there is a military plan B and whether the Armed Forces can maintain defense without American support is discussed in the material by RBС-Ukraine.

The article was prepared using material from The New York Times, The Washington Post, interviews with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, statements from US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Ukrainian officials, and comments from experts Vladyslav Seleznov and Oleksandr Musiienko.


How the US helps Ukraine and why the $60 billion package is important

The United States is Ukraine's main donor in terms of absolute volumes of assistance. Since the beginning of full-scale Russian aggression, Washington has allocated nearly $75 billion in aid, of which military aid accounts for about $46.5 billion.

The United States is one of the main suppliers of arms, including tanks like the M1 Abrams, APCs like the M113, infantry fighting vehicles like the Bradley, long-range strike systems like HIMARS, artillery, and modern air defense systems, including the Patriot. Additionally, they provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with artillery shells regularly and in large quantities. The acute shortage has already manifested itself - the multiple advantages of the Russians in artillery and beyond allow them to advance simultaneously on several fronts.

The Ukrainian defense industry is currently unable to independently meet the needs of the Armed Forces. Many experts believe that 2024 will be a year of defense rather than major offensive operations. However, without Washington's support, it is difficult not only to advance but also to defend. There are concerns that gradual exhaustion will lead to the Ukrainian Armed Forces having to retreat on certain fronts.

If the United States were to cease financial support, Ukraine would be unable to cover the majority of its military needs, The New York Times wrote in February. And if the Ukrainian economy collapses, it will put an end to efforts to save the young democracy. As of March, the ability to assist, as stated by the White House and the Pentagon, is exhausted. A new multi-billion dollar package could be the solution. The Senate approved a $95 billion project, of which Ukraine is entitled to over $60 billion. However, Republicans in the House of Representatives are against it, and Speaker Mike Johnson does not intend to bring it up for consideration, citing the need to first address the issue of the border with Mexico.

"We're not focused on plan B. We're focused on Plan A," said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, emphasizing bipartisan support for the package.

Plan B for war: Can Ukraine hold its ground without US support

Photo: US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan says the $60 billion package for Ukraine remains plan A, with no consideration given to plan B (Photo: Getty Images)

He reaffirmed the White House's uncompromising position during a recent visit to Kyiv. According to him, President Joe Biden sees the $60 billion package as the primary option. He also responded to a question from RBC-Ukraine's correspondent about when the package could be approved and whether the US administration has a plan B.

"As I said in my opening comments, I'm confident that we will achieve plan A. We will get a strong bipartisan vote in the House for an assistance package for Ukraine. And we will get that money out the door as we should. So I don't think we need to speak today about plan B," he said but refused to provide any specific timelines.

There are several options on the table. Republicans propose assistance not on a non-repayable basis but in the form of a zero-interest loan with the possibility of forgiveness. Biden is cool to this idea, but the initiative has not yet progressed to a ready bill. Additionally, a petition has been launched to support a project to allocate exclusively military aid to Ukraine of $47 billion. Another compromise proposal suggests allocating $47 billion non-repayable, with nearly $12 billion in financial assistance in the form of a loan secured by frozen Russian assets. The prospects for this are quite uncertain.

Partially, Ukraine's needs will be covered by the EU's multi-year package of €50 billion and an additional €5 billion for weapons. However, U.S. officials acknowledge that there is nothing on the horizon that could match the $60 billion allocation, as reported by NYT. According to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Europe alone will not be able to support Ukraine at the level it previously received.

"If this happens... there will be consistent problems. The first is the deficit of weapons, finances in Ukraine. The second is the loss of the alliance between the United States and Europe. Third - Europe will understand that this is a signal. If Ukraine cannot withstand it and Putin (Russian dictator - Ed.) goes ahead, it's a signal from the United States that Europe will be left alone among NATO countries," he said in an interview with the German ARD channel.

While excluding a plan B regarding American aid, Jake Sullivan calls on Ukraine to "believe in the United States." However, Ukrainians alone have too little faith, and the question of whether there is a plan B for a war without Washington's support and what it entails is becoming increasingly acute.

Plan B for the war. What politicians and experts say

The problems with American aid have been going on for months now. And questions about plan B have been raised by Ukrainian officials since the end of last year. However, it seems that everyone understands this formulation differently. For example, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in January spoke about how Ukraine has no alternative to Western military aid and will continue to fight even if it lacks all the necessary weapons. But, according to him, the price will be much higher in that case.

