I have written several articles on postings related to politics. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address different aspects on these political events.
United States Aid to Ukraine: An Investment Whose Benefits Greatly Exceed its Cost.
So far, there has been only limited domestic political resistance in the United States to continuing civil and military aid to Ukraine. A few political figures like the newly reelected Marjorie Taylor Greene have taken a totally negative stance: “Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine”; “Our country comes first,” and more recently, a tweet that said, “We must stop letting Zelensky demand money & weapons from US taxpayers while he is trying to drag us into WW3. No more money to Ukraine. It’s time to end this war and demand peace.”
There have, however, been more realistic warnings about the possible growth of opposition to such aid like those of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it.” A recent poll has also shown that the number of Republicans who feel the U.S. is doing too much for Ukraine rose from 6 percent in March 2022 to 30 percent of all Americas – and 48 percent of all Republicans – at the end of October.
These trends warn that there are no guarantees that the U.S. will continue to provide adequate aid to Ukraine in a future where Ukraine may need major amounts of U.S. humanitarian, civil, and military aid for years to come, and where getting Russia to pay for any major aspect of the Ukraine’s recovery after a peace settlement seems to be more of a dream than any credible reality.
Much of this rising U.S. opposition to continuing aid to Ukraine does, however, come from only considering its cost and ignoring the strategic benefits it provides to the U.S. It is developing because far too much of the reporting on the Ukraine war ignores the fact that the U.S. has already obtained major strategic benefits from aiding the Ukraine, and that such aid it is one of the best investments the U.S. can make in competing with Putin’s Russia and in advancing its own security.
Focusing on the price tag of aid. instead of the value of what it buys, ignores the fact that the war in Ukraine has become the equivalent of a proxy war with Russia, and a war that can be fought without any U.S. military casualties, that unites most of the world’s democracies behind a common cause, that deeply punishes Russia for its act of aggression and strengthens every aspect of deterrence. It ignores the fact that costs of such aid are low in grand strategic terms, and seem likely to be far lower than the cumulative cost of the fighting to save an Afghan government that never began to approach the Ukraine’s unity and national commitment to defend itself.
Such a focus not only ignores the moral and ethical commitment the U.S. should have to every other free nation, it ignores the fact that Russia is far poorer than the U.S. and its allies. It ignores the fact that Russia is already paying far more of its Gross National Product and economy to fight the war in the Ukraine than the U.S. and its partners, and that Russia has suffered massive losses of weapons, war reserves, and military personnel. As is discussed in detail later in this analysis, U.S. aid has so far enabled Ukraine to do immense damage to Russia’s overall capability to threaten Europe and to fight any future conflict.
It ignores the practical benefits of the message that sending such aid to the Ukraine has sent to our strategic partners and allies about American capability and resolve. It ignores the extent to which such aid has put practical limits on Putin’s ambitions to restore a greater Russia, and shown other states that they can trust the U.S. to compete with China. It ignores the extent to which such aid helps to rebuild and strengthen the role America plays as the de facto leader of the West and other democratic states. It ignores the degree to which it has revitalized NATO and European defense effort.
It ignores role that key allies like Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Poland, other NATO and EU states – and nations outside of Europe like Japan – are also playing in providing aid to the Ukraine. It also ignores the relative economic cost to such nations in providing such aid and joining with the U.S. in sanctioning Russia. While the level of aid from other states has been much lower than the levels of U.S. aid, most of our European and partners and allies are suffering far more from the economic consequences of their support for Ukraine and rise in global energy costs than Americans. While inflation in the U.S reached 7.7% in November 2022, it reached 11.1% in the United Kingdom, 11.6% in Germany, and 14.3% in the Netherlands.
It ignores the ongoing changes to Russian strategy that now combine defense in depth with a massive series of strikes on the economy and civilian infrastructure of Ukraine. It ignores the all-too-real limits of Ukraine’s military victories, its many vulnerabilities, and the fact that Russia in now fighting a brutal war of attrition against both civilian and military targets and that Ukraine can only continue fighting with major U.S. aid.
And, it ignores the fact that the planning of U.S. aid must be tied directly to the search for a viable peace settlement, and that there is no practical chance that such a peace can be won on terms that are acceptable to Ukraine without making a lasting commitment to support Ukraine until Russia is forced to accept such a settlement. It ignores the need to work with the Ukraine and other aid donors to agree on what such a peace should be, to coordinate efforts to pressure Russia into accepting peace terms acceptable to Ukraine and reach a common agreement with Ukraine as to what peace terms will be acceptable.
The Challenge of Future Aid Needs
This does not mean that the cost of continuing U.S. aid until the war is ended on terms that favor Ukraine will not be high, or that further aid will not be needed to help the Ukraine recover from the war and maintain the forces it needs to deter Russia, It does not mean the cost of aid should not be continuously examined, and that the need to plan and manage such aid as effectively as possible is not a serious issue.
Ukraine will probably need years of future support, and the U.S. has already budgeted major amounts of money. The Congress authorized some $53 billion in military and civil aid by May 2022, with a $13.6 billion initial vote for in emergency aid for the war, followed by $40 billion in military and civil aid in May 10, 2022.
There is no clear official reporting on the total flow of total aid authorizations and actual spending to date, but the U.S. has stated that it had already came close to spending $20 billion in military assistance alone by mid-November 2022. Secretary of Defense Austin announced that the U.S had spent $18.6 billion in military aid. The State Department reported that it had spent some $10 billion more on civilian aid as of mid-November 2022. It is also clear that America’s strategic partners, and other nations, have provided billions of dollars in additional aid.
Billions of dollars do matter – and come at the cost of alternative uses of the money – although one needs to be a little cautious about tying such costs to the overall rate of inflation and the health of the American economy. The U.S. national security budget is well in excess of $800 billion – including nuclear weapons and security assistance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the total U.S. federal budget will make outlays reaching $5,872 billion in FY2023, of $4,795 billion is on budget.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimated that the U.S. economy was still growing steadily as of October 2022 – along with personal income – and was estimated to have reached $25.66 trillion in current dollars. At least to date, aid to Ukraine had only a negligible impact on both total federal spending and the U.S. economy.
THE SHAPE OF COSTS TO COME
The costs to date, however, are only part of the story and Ukraine can only succeed and survive as a functioning state if the U.S. provides continuing military and civil assistance as long as Russia pursues the war. Aid to help Ukraine bear the cost of the fighting must also be followed by U.S. aid to help Ukraine recover.
