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CT’s Sen. Blumenthal, in Fourth Visit to Ukraine, Sees Progress in Defense Against Russia

During a surprise 14-hour visit to Ukraine on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his staff briefed a congressional trio led by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, detailing that the war against Russian troops is progressing better than most of the world realizes. But the war effort is being marred by American-made parts that are still ending up in Russian attack drones and war planes, despite trade embargoes, the U.S. delegation learned.

In a phone interview from Munich on Thursday morning, Blumenthal said that the overall war picture has improved for Ukraine, but President Joe Biden’s requested $24 billion supplemental appropriation is still needed to combat Russia’s air superiority and to provide more artillery pieces and ordnance. Blumenthal, who traveled along with Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., arrived in Kyiv by overnight train from Poland around 6 a.m. on Wednesday — the day before Ukrainian Independence Day — and the senators, with their security detail, stayed until 8 p.m., after the location of a news conference had to moved to an underground bunker during an air raid alert.

“We are absolutely at a turning point in the battle,” said Blumenthal, during a brief stopover in Germany on the senators’ trip to Brussels to meet with NATO before returning to the United States this weekend. “I was very encouraged by the direct reports from people who know what’s happening on the ground. There are steady, solid advances being made. It’s slow and bloody.”

Blumenthal was especially interested by the success of the American-made Bradley Fighting Vehicles and mine removal efforts in allowing Ukrainian forces to attack entrenched Russian fortifications. “I’m hopeful about some significant breakthroughs in the near future in Bakmut to the east and the south where they are pushing toward Mariupol. Our national security interest is vitally at stake. If we pull the plug, Putin wins and his next move will be against a NATO ally. Ukraine wants none of our troops. It needs our arms and humanitarian support.”

It was Blumenthal’s and Graham’s fourth trip to Ukraine since the war began in February 2022. He and Graham have traveled there together in the past, but it was Warren’s first trip to the war zone. “I organized the trip and wanted it to be bipartisan,” Blumenthal said. “It’s really heartening to see that bipartisan support.”

But he said it’s obvious that equipment and computer chips from U.S. companies are making their way into Russian equipment despite the American embargo. “We need stronger enforcement of the sanctions,” Blumenthal said. “A lot of Russian equipment, including drones, can’t be made without U.S. companies. There have been no public reports about investigations, but there should definitely be. And our defense establishment needs to up its game. We’re drawing down our stockpiles of all of our munitions, and we have to build Ukraine’s ability to manufacture its own.”

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management and Yale School of Management’s senior associate dean for leadership studies, said Thursday afternoon that crucial computer chips from five major U.S. manufacturers, including Intel, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, are still ending up in Russian attack drones. Aircraft parts from factories including Boeing and Airbus are still getting installed in Russian military jets. Tracking them would not be hard, but as he testified before Congress last fall, the will to monitor their flow might not be there.

“It’s a big problem,” Sonnenfeld said in a phone interview, recalling a conversation with a Eastern European ambassador who talked about a surge of consumer appliances that have near-military-grade computer chips, which are part of a wave of U.S. computer equipment flooding Europe. “They don’t break it down country-by-country for shareholders and the general public. But I know factually that’s not the truth. The Commerce Department and the Treasury, they break it out.” Sonnenfeld expects a huge surge in chips has been going to Turkey. “The volume of trade is known. The government knows.”

There are also myriad ways to track shipments, down to single computer chips. Sonnenfeld suspects that Russian President Vladimir Putin is ordering chips removed from appliances for use in the battlefields. “He’s cannibalizing certain appliances, because don’t forget 65 percent of the Russian economy is fully state controlled, and he’s basically throwing in the living room furniture to keep the fires burning,” Sonnenfeld said.

Blumenthal said that in Kyiv, while there is obvious evidence of bombing, including shattered buildings and targeted electrical transformers, residents go about their daily business. “The war is real and the cost of war is evident everywhere,” Blumenthal said. “We laid flowers at the wall in St. Michael’s Square , where there are many of the pictures of men and women killed in combat.” He spoke of mass grave sites where woman and children killed by Russian troops are located, as well as the kidnapping of children to Russia.

“There is both a moral and military interest at stake,” Blumenthal said. “On every one of these trips, I am so deeply moved by the courage of Zelenkskyy and the every day Ukrainians who go down to their bomb shelters, then come back up, go to work, go to school. I admire the courage, resolve and resilience of the Ukrainian people, as well as their military innovation and ingenuity.”

Source : CT Insider