"And that's why we believe in Plan A, we are working on Plan A, and we will implement it," he said, adding that Ukraine doesn't need a plan B with Russian concessions.

Commenting on his statement, the advisor to the head of the Office of the President, Mykhailo Podolyak, said that Zelenskyy sees a broader perspective and there is indeed a plan B. Its essence is for Ukraine to obtain licenses for the production of weapons and equipment using partner technologies. In other words, the plan involves replacing old weapons with modern ones, Ukrainian-made and up to NATO standards.

In February, in an interview with Fox News, President Zelenskyy said that America's assistance is crucial, and Ukraine has no plan B.

"We have to survive. We have to find some parallel steps or rules, but… you understand that this help is crucial. And it's very important. Because if you don’t have a real defending shield and some powerful artillery… of course, you will lose people," he said.

Plan B for war: Can Ukraine hold its ground without US support

Photo: President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy says America's assistance is crucial for Ukraine (Getty Images)

And although Ukrainian politicians do not often talk about plan B, it seems to be happening right now. This is what experts surveyed say. Head of the Сenter of Military Law Researches, Oleksandr Musiienko, hopes that a positive decision from Washington will come in April-May. Until then, they will have to rely on their own strengths and the activity of European countries, which we can already observe.

"In essence, plan B is already being implemented to some extent. While the US does not vote for aid, most of it is taken on by European partners. For example, the Czechia, which has found a mechanism for purchasing ammunition outside the European Union. This is one of the elements of our plan B together with quite aggressive strikes on enemy territory and beyond," he tells RBC-Ukraine.

Military expert and former Chief of the Press Service of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Vladyslav Seleznov, notes that despite the lack of regular supplies from the US, the front has not collapsed. This is partly due to European partners and the increase in domestic production.

"The key element of the so-called plan B is a powerful three-tier network of engineering fortifications over 2000 km. This is actually a good case; last summer, its effectiveness was demonstrated by the Russian army. It is worth mentioning the Surovikin line (staged defense in the occupied south - Ed.), when our maximum advance through minefields and enemy fortifications was up to 15 km, and then we ran into defensive structures and couldn't overcome them. Now our Defense Forces will act in this spirit. I think this is the plan B," he tells RBC-Ukraine.

In addition, statements about a million drones for the army in 2024, initiatives from the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Syrskyi regarding checks, rotations, and personnel decisions, as well as the issue of mobilization, are also linked to plan B.

"In order for us to be effective on the battlefield, the military must be timely provided with everything, and this is a question of the activity of our defense industry. We must have equipment and weapons, and this is communication with partners. The military must have professional commanders, this is a question of personnel policy, and we mention General Syrskyi. So, the whole complex of measures to strengthen the combat potential of the Ukrainian army is currently being implemented. How effective it will be, we will see," emphasizes Seleznov.

Is Russia gathering an offensive force? Plans exist, but resources are lacking

Last week, the commander of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Oleksandr Pavliuk, stated that Russia is creating a new 100,000-strong group. It is unknown whether it is being prepared for a large-scale offensive or to replenish units that have suffered losses. But there is a likelihood that by the beginning of summer, the adversary will gather forces to advance in one of the directions.

"For now, these are the most difficult forecasts that such an offensive will take place," he added.

Plan B for war: Can Ukraine hold its ground without US supportPhoto: Commander of the Ground Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Pavliuk announced the preparation of a Russian 100,000-strong group (Vitalii Nosach / RBC-Ukraine)

It is unknown which direction is meant. But if Russia throws its troops into the Donbas, it is unlikely to achieve a complete occupation of the Donetsk region in a short time.

"Some experts and officials say that a 200-300,000-strong strike group may be formed. What purpose did Putin start the so-called special military operation for? Complete occupation of the Donbas. Has he accomplished this mission? Partially. But capturing the Donetsk region is difficult. The urban agglomerations of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Pokrovsk, Kostiantynivka, and a number of settlements are still under the control of the Ukrainian army. And at the current pace of the Russian advance, the occupation of the Donetsk region is not even a prospect for this year. And this is considering that they have enough resources," explains Seleznov.

There is an opinion that the main strike may be prepared not from the east, but from the north. Since the defense lines within the Sumy region supposedly are weaker, and natural conditions may facilitate rapid advancement of the Russian Federation from Sumy to Kremenchuk and Dnipro to cut through the Ukrainian Armed Forces and at least encircle the groupings in the Donbas. As Pavliuk stated, Russia is not creating an offensive force in the Sumy direction, but artillery and air strikes in this region are carried out to intimidate and terrorize the local population.