The cost of such recovery is going to be high and it is steadily rising as Russia launches more and more attacks on Ukrainian civilian facilities and its critical infrastructure. Even in September 2022 – before the full Russian assault on the civil economy and infrastructure of Ukraine had begun, estimates were being issued that rebuilding the Ukraine’s economy, infrastructure, and civil facilities could cost some $349 billion. This figure now seems far too low in light of Russia’s steadily escalating attacks on the Ukraine’s entire civil and economic infrastructure.
Any estimates of the overall civil and military costs of the war to Ukraine by the time any kind of peace or settlement is reached are highly uncertain. There are no reliable ways to estimate the future cost of the fighting. Worse, Russia’s steady escalation of its strikes on civilian targets in Ukraine have already made it clear that the cost of supporting both the war and recovery will steadily rise until there is some form of settlement or ceasefire.
BLEEDING THE UKRAINIAN ECONOMY AND RESISTANCE TO DEATH?
Any argument for continuing aid must recognize the fact that the cost of aid could rise sharply, could exceed the past levels of wartime and other emergency aid, and that the U.S. and all of its strategic partners will find it painful to pay them. It must recognize that the U.S. and its partners do face major internal economic problems with inflation, civil needs, energy supplies, medical needs like COVID, and dealing with climate change.
It must also recognize that the U.S. and its partners also face other competing national security needs in dealing with security challengessuch as from China, Iran, North Korea, and terrorism in general. These challenges include the growth of China’s nuclear and conventional forces, the separate threat posed by Russian nuclear modernization, and the need to respond to the near-collapse of many existing arms control agreements and efforts.
At the same time, those who oppose continuing aid must recognize that demanding that Ukraine pay more for its own defense is simply ludicrous. Ukraine has already depleted its financial reserves, exhausted much of its borrowing capacity, and its economy is becoming steadily more crippled and made it is also now harder for Ukraine to keep funding even the operational costs of the war.
In practice, Ukraine cannot continue to fight and to recover without continuing aid from the U.S. and other powers. Moreover, if the war drags on as it well may do, the total costs of both the war and recovery states could easily rise well over $500 billion. A truly long war could put the total cost of the war and recovery to a trillion dollars or more
The Strategic Benefits Aid to Ukraine Provides to the U.S.
This does not mean that there are no limits to what the U.S. can and should do. The U.S. cannot police or heal the world, of provide Ukraine with unlimited support. The U.S. cannot fund every need or allocate funds without regard to its own national interests. It must allocate its limited aid funds and efforts according to their strategic value to the U.S. and how effectively the money will be used. But it must also consider the cost of not providing aid, and the probable end result, and the grand strategic benefits of continuing to provide such aid.
The U.S. must exercise strategic triage. It must spend where this is clearly in its national interest, and Ukraine is a key case in point. U.S. aid to Ukraine is still probably the most cost-effective investment the U.S. and its strategic partners have recently made in national security, and an investment whose benefits will still outweigh its costs.
ENSURING THAT UKRAINE COULD SURVIVE
The cost of failing to provide continuing aid is brutally clear. To put these benefits into perspective, Ukraine only survived the initial Russian attack because of the past flow of aid, extensive and detailed warnings from U.S., British, and other intelligence sources, and the early aid efforts of the U.S. and its partner nations. As the relative force numbers in the Russian-Ukrainian military balance in Figure One help illustrate, there is no way that Ukraine could have defeated a force as large as Russia without the aid Ukraine received in the period before the Russian invasion began
It could not have survived the initial Russian onslaught and then won major victories without the massive flow of U.S. and allied aid that followed as the war progressed. Ukraine certainly emerged as a highly effective force, and one that operated with exceptional skill and courage, but outside aid was critical to sustaining its operations, giving it a decisive edge in intelligence, target, and communications, and allowing it to operate without fear it would exhaust its supplies.
Without such aid through every month of the war to date, and a decisive early U.S. decision to fully support its allies in NATO, and to make its political commitment to support Ukraine so clear, the end result might well have been an initial Russian victory in spite of all the Russian military failings that have now become clear. Without continuing U.S. aid and the same firm political commitment to the Ukraine, it also could also have been a war of attrition that Ukraine lost rather than won.
MAINTAINING AND INCREASING TRUST IN U.S. LEADERSHIP AND THE CONFIDENCE OF STRATEGIC PARTNERS AND ALLIES
In contrast, if the U.S. had not provided an initial flood of aid to Ukraine, and then continued to provide additional aid in response to Russian escalation, this would probably have created a Europe that lost much of its confidence in U.S. guarantees and extended deterrence. It would have been a world where economic sanctions against Russia, and cuts in Russian gas exports, would not have been initiated or sustained.
It is doubtful that Sweden and Finland would have applied to join a weak and indecisive NATO. Quite possibly, Russia would have acted on other ambitions like putting new levels of pressure on the Baltic states, exploiting its enclave in Kaliningrad, and taking full military control of Belarus and Moldova. Failing to provide aid would have sent a message to nations in Asia and the Middle East that they could not count on U.S. aid. In short, any U.S. failure to provide massive continuing aid after the Russian invasion began would have been the equivalent of a proxy war that the United States had decisively lost in spite of all its military strength.
GAINING STRATEGIC LEVERAGE BY EXPLOITING A FAR STRONGER U.S. AND EUROPEAN ECONOMY AND LEVEL OF DEFENSE SPENDING
In contrast, U.S. and allied military aid was provided and the West mobilized to put intense economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia to end the war. This allowed a far smaller Ukraine to defeat Russian efforts to seize most or all of the Ukraine, then allowed Ukraine to counter a massive Russian shift to artillery and missile attacks on both the Ukrainian forces and its civil infrastructure, and also allowed it to play a key role in helping Ukraine support its population through months of grueling fighting.
Russia did begin the war with far more military and financial resources than Ukraine. The Russian GDP was $1,775 billion in current dollars in 2021, or some nine times larger than $201 billion for Ukraine. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Russia also spent $62.2 billion on defense in 2021, or 14 times the $4.35 billion spent by Ukraine.
In practical terms, however, the aid the U.S. and allied nations have provided to Ukraine – coupled to the sanctions and diplomatic pressure they have put on Russia’s economy – have imposed immense costs on a Russia that can scarcely afford the war it now has had to fight. Russia was scarcely an economic or resource-rich military superpower before the war began and the U.S. and its allies could draw upon far larger economic resources.
U.S aid has meant that Russia has had to fight with a prewar GDP that compares with a current U.S. GDP of $22,966 billion in current dollars and is thirteen times larger. And Russia’s prewar military development had to compete with a U.S. defense budget of $811 billon, which is 13 times larger than the Russian defense budget. Equally important, U.S. leadership in creating sanctions against Russia’s economy and energy exports has forced Russia to fight an open-ended war in the face of major losses of its export income, and critical limits to the imports it needs for its military forces and economy.
