The Biden administration’s deal to free WNBA star Brittney Griner for arms dealer Viktor Bout could help Russia overcome its potential ammunition shortage.
“This is where Viktor Bout comes in, whom the Biden administration unwisely returned back to Putin,” Rebekah Koffler, a former DIA intelligence officer and the author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News Digital.
Now Koffler fears Bout could help Putin overcome the obstacles. “His experience as an international arms trafficker is critical now for the Kremlin, because he knows the ins and outs of the clandestine networks and arms dealers that he used when he was selling Soviet-era military hardware to terrorists and warlords across the globe,” Koffler said. “Bout will, undoubtedly, be helping Putin’s war machine chug along.”
Koffler’s comments come after the Biden administration brokered a controversial deal with Russia last week, swapping Griner for Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”
The exchange could end up paying dividends for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to work around sanctions that have limited Moscow’s ability to replenish the ammunition its forces are quickly burning through.
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“There’s no question Russia is struggling to replenish, indigenously, its rapidly depleting ammunition stockpile, after 10 months of fighting in Ukraine,” Koffler said. “Putin is likely aware of the high burn rate for ammo and precision-guided munitions. And since he is planning on a protracted war of attrition in Ukraine, as he indicated last week, in November, Russia increased its military budget for 2023 to $84 billion, more than 40% higher than originally planned.”
On Monday, a U.S. military official told reporters that Russia’s available ammunition the Pentagon classifies as “fully serviceable” could be used up by early next year, forcing Moscow to turn to more unreliable rockets and artillery shells that are in some cases over 40 years old.
The move to the older and less reliable shells could pose a danger to Russian forces as a result of increased failure rates and could even endanger Ukrainian civilians, who likely encounter unexploded ordnance across the country.
“So, this essentially puts Russian forces in a position to have to make a choice about what risks it’s willing to accept in terms of increased failure rates, unpredictable performance, and whether or not these degraded conditions [of older ammunition] would require any type of refurbishment, which of course requires a certain amount of expertise and time,” the official said.
“You load the ammunition and you cross your fingers and hope it’s going to fire, or when it lands that it’s going to explode,” the official added.
Russian troops have been using ammunition at a staggering rate since the country began its invasion of Ukraine, stressing a Russian defense industry that has encountered difficulty replenishing stocks amid international sanctions against the Russian economy.
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“Although Putin transitioned the Russian economy on a wartime footing even prior to invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, their production capacity is hampered by the sanctions that limit Russia’s ability to import foreign components on which it is reliant,” Koffler said while noting she believes Russia “is still able to manufacture long-range missiles, such as Kh-101, a stealthy air-launched cruise missile carrying conventional warheads.”
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Koffler also argued that the ammunition shortage was unlikely to deter Russia from continuing its war with Ukraine.
“To expect that Putin will stop waging war on Ukraine because of ammo shortage would be wishful thinking,” Koffler said. “Russian troops will use old stocks of ordinance, degraded ammo, everything, including the kitchen sink, to fulfill Putin’s orders.”
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council pointed Fox News to comments made by national security adviser Jake Sulluivan during a Monday press conference.
Asked to respond to Bout expressing a willingness to join the Russian war effort in Ukraine, Sullivan said the U.S. would focus on “things that actually represent a genuine threat to Ukraine.”
“From our perspective, what we want to do is make sure that we are blunting any Russian effort to be able to gain advantage in Ukraine, whether it’s military advantage or advantage through brutalizing and destroying civilian infrastructure,” Sullivan said. “So our focus is going to be upon those things that actually represent a genuine threat to Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, not to comments that are made on television shows. And we’ll continue to focus on that as we go forward.”