The Pentagon believes that Ukrainian troops are unlikely to be able to retake Crimea from Russian troops in the near future.
This was stated by four senior officials of the US Department of Defense during a classified briefing for members of the Armed Forces Committee of the House of Representatives of the US Congress, Politico reported.
It is unclear what caused the participants of the briefing to make such an assessment, the publication notes. But according to three people with direct knowledge of Thursday's briefing, the Pentagon does not believe that Ukraine has, or will soon have, the ability to push Russian troops out of the temporarily occupied peninsula.
A fourth source said the briefing was more ambiguous. But the essence remained unchanged: the victory of Ukraine in the offensive aimed at recapturing the illegally annexed territory is not guaranteed.
All four sources spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the classified briefing.
Among the participants of the briefing were Laura Cooper, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs, and Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"We will not comment on closed briefings, nor will we talk about hypothetical possibilities or speculate on potential future operations," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said.
"In terms of Ukraine's ability to fight back and reclaim its sovereign territory, their excellent record in repelling Russian aggression and constant adaptability on the battlefield speaks for itself," she added.
The assessment echoes what General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has hinted at in recent weeks.
"I, as before, believe that this year it will be very, very difficult to expel Russian troops from the whole of Ukraine occupied by Russia this year," he said during a meeting of the Contact Group on Defense of Ukraine in Germany on January 20.
"It doesn't mean it can't happen. It doesn't mean it won't happen, but it will be very, very difficult," he added.
The issue of Crimea's return remains controversial for many months. American and European officials insist that the peninsula is legally part of Ukraine, often without giving Kiev the full equipment to launch an offensive in the region.
A source familiar with Kyiv's position said the Zelenskyi administration was angered by Milli's remarks as Ukraine prepares for major offensive operations this spring.
The Ukrainians also point out that US intelligence about their military capabilities has been consistently inaccurate during the nearly year-long war.