Accordingly, while U.S. aid to Ukraine has scarcely been cheap, U.S. spending has been at token levels compared to the economic burden that the cost of the Ukraine war and economic sanctions have placed on Russia. Once aid spending is put in the context of American economic strength and leverage, it allows the U.S. to exert immense strategic leverage on Russia at a minimal cost to the U.S. and in ways that U.S. spending on military forces – vital as it is to U.S. security — cannot match.
Moreover, these numbers do not take account of the fact that America’s strategic partners have played a critical role in aiding Ukraine and putting economic pressure on Russia. NATO Europe added another $361 billion to the total of Western defense spending in 2021. While the comparability of Russian defense spending data to the data on the U.S. and the rest of NATO is uncertain, the data now available from the IISS and NATO indicate that total NATO defense spending is some 19 times larger than Russian spending.
Comparisons of Russian and Western GDPs are equally uncertain, but some estimates of the total GDP of NATO were at least $32 trillion at the end of 2021, or some 45% of the global economy or more than 18 times that of Russia. Some estimates go as high as $37 billion, or 21 times the size of Russia. Providing aid to Ukraine effectively has forced Russia to fight a proxy war in which both the U.S. and Europe could exploit the fact they have a massive strategic advantage in both defense spending and total economic resources.
OTHER GRAND STRATEGIC BENEFITS TO THE U.S. MILITARY AND NATO ALLIANCE
The U.S. investment in aid to Ukraine, and Ukrainian military success has had many other grand strategic benefits. The Ukraine’s military successes have exposed Russia’s many military weaknesses, gave the U.S. and NATO a priceless insight into Russia’s limits and vulnerabilities, led Sweden and Finland to apply to join NATO, and led many NATO states – including key cases Germany – to announce plans to revitalize their forces in ways where a decade of NATO efforts to persuade them to spend 2% of their GDP on defense failed to accomplish.
Moreover, the U.S. support of Ukraine did more than show NATO and other partners that alliances can really work. It provided priceless practical military and diplomatic experience in improving the structure of the NATO alliance, and in showing the U.S. how to cooperate with partners in modern warfare vs. counterterrorism and wars like Afghanistan. As many of Russia’s failures in the Ukraine War show, this kind of practical experience is critical in modernizing combat forces and the entire military structure of U.S. and allied forces, and the Russian lack of such experience was a critical reason for many of its defeats.
Nothing else the U.S. could have done – or spent defense and aid funds upon – could have been as productive in ensuring the security of the United States against one of the two major powers that could threaten the U.S. as well as its partners and allies. Nothing the U.S. can do in the future will be as productive in showing allies and partners that collective efforts to defend can secure Europe and the Atlantic, and help rebuild strategic confidence and trust in the U.S.
THE COSTS TO THE U.S. OF NOT CONTINUING TO MEET THE UKRAINE’S AID NEEDS
These benefits do, however, depend on Ukraine surviving and the current war and winning an acceptable peace settlement. They depend upon the U.S. to continue to aid Ukraine as long as it can provide for its own defense, on helping Ukraine to both continue to fight and to meet the civilian needs of its people, and then helping it to recover. Ukraine can still lose the war it has so far won, and these strategic benefits could be rapidly reversed the moment the U.S ceased to provide continuing aid.
It is all too easy sit safely in the U.S. and make political statements about suddenly ending aid to Ukraine, and demand that a war-exhausted nation somehow pay for its own defense and the civilian costs of the fighting. The reality, however, is that the impact on global perception of the United States, its practical strength in competing with Russia and China, and the trust America’s allies and strategic partners put in the U.S. would all suffer devastating damage.
Quite from the moral and ethical nature of abandoning a democracy of more than 43 million people who did nothing to provoke a Russian attack, it is hard to believe that any current strategic partner or ally would then fully trust the United States. The result would sharply undermine NATO, and for all the occasional European rhetoric about a European defense of Europe, there is no indication that Europe can actually achieve the level of unity and military strength and effectiveness required without dependence on the U.S. and trust in its willing to aid Europe in a war.
Other European allies like Britain and allies in other regions like in Asia and in the Middle East might continue to try to work with the U.S., but no partner nation could be expected to fully rely on the U.S. The countries in the forward areas near the Russian border would become far more vulnerable to Russian pressure, and vulnerable states far more reluctant to resist Chinese pressure. Somewhat ironically, the U.S. might as well have to spend several percent more of its GDP on its own military forces to compensate – effectively paying the same amount on national security to suffer a major grand strategic defeat as it would have to pay to win.
Providing Aid in A War with No Clear End
In short, the current challenge to the U.S. and its allies is not how to cut or eliminate aid to the Ukraine. It is is to best provide continuing in a war where there are no clear limits to its length and level of escalation, or to the cost of the Ukraine’s postwar recovery. And here, moving towards a viable peace settlement is critical to both Ukraine’s survival and limiting the cumulative cost of aid.
FIGHTING ON THROUGH THE WINTER AND BEYOND: RUSSIAN ESCALATION VERSUS THE SEARCH FOR PEACE
At present, Russia is still escalating its involvement in the war, and has not shown any serious interest in peace negotiations. This makes agreeing on both the need to both continue aid — and to agree on the terms for seeking a workable peace — a critical aspect of controlling the total cost of aid, and it currently is unclear as to whether either Russia is ready to seriously negotiate a compromise peace or lasting ceasefire peace on any terms acceptable to the Ukraine. If anything, Russia seems far more committed to escalation than any search for a practical peace.
Putin may or may not be betting that the U.S. and European countries will cut back in providing the aid Ukraine needs to survive, but he is clearly calculating that Russia can cripple the Ukrainian economy and either reverse the course of the war or force Zelensky to accept the loss of enough territory, to allow Putin to claim some kind of victory.
Putin may have made some limited withdrawals from the territory Russia had conquered earlier in the war, but he has had established strong defensive lines to hold the rest of the territory Russia has seized, and is fully exploiting the fact winter has arrived. He seems to be calculating that continuing to build-up a defense in depth of the conquered areas Russia still occupies, and launching a constant barrage of artillery, drone, and longer-range missile attacks as winter sets in and temperatures sometimes drop as low as -20 centigrade (-4 Fahrenheit).
Such attacks could cripple the ability of Ukrainian military ability to stay on the offensive, and will destroy enough of the Ukraine’s civil infrastructure to both undermine its warfighting capability and popular support for the war. Their seriousness of the impact of such Russian attacks was all too clear by late November, well before the Ukraine felt the full impact of winter.