According to Seleznov, Russian troops will not be able to attack Kharkiv or Sumy in the near future.

"For this mission, 100,000 is not enough, even 300,000 is insufficient. If we talk about the encirclement and occupation, for example, of Sumy, then we should be talking about a 400,000-strong grouping with appropriate weapons and equipment. And here the opponent is not doing so well because he suffers insane losses," the expert believes.

At the same time, he tends to think that the Russians will be able to accumulate some resources.

"But against the backdrop of many statements about the formation of the Moscow and Leningrad districts, about the creation of new brigades, divisions, and armies, it is still a big question where they will find the resources for the offensive. Plans exist, but resources are lacking. And in war, resources are the decisive factor," he says in an interview with RBC-Ukraine.

Are air defense system reserves depleted? Why are missile attacks becoming more frequent and what's next

Supply disruptions are not only affecting the situation on the front lines. Part of them was intended to replenish the stocks of interceptor missiles for air defense systems, and back in February, Western media reported that Ukraine was becoming increasingly vulnerable to air attacks. According to US officials' estimates, without American anti-aircraft missiles, Ukrainian stocks would be depleted by March, as reported by NYT.

This is why one of The Washington Post's recent coverage is dedicated to the increasing damage Russian missile attacks will inflict. Referring to unnamed officials, it mentions the possible depletion of reserves by the end of the month. Allegedly, if Ukraine previously shot down 4 out of 5 missiles, soon it will only be able to intercept 1 out of 5. This, in turn, will affect life in rear cities, which had become relatively normal after the overall effectiveness of air defense systems had been demonstrated.

The events of recent days have become an alarming signal. The Russian Federation has increased the intensity of missile and drone attacks. And while Kyiv manages to successfully repel them, during the most extensive energy sector strike on March 22, dozens of hits were recorded on critical objects simultaneously in several regions.

Plan B for war: Can Ukraine hold its ground without US supportPhoto: Western media report on the depletion of missile stocks for Ukrainian air defense by the end of March, but these data probably do not reflect the real situation (

Musiienko believes that such activity may be related to interruptions in the supply of anti-aircraft interceptors.

"In reality, this could be one of the reasons. The Russians also read Western media, and perhaps they decided to check how true all this is. As far as I know, a decision was made at the 20th meeting in the Ramstein format regarding the supply of missiles for air defense systems. And fortunately, there are other countries besides the US involved in missile production for the Patriot system," he says.

As for the recent hits on the energy sector, according to him, the strike coefficient decreased by a small percentage.

"If we compare it with earlier large-scale shelling, it was at 60-70%. Basically, it remains at this now. Of course, there weren't enough missiles, and there were indeed many hits, but we can't say that Ukrainian air defense is finished. The more intense the attacks, the more missiles we expend, and the more we need to replenish stocks. For us, this is a challenge; these issues are being addressed now, some orders were financed by Americans earlier, and Europeans are also financing them. However, it will become more difficult in the future if US assistance is not approved. Especially regarding Patriot missiles," the expert adds in a comment to RBC-Ukraine.

Vladyslav Seleznov doubts the forecasts of American media.

"For example, today two supersonic missiles attacked Kyiv. According to various estimates, 5 or 6 anti-missiles were launched to intercept them. Does this mean that our reserves are depleted? Probably not. With all due respect to The Washington Post, they probably don't have information that clearly reflects our resource capabilities. They have some insider information, but that doesn't mean it corresponds to the real capabilities of the Ukrainian army," he adds.


Without the support of the main defense donor, Ukraine's defense capability will be significantly undermined. Without US military aid at the level of 2022-2023, we should not talk about an offensive but about how to hold the front at least in the current positions, and prevent a breakthrough.

"Our partners did not abandon us, but our needs are much higher than what we receive from them and what our industry can cover. That's the reality. But to say that we have lost, that everything is lost, is unfair. The absence of US support will adjust our plans, obviously. I hope that eventually these issues will be resolved in the United States. If they conclude that the war will not end in Ukraine but may escalate into World War III, the world will face better times. If not, then the war will spill over into European countries. Because unpunished evil returns even greater evil," Seleznov says.

Musiienko is confident: without American packages, Ukraine can hold out at least until the end of 2024.

"Even if the US does not vote, we will rely on European aid and our own resources. What's next if there is no Washington support? For 2025, it's purely deaf, positional defense. Perhaps, complete stagnation on the front lines and, as a result, freezing of the conflict," he predicts.