SINCE RUSSIA’S UNPROVOKED invasion of Ukraine in February, the U.S. government has pumped more money and weapons into supporting the Ukrainian military than it sent in 2020 to Afghanistan, Israel, and Egypt combined — surpassing in a matter of months three of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid in history.
Keeping track of the numbers is challenging. Since the war started, U.S. officials have announced a flurry of initiatives aimed at supporting Ukrainian defense efforts while keeping short of a more direct involvement in the conflict. On Thursday, on a surprise visit to Kyiv, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new $675 million package of U.S. military equipment as well as a $2.2 billion “long-term” investment to bolster the security of Ukraine and 17 of its neighbor countries. Weeks earlier, President Joe Biden unveiled a $3 billion aid package, the largest yet, symbolically choosing Ukraine’s Independence Day for the announcement. The administration noted on that occasion that the total military assistance committed to Ukraine this year had reached $12.9 billion, more than $15.5 billion since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. And this month, Biden also asked Congress to authorize an additional $13.7 billion for Ukraine, including money for equipment and intelligence.
Because the assistance is drawn from a variety of sources — and because it’s not always easy to distinguish between aid that’s been authorized, pledged, or delivered — some analysts estimate the true figure of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine is much higher: up to $40 billion in security assistance, or $110 million a day over the last year. This assistance is believed to be playing an important role in the advances Ukraine is making in an ongoing offensive to retake territory seized by Russia earlier this year; the cities of Kupiansk and Izium are reported to have just been liberated. What is clear is that the volume and speed of the assistance headed to Ukraine is unprecedented, and that legislators and observers are struggling to keep up.
“There is a range of funding sources, including Presidential Drawdown Authority, Foreign Military Financing, and the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative,” Ari Tolany, U.S. program manager at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, told The Intercept. “It’s been tricky to trace what materiel is coming from where.”
Analysts estimate that Ukraine, already the largest recipient of U.S. security assistance in Europe since 2014, is well on track to become the largest recipient of U.S. security assistance of the century altogether. From World War II Britain to South Vietnam, to the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. government has long conducted foreign policy by supporting, and in some cases building up from scratch, the military capabilities of its allies — often with mixed results. Before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan last year — two decades after they were ousted from power — the U.S. government spent some $73 billion in military aid to Afghanistan, in addition to billions more it spent on the country’s reconstruction and the $837 billion it spent going to war there. Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II: $146 billion in military assistance and missile defense funding.
There is little precedent for the breakneck pace and scale of U.S. spending on Ukraine. “It’s more than the peak it paid to Afghanistan by a long shot and many times more than aid to Israel,” William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, told The Intercept. “And it’s somewhat unique that they’ve been arming a country where there are two nation states at war.”
The most recent U.S. military assistance announcements also marked a significant shift in the scope of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine. Earlier packages mostly involved the Defense Department drawing from preexisting stock to quickly equip Ukrainian forces in the face of urgent need — to the tune of $8.6 billion worth of equipment over the last year. The $675 million drawdown announced by Blinken this week marked the 20th time the administration invoked this authority to support Ukrainian defense. The $3 billion package announced by Biden last month, however, involves new contracts with defense manufacturers to produce equipment that will be delivered to Ukraine over months and years, in order to, according to officials, “build the enduring strength of their forces to ensure the continued freedom and independence of the Ukrainian people.”
In other words, as Under Secretary of Defense for Public Policy Colin Kahl put it, this aid is not intended to support Ukraine in “today’s fight” but “for years to come.”
“It’s not like the U.S. is expressing much confidence in its diplomatic skills to end the conflict, rather than just trying to outlast Putin.”
The relentless stream of funding announcements, in the absence of any public discussion of what the U.S. is doing to seek an end to the conflict, has signaled to critics a recognition that there is no end in sight to the war, and that the U.S. is committed to supporting Ukrainian defense efforts for the long haul rather than pursue a negotiated end to it.
“The U.S. is really preparing for a long war. … It’s actually preparing for endless war in Ukraine,” said Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, a grassroots-funded U.S. foreign policy think tank that has been tracking the assistance. “They’re saying, ‘We’re only doing this long-term approach because Putin is the one insisting on doing so.’ And that could be right — but at the same time, it’s not like the U.S. is expressing much confidence in its diplomatic skills to end the conflict, rather than just trying to outlast Putin.”
A spokesperson for the State Department wrote in an email to The Intercept that the U.S. is the largest provider of security assistance to Ukraine and has “quickly provided an historic levels [sic] of weapons and equipment that Ukraine’s forces have been using effectively to defend their democracy against Russia’s unprovoked war.”
“Diplomacy is the only way to end this conflict, but Russia has shown no signs that it is willing to seriously engage in negotiations,” the spokesperson added. “We remain committed to supporting a diplomatic settlement and we are currently focused on strengthening Ukraine’s hand as much as possible on the battlefield so that when the time comes, Ukraine has as much leverage as possible at the negotiating table.”
The Defense Department and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which works to further U.S. defense and foreign policy goals by building foreign partners’ capacity, did not respond to The Intercept’s requests for comment.
Bubble in Washington
The quick succession of aid announcements and Biden’s request for Congress to authorize an additional $13.7 billion for Ukraine this month have begun to raise questions among legislators. But so far, most of those who have expressed concern about the scale and pace of the aid have focused on calling for enough oversight mechanisms to make sure the weapons are accounted for and don’t end up in the wrong hands, rather than questioning whether the administration should send the aid in the first place, or so much of it so quickly. “At least in the U.S., there’s been very little public criticism of security assistance on the whole,” said Tolany, of Center for Civilians in Conflict.
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