As just one example of the damage done as winter set in was provided by Dr. Hans Henri P Kluge of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on November 21st that these attacks had damaged or destroyed half of the Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and that 10 million Ukrainians were without power, and that some three million might have to flee their home to seek heat and safety. He also noted that the WHO had documented 703 attacks on the Ukraine’s health infrastructure since the Russian invasion had started and that hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities were “no longer fully operational, lacking fuel, water and electricity to meet basic needs, and that “Put simply, this winter will be about survival,” and that the Ukraine was already “facing its darkest days in the war so far.”
ATTACKS ON UKRAINIAN CIVILIAN ARE RUSSIA’S MOST COST-EFFECTIVE OPTION
Here, it is all too clear that Russia may well have – or be able to obtain – enough missile systems and drones to to pursue such a strategy indefinitely. While some experts felt that Russia faced serous limits to its number of long-range missiles as early as the spring of 2022, there is no clear evidence it aces such problems. Russia was firing as many as 96 longer-range missiles per day by the third week of November and had destroyed nearly half of Ukraine’s energy system, as well as major port, shipping, rail and transport, water, and other civilian facilities.
Russia has also shown in can adapt a variety of older missile systems – like the S300 surface-to-air missile system — to attack Ukrainian targets. Russia may be obtaining missile components from North Korea, and it certainly is obtaining systems from Iran. according to press reports, Iran and Russia also agreed to create missile production facilities in Russia in late-November that would allow Russia to produce large numbers of cheaper cruise missiles to use in attacking civilian and military targets in the Ukraine. There is also growing evidence that Iran has already sold large numbers of such ballistic missile systems, cruise missiles, and drones like the Fateh 110, Zolfaghar, Mohajer 6, Shahed 131, and Shahed 126 to Russia.
At the same time, Russian forces are now digging in to create multiple lines of deep defense within Ukraine and are now deployed near major river barriers like the one near Kherson, or in well-chosen terrain. Russia also continues to deploy more troops to new defensive lines in Ukraine. Many seem to be rushed forward without adequate training, weapons, and command structure, but some do include more elite Russian forces, and there are some indications that while a large portion of the troops that have been rapidly mobilized are not properly prepared, other may be receiving far more adequate training and preparation to deploy forward later in the year after winter has fully taken hold.
GENERAL MILLEY ON RUSSIA’S NEW STRATEGY IN THE UKRAINE AND THE SEARCH FOR PEACE
General Mark A. Milley, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chief of Staff, provided a detailed official U.S. military picture of these changes in Russia’s strategy in a news conference on October 16, 2022. He stressed his belief that the Ukraine could defend as long it received the necessary U.S. and allied military and civil aid bur warned that Russia changes in strategy and tactics were exploiting the Ukraine’s weaknesses and were likely to limit the Ukrainian ability to win a decisive victory:
This is a war of choice — it’s a war of choice for Russia. They embarked on a tremendous strategic mistake. They made a choice in February of this year to illegally invade a country that posed no threat to Russia. In making that choice, Russia established several objectives. They wanted to overthrow President Zelenskyy and his government. They wanted to secure access to the Black Sea. They wanted to capture Odessa. They wanted to seize all the way to the Dnipro River, pause, and then continue to attack all the way to the Carpathian Mountains.
In short, they wanted to overrun all of Ukraine, and they lost. They didn’t achieve those objectives. They failed to achieve their strategic objectives and they are now failing to achieve their operational and tactical objectives.
Russia changed their war aims in March and beginning of April. Their war of choice then focused on the seizure of the Donbas, the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. That was their operational objectives and they failed there. Then they changed again and expanded to seize Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
The strategic reframing of their objectives, of their illegal invasion have all failed, every single one of them. And we’ve just witnessed last week Russia’s retreat from Kherson. They retreated across the Dnipro River, they moved to more defensible positions south of the river. Their losses due to Ukrainian success and skill and bravery on the battlefield have been very, very significant.
And it’s clear that the Russian will to fight does not match the Ukrainian will to fight. On the battlefield, Ukrainians’ offensive up in Kharkiv has been very successful, where they crossed the Oskil River and they have moved to the east and are near the town of Svatove.
There is a significant ongoing fight down in Bakhmut right now and in the vicinity of Siversk and Soledar, where the Ukrainians are fighting a very, very successful mobile defense. There is limited contact right now in Zaporizhzhia and limited contact in and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. And as we already discussed, Kherson’s offensive has already been successful.
So across the entire front line trace of some 900 or so kilometers, the Ukrainians have achieved success after success after success and the Russians have failed every single time. They’ve lost strategically, they’ve lost operationally, and I repeat, they lost tactically.
What they’ve tried to do, they failed at. They started this war and Russia can end this war. Russia can make another choice, and they could make a choice today, to end this war. However, Russia is choosing to use their time to attempt to regroup their forces and they are imposing a campaign of terror, a campaign of maximum suffering on the Ukrainian civilian population in order to defeat Ukrainian morale.
The Russians are striking throughout the depth and breadth of all of Ukraine with air-launched cruise missiles, with Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles, and with other types of munitions. They are striking the Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, and it has little or no military purpose.
While assessments are ongoing, yesterday’s strikes looked like they launched at least 60 missiles and they may have launched upwards of 90 or even perhaps 100, and we’ll have better assessments in the days ahead. But it was likely the largest wave of missiles that we’ve seen since the beginning of the war.
These missiles, again, they targeted intentionally and damaged civilian power generation facilities to cause unnecessary suffering with the civilian population. We assess now that over a quarter of Ukrainian civilians are without power.
The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid, causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population, is a war crime. With the onset of winter, families will be without power, and more importantly, without heat. Basic human survival and subsistence is going to be severely impacted and human suffering for the Ukrainian population is going to increase.
These strikes will undoubtedly hinder Ukraine’s ability to care for the sick and the elderly. Their hospitals will be partially operational. The elderly are going to be exposed to the elements. In the wake of unrelenting Russian aggression and incalculable human suffering, Ukraine will continue to endure. Ukraine is not going to back down. The Ukrainian people are hard, they are tough, and most of all, they’re free and they want to remain free.
Ukraine is going to continue to take the fight to the Russians. And I just had a significant conversation with my Ukrainian counterpart and he assures me that that is the future for Ukraine.
As Ukraine continues to fight, air defense capabilities are becoming critical for their future success. An integrated system — an integrated air defense system, an integrated air and missile defense system, is what is necessary as Ukraine repels Russian aerial attacks.
And a significant portion of today’s conversations in today’s meeting with almost 50 countries focused on how we, as a global coalition, can provide the right mix of air defense systems and ammunition for Ukraine to continue its control of the skies and prevent the Russians from achieving air superiority.
To combat continued Russian strikes, last Thursday, the United States announced $400 million in additional commitments to support Ukraine, and those capabilities included missiles for the HAWK air defense systems, which is a complement to what Spain has recently committed. There’s other air defense systems included in that $400 million package, along with ground systems such as up-armored Humvees, grenade launchers and additional HIMARS ammunition and lots of other pieces of equipment.
Wars are not fought by armies; they’re fought by nations. This war is fought by the Ukrainian people, and it’s fought by the Russian people, and this is a war that Russia’s leadership has chosen to put Russia into. They didn’t have to do this, but they did, and they have violated Ukrainian sovereignty and they violated territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is in complete contradiction to the basic rules that underlined the United Nations Charter established at the end of World War II. This is one of the most significant attempts to destroy the rules-based order that World War II was fought all about, and we, the United States are determined to continue to support Ukraine with the means to defend themselves for as long as it takes.
But at the end of the day, Ukraine will retain — will remain a free and independent country with its territory intact. Russia could end this war today. Russia could put an end to it right now, but they won’t. They’re going to continue that fight. They’re going to continue that fight into the winter as best we can tell, and we, the United States, on the direction of the president and the secretary of defense, we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes to keep them free, sovereign, independent with their territory intact.
The president of the United States has been very, very clear to us: that it’s up to Ukraine to decide how and when or if they negotiate with the Russians, and we will continue to support them as long as it takes. The United States will continue to support Ukraine with the best possible equipment to position them on the battlefield to give them positions of strength against the Russians, and that is also true of all the other nations that attended the meeting today. There is an absolute sense of urgency, an absolute sense of determination on the part of all of the member states that attended our meeting today, and I can tell you, the cohesion and coherence of the organization is complete and the resolve is high.
Ukrainians are not asking for anyone to fight for them. They don’t want American soldiers, or British, or German, or French, or anybody else to fight for them. They will fight for themselves. All Ukraine is asking for is the means to fight, and we are determined to provide that means. Ukrainians will do this on their timeline, and until then, we will continue to support all the way for as long as it takes.
… And right now, what we’re seeing is the lines from Kharkiv all the way down to Kherson, for the most part, are beginning to stabilize. Now, whether that means they will be stable throughout the winter or not, nobody knows — nobody knows for certain. Come January, February, that ground probably will freeze, which could lend itself to offensive operations.
So there could be a lot of activity in the winter, but typically speaking, because of the weather, the tactical operations will slow down a bit. And I think that, you know, President Biden and President Zelenskyy himself has said that there’ll be a — at the end of the day, there’ll be a political solution.
So if there’s a slowdown in the actual tactical fighting, if that happens, then that may become a window possibly — it may not — for a political solution or a — at least the beginnings of talks to initiate a political solution. So that’s all I was saying.
… Ukraine’s a pretty big country. It — this is not a small piece of turf. And the probability of Russia achieving its strategic objectives of conquering Ukraine, of overrunning Ukraine, the probability of that happening is close to zero. I can suppose theoretically it’s possible, maybe, I guess, but I don’t see it happening, militarily. So I just don’t see that happening.
But they do currently occupy about 20 percent of that — of Ukraine. So they occupy a piece of ground that’s about 900 kilometers long and, I don’t know, probably about 75 or 80 kilometers deep. So it’s not a small piece of ground.
And they invaded this country with upwards of 170, 180,000 troops in multiple field armies, combined arms armies, and they have suffered a tremendous amount of casualties, but he’s also done this mobilization and called up additional people. So the Russians have reinforced and they have — they still have significant Russian combat power inside Ukraine.
Now, Ukraine’s had great success in the defense. They did a tremendous job in defeating the Russian offensive. It’s incredible what they were able to do. And then they went on the offensive at the beginning of September and they had great success up in Kharkiv and they’ve had better success even down in Kherson, as you just witnessed.
But Kherson and Kharkiv, physically, geographically, are relatively small compared to the whole, so that that — the military task of militarily kicking the Russians physically out of Ukraine is a very difficult task. And it’s not going to happen in the next couple of weeks unless the Russian army completely collapses, which is unlikely.
So, in terms of probability, the probability of a Ukrainian military victory defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine to include what they define or what the claim is Crimea, the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high, militarily. Politically, there may be a political solution where, politically, the Russians withdraw, that’s possible. You want to negotiate from a position of strength. Russia right now is on its back.
The Russian military is suffering tremendously. Leaders have been, you know, their leadership is really hurting bad. They’ve lost a lot of causalities, killed and wounded. They’ve lost — I won’t go over exact numbers because they’re classified, but they’ve lost a tremendous amount of their tanks and their infantry fighting vehicles. They’ve lost a lot of their fourth and fifth-generation fighters and helicopters and so on and so forth.
The Russian military is really hurting bad. So, you want to negotiate at a time when you’re at your strength and your opponent is at weakness. And it’s possible, maybe that there’ll be a political solution. All I’m — all I’m saying is there’s a possibility for it.
… And in terms of how long Russia can sustain their effort, that’s left to be seen. I think the Chairman just gave a very accurate and compelling description of kind of where the Russians are right now. They’re — they have some problems. They’ve had problems since the very beginning of this, trying to sustain their efforts. Those problems have only become more acute. They’ve lost a lot of people. And as important, they’ve lost a lot of important military gear. So, the numbers of tanks that they’ve lost, the numbers of armored personnel carriers, pretty staggering numbers.
As important, the numbers of precision guided munitions that they’ve rifled through in this endeavor is striking. But, they won’t be able to reproduce those munitions very quickly, because there are trade restrictions on their — that have prevented them from rapidly gaining microchips and other things that required to produce these kinds of munitions. And so, it may take years for them to restock that inventory up to the point that they were before they started this conflict.
We’ve seen them struggle with having enough munitions to fight the way that they want to fight, so they’re reaching out to Iran, they’re reaching out to North Korea. I do think that those countries will probably provide them some capability.
And so for that reason I don’t think this will be over anytime soon. Our — you know our goal, our requirement is to make sure that we continue to provide Ukraine with the means to do what’s necessary to prosecute their campaign.
And so they have to continue to keep the pressure on the Russians going forward. And I think winter fight favors the Ukrainians.
We pushed, you know, enormous amounts of winter gear into Ukraine, thanks to countries like Canada and others who have really been very, very generous. Russia on the other hand, I mean they’re fighting in a foreign country. Ukrainians have challenged their supply lines.
It will be difficult for them to get the kinds of gear in to their troops that they need to be able to fight effectively. And so I think the Ukrainians will have the upper hand in this fight as they have right now but that they’ll continue to maintain that upper hand going into the winter.
Just like we saw them operate in February of last year, they know the land, they can — they can pull things from their local communities and they’ll be prepared for this — for this winter weather. And I don’t think that the Russians will be as prepared and they’ll continue to struggle to get things into their troops using the supply lines that they currently have.
And the Ukrainians will continue to pressure those supply lines there.
CHANGES IN RUSSIA STRATEGY AND THE PROSPECTS FOR A PEACE SETTLEMENT
These changes in Russian strategy virtually ensure that Putin must be carefully watching the political status U.S. and Ukraine’s other sources of aid and feel that prolonging the war and the cost of aid will eventually deprive the Ukraine of enough aid to keep fighting. Targeting civilian infrastructure, residences, governance, and political targets also has the benefit that they cannot move, and that sophisticated targeting intelligence is not needed. “Terror” is hard to impose on dedicated military forces like Ukraine’s, but exhausting, intimidating, and weakening civilian is a different story.
They also warn that the leaders of Ukraine may initially have over-estimated the importance its victories and Ukraine’s military and civil strength. Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, initially demanded total Russian withdrawal, compensation for all of the damage done, and punishment of all war criminals. These demanding terms may have been a negotiating or morale-building ploy, but Putin clearly was not willing to accept any of them, and his escalation to a missile war on civilian targets scarcely indicates that he is willing to accept them now neither.
Enhancing the Prospects for a Viable of Peace
That said, both sides will have growing reasons to compromise on a peace settlement if the U.S. continues the flow of aid Ukraine needs. Putin has clearly chosen to limit Russian offensive attacks on the ground and has even sacrificed some territory. An open-ended war does seem to be developing some degree of popular opposition and has to be extremely costly to the entire Russian economy and the capacity to modernize and create more effective military forces. Major Russian casualties have to have some political impact, and openly fighting a war against Ukrainian civilians has its political and strategic costs in dealing with the rest of the world.
THE U.S. APPROACH TO A SETTLEMENT
It also seems clear that the Biden Administration has quietly pressed Zelensky to accept some form of peace or ceasefire that does not necessarily involve returning all the areas lost since the February invasion, makes no Russian concessions regarding the return of the territory lost in 2014, and does not involve Russian reparations and any war crimes trials. Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national-security adviser, has been reported to have had talks take such position with several Russian official in the fall of 2022.
Key non-partisan voices like General Milley, have also advocated a similar approach. Milley has made it clear that he does not feel that Ukraine can totally defeat Russia on the battlefield, or drive Russia completely out of Ukraine. He is reported to have said that Ukraine should use the winter – and its recent victories – to negotiate a pragmatic peace settlement, although he was careful to stipulate that the U.S. should “continue to support Ukraine as long as it takes to keep them free” and that Ukraine should “decide how or when or if they will negotiate with the Russians.”
POSSIBLE SHIFTS IN THE UKRAINE’S APPROACH TO WAR AS THE CONFLICT INTENSIFIES
Ukraine’s position also seems to have shifted in response – at least publicly. Zelensky stated in early November that he then sought an end to the war with “genuine peace talks,” and one based on three conditions: “stopping Russian aggression, restoring our territorial integrity and forcing Russia into genuine peace talks.” This position offers more hope of success than his earlier position. Zelensky then demanded total withdrawal, compensation for all of the damage done to the Ukraine, and punishment of all war criminals.
At the same time the volatility of the war – and the fact it can escalate unpredictably at any time – is indicated by the fact Putin has claimed that Ukraine was considering the use of “dirty” radiological weapons, and that he hinted at possible escalation to the se tactical nuclear weapons – although without any indication of real Russian preparations to them.
This risks involved were also highlighted by an incident where a Ukrainian air defense missile killed two Poles on Polish territory on November 16 th, 2022. NATO initially had to consider what would have happened if Russia had escalated to attacking NATO territory and possibly having to act on Article 5. It later seemed clear that the missile that had hit Poland was a Ukrainian S300 surface-to-air missile that had a malfunction, but the incident was an all too clear warning of how uncertain the future course of the war was becoming.
Given the fact that Russia had fired as many as 88 missiles against Ukrainian civil targets on the same day as Ukrainian missile had hit Poland, and fired nearly 100 missiles per day on some of days that followed, it is all too clear that the level of Russian willingness to escalate has steadily more unpredictable along with the future course of the war.
In short, there are no current signs that Russia is seriously attempt to negotiate or respond to any shifts in the Ukraine’s position, and the U.S. must be prepared to both increase its levels of aid and give Ukraine more lethal and more advanced defensive systems. As of late November, there was no credible way, as war set in, to predict that the level of conflict could be reduced, or that the civilian and military costs to Ukraine would drop. It was also all too clear that the Ukraine would probably not survive the loss of U.S. aid. There also did not seem to be any near-term prospects that this situation would change.
Controlling the Future Cost of Aid
One thing is all too clear. The key to dealing with the cost of U.S. military and civil aid to Ukraine is not to eliminate U.S. aid that is critical to Ukraine’s survival and recovery. Such an act would not be an act of strategic triage like leaving a distant Afghanistan that could not govern itself or perform a fair share of the fight. Ending U.S. aid, or cutting it to ineffective levels, would be an act of gross strategic stupidity, effectively snatch defeat from the jaws of a considerable victory, do immense damage to America’s role as a leader of the free world, and betray the principles on which the United States is based.
Continuing aid also should not be a partisan issue. Democrats need to accept the fact that some sacrifices will have to be made in civil spending to meet a vital U.S. national security need, and that undermining such an effort is far too likely to create a world where the U.S. ultimately has to pay far more for security and make much larger sacrifices in civilian spending.
Republicans should also remember the value of bipartisan national security efforts since the end of World War II, and the leadership of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Regan, Bush, and McCain played in calling for such aid—as well as the non-partisan security efforts of many key Republican leaders and members of the Senate and the House. The U.S. does not exist in a world where it can export the burden of leadership or divide around some form of neo-isolationism.
PURSUING BOTH THE RIGHT KIND OF WAR AND THE RIGHT SEARCH FOR PEACE
At the same time, U.S. aid should not be open ended or be provided in the form of a blank check. The need to balance U.S. national security spending and spending on domestic needs is all too real. The proper position the U.S. should seek is to meet Ukrainian critical needs while pursuing the kind of peace that General Milley had recommended. This is a path where there is no current indication that the cost of U.S. aid would reach levels that would make it impossible to fund effective military and civilian programs unless the Ukraine War escalated far beyond the boundaries of the Ukraine.
In practical terms, this means the U.S. may already be on the best course. Ukraine may already have won as much of an overall victory as it can. The best outcome for Ukraine does not seem to be to fight for the kind of total victory in recovering its lost territory that Zelensky initially called for, but rather to negotiate an end to the fighting and the growing level of damage to the Ukraine’s economy even if this does mean some Russian territorial gains, no Russian reparations, and no war crimes trials.
Unfortunately, Putin may have no interest in such a peace until it is clear that Ukraine will continue to get U.S. aid until such a settlement is reached, or until it is clear he cannot defeat Ukraine by destroying civilian targets or by trying to deploy more military force. There seems to be no current prospect Russia would agree to any broader withdrawal from the Ukrainian territory it seized in 2014, to any serious form of economic compensation, or any meaningful war crimes trials. There also seems to be little prospect that any real peace can be reached without the kind compromises that Milley has suggested.
At the same time, continued U.S. and other Western support must be convincing enough to convince Putin that any Ukrainian territorial concessions would have to be limited, a settlement could not weaken Ukraine’s future capability to defend, and a settlement would have to have enough credibility as a lasting solution to creating a true peace rather than some pause in the fighting that Russia could exploit in the future.
MANAGING U.S. AD ALLIED MILITARY AND CIVIL AID EFFECTIVELY
Given the fact that there is no predictable way to force an end to the fighting, planning, and managing aid in the most coordinated and effective way possible is the best immediate way to controlling its cost. The West and Ukraine have already done well in improvising. They now need to show that they can make aid as effective as possible while limiting its cost.
Given the shift in the war to attacks on Ukraine’s civilians and civil infrastructure, the U.S. should expend its current efforts at cooperation the build such a planning and management effort and make current wartime flow of civil aid cost-effective as soon as possible. It should expand current efforts to develop the kind of longer-term post conflict planning that is really needed. Any realistic peace settlement will depend upon the existence of a functional and credible form of Western recovery aid to Ukraine – one where the U.S. will almost certainly have to pay a major share.
Past experiences warns that this will require an ongoing management effort with demanding controls of corruption and cost-effectiveness, and a postwar planning effort that will link the Ukraine to the EU and the economy of Europe in ways that would allow it to export without the same dependence on naval routes that Russia might challenge or interdict
A similar military structure – perhaps led by NATO, but one that includes all major donors of military aid – is equally necessary. The Ukrainian Defense Contact Group already sets the precedent for such an effort, and better coordinated and managed military aid efforts can limit costs to some degree. At the same time, such an effort will have to deal with the unpredictability of war. As is the case with civil aid, no such structure can have a stable plan during the actual fighting and having as sound and coordinated a structure for military aid will be equally critical.
INCREASING SANCTIONS AND OTHER PRESSURES ON RUSSIA
At the same time, it is critical to remember that the West is also supporting Ukraine by conducting the equivalent of economic warfare against Russia. Economic sanctions, controlling on the levels and technologies involved in trade, and taking measures to limit European dependence on energy exports are all additional ways of cutting the cost of aid to the Ukraine, and pushing Russia into some form of viable peace agreement.
This means that planning and managing aid efforts needs to be coordinated with ongoing joint Western efforts to manage war-related sanctions and other forms of economic warfare against Russia. The issue is not simply aid but exploiting Russia’s vulnerabilities with efforts like permanently reducing European dependence on Russian gas and oil.
Economic warfare alone cannot defeat Russia or force it to negotiate. It is not a substitute for effective levels of aid, but it is a powerful weapon in pushing Russia towards peace, and natural partner to U.S. and allied aid. It is also an area where the U.S. and its partners can escalate to cut the cost of aid to the Ukraine without sacrificing the Ukraine in the process.
Moreover, The U.S. will have to work closely with NATO European states to modernize NATO’s defenses and make its forces more effective and as a more effective deterrent. It is not enough to help the Ukraine, and fail to correct the years of neglect and underspending that have weakened NATO’s defenses.
FACING THE COST OF FREEDOM
No matter how well the U.S. and its allies manage and plan aid to the Ukraine, the end result of meeting the challenges posed by the war in the Ukraine will not be easy or cheap. Creating truly effective international bodies to plan and manage civil and military aid efforts, with representation from a full range of donors, can limit the future flow of aid to some extent, but the U.S. and its allies must face the possible need for years of future support. Any other course of action would leave Ukraine far too weak to offer any clear hope of stability and undermine many of the gains the U.S. has made in working with its NATO allies and creating a more effective deterrent to Russia.
At the same time, giving conflict termination the same priority as war fighting is also critical The U.S. can encourage some limited Ukrainian territorial concessions, but it faces the risk that all the strategic gains the war has so far made would be lost if Russia scored any kind of victory or if the Ukraine and NATO did not emerge from the war with the proper degree of military security.
The U.S. must also fully accept the risk that it may well have to suddenly surge more aid depending on the course of the fighting and on the levels of escalation that develop in the months to come. In any case, the U.S. must accept the fact that the cost of U.S. aid will remain high as long as the war continues and during the peace years of Ukraine’s postwar recovery.
And again, it must be stressed that the U.S. also cannot push Ukraine too far in making compromises to obtain an end to the fighting or cut aid to the extent that it effectively abandons it. Putin’s Russia may well be unwilling to accept anything but the equivalent of victory in any peace negotiation until it is totally clear that aid to Ukraine will continue and Russia will face massive further expenditures and losses.
The compensation for accepting this burden, however, will be that military and the economic burden placed on Russia will be far higher in relative terms than the burden on the U.S. and its allies, and the longer Putin rejects a real peace that more he will have deal with growing international hostility. The worst case becomes a continuing the flow of aid to what will remain would ra proxy war, and one where the U.S. will continue to receive major strategic gains by weakening one of its two major threats. It will also be a struggle that will keep sending a clear message about U.S. resolve to China. In many ways, it will be a situation where Putin have turned the Russian effort to continue the war into even more of a self-inflicted wound.
Figure One: Ukraine Military Balance in Late 2021: Part One
Figure One: Ukraine Military Balance in Late 2021: Part Two
Department Moves Quick to Replenish Weapons Sent to Ukraine
Following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the United States embarked on a long-term commitment to provide Ukraine with the tools and equipment it needs to defend its sovereignty. Since that time, more than $14.5 billion in assistance has been committed to Ukraine.
Some of the assistance provided has been new and purchased on contract from defense industry manufacturers as a part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. But much of the equipment, some $12.5 billion worth, has been provided as part of presidential drawdown authority. That means things such as Javelin and Stinger missiles, HIMARS rocket launcher systems, and Switchblade unmanned aerial systems, for instance, have been pulled directly from existing U.S. military inventory to be sent overseas.
Because so much gear has been pulled from U.S. military units, that equipment must now be replaced in order to sustain America’s own readiness, and the Defense Department has already contracted with an array of manufacturers to give back to military units what was taken from them in order to support Ukraine.
“As we work with industry to accelerate production on both replenishment systems and direct procurements under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative or USAI, we’re using a number of tools to get the funding moving, and the contracting happening quickly,” Bill LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said during a briefing today at the Pentagon.
Already, about $1.2 billion in contracts are underway to replenish U.S. military stocks for weapons sent to Ukraine, LaPlante said. That includes about $352 million in funding for replacement Javelin missiles, $624 million for replacement Stinger missiles, and $33 million for replacement HIMARS systems.
Another $1.2 billion in contracts are underway now for equipment promised to Ukraine under USAI, including for things like 155mm ammunition, Switchblade unmanned aerial systems, radar systems and tactical vehicles.
The Department is expediting these efforts by using undefinitized contracting actions, or UCAs, to get industry working on contracts before they are definitized, LaPlante said.
“You can put a UCA together within a week, and we’re doing that,” he said. “We’re also making use of indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contracts, or IDIQ. If you have IDIQs, and we have many of them, what you can do is just add task orders to them very quickly to get equipment on contract.”
In late April, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III participated in the first meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group where leaders from about 40 nations met to discuss both current and future efforts to provide support for Ukraine and to help Ukraine maintain its sovereignty going forward. Today, the contact group includes about 50 nations, and the group concluded its fifth meeting just yesterday in Germany.
Now, as a kind of offshoot of the contact group, LaPlante said he will meet Sept. 28 with the national armaments directors from other contact group nations to discuss how the global defense industrial base can continue to support Ukraine both now and into the future.
“Right now we have three kind of themes — but this will evolve as we build the agenda,” LaPlante said. “The first is comparing notes and giving situation reports on ramping up production of key capabilities. We have a lot to learn from each other.”
Also on the agenda is developing a global picture of the defense supply chain, he said.
“[This includes] what are we seeing in the supply chain … the typical things in the supply chain are microelectronics and the obsolescence of them, things like ball bearings even, and solid rocket motors [and] other sensors,” he said. “We want to compare notes on what people are seeing in their supply chain and what answers people have had.”
Finally, he said, a topic of discussion will be to build both interoperability between systems and also to increase interchangeability as well. “That is the ability for us to take a munition from one country and use it in a weapons system of another, and vice versa.
Just yesterday, the Defense Department announced a new presidential drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $675 million. The package includes, among other things, more munitions for HIMARS, four 105mm Howitzers with 36,000 accompanying rounds, additional high-speed anti-radiation missiles, and 1.5 million rounds of small arms ammunition, said Sasha Baker, the deputy under secretary of defense for policy.
“This represents the 20th drawdown package we’ve provided to Ukraine,” said Baker. “It includes equipment … the Ukrainians have already demonstrated, in many cases, that they can use to great effect.”
The latest security assistance package brings the total amount of U.S. assistance to Ukraine since the February invasion to more than $14.5 million, Baker said.
“We think this underscores our unwavering support for Ukraine as it continues to defend its sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression,” Baker said. “We believe, at the end of the day, that Russia’s efforts have not succeeded and will not succeed. And when it comes to helping Ukraine to defend itself, and when it comes to making sure that there is significant pressure on Russia to end this conflict, [that requires] making sure that our own alliance is as strong and as resolute as it can be to deter Russian aggression.”
That unity of effort and resolve, Baker said, was evident in the most recent meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and has been evident all along as demonstrated by the Ukrainian people.
U.S. MILITARY AID TO UKRAINE GROWS TO HISTORIC PROPORTIONS — ALONG WITH RISKS
Ukraine is on track to become the largest recipient of U.S military assistance in the last century. But questions surround the policy.
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.”
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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.
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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.
That’s in part because of the gravity of Russian actions in Ukraine, including widespread evidence of war crimes; the lack of a coherent vision for alternatives to military support for Ukraine, including from European allies; and the Biden administration’s determination to keep U.S. support for Ukraine a material one rather than one involving direct engagement, such as a no-fly zone or American troops on the ground, particularly after a disastrous exit from Afghanistan last year. Questioning U.S. security assistance for Ukraine is seen by many as a controversial stance.
“There’s kind of a bubble in Washington; the conventional wisdom is, give Ukraine almost anything it needs to fight back against Russia,” said Hartung, of the Quincy Institute. He noted that a “line” drawn early on by the Biden administration to avoid Russian escalation and potential nuclear threats — like the exclusion of long-range missiles that can reach into Russia — seemed to be slowly moving. “There seems to be an upper limit, but it seems to be getting higher, what they’re willing to send.”
Ultimately, however, much of the debate in the U.S. lacks a long-term vision, Hartung believes.
“There’s not a lot of support in official circles for trying to push for some kind of negotiated settlement to the war,” he said. The U.S. position, he added, has been “defending Ukraine.” But there’s little clarity about how the assistance is shaping the conflict. “It just a one-liner almost. And not much analysis of, well, does that work? What are the consequences on the ground? Is it going to prolong the war? That stuff is not in the mainstream discussion, and I think there needs to be more debate about that.”
Ukrainian gunmen prepares powder charges for U.S.-made M777 howitzers prior to loading their gun on the front line in the Kharkiv region on Aug. 1, 2022.
Photo: Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images
Tracking the Weapons
In the absence of more scrutiny of the Biden administration’s end goals in Ukraine, much of the debate in recent months has focused on ensuring that the U.S. can keep track of the security assistance it sends there. Earlier this summer, the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General raised concerns about the “transparency and traceability” of funds devoted to Ukraine after Congress rushed to allocate multiple rounds of additional assistance in response to the invasion. The office has been filled on an acting basis for many months — in itself a reason for concern.
The inspector general’s warning came after legislators last spring authorized the U.S. government to devote more than $40 billion to responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through support — ranging from defense equipment to refugee assistance — involving more than half a dozen U.S. agencies. The most recent $3 billion package is part of more than $6 billion approved under that bill for the Defense Department’s special Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which supplements conventional avenues through which the U.S. is also boosting Ukrainian military capabilities and those of other “countries impacted by the situation in Ukraine.”
In recent months, legislators have sought to impose some oversight on that massive influx of assistance, including through half a dozen proposed amendments to the defense budget that would introduce measures like congressional reporting requirements, regular briefings to defense and foreign affairs committees, reassurances that weapons would not be provided to extremist groups, and efforts to prevent the illicit distribution of weapons. A number of Republicans have also called for the establishment of a special inspector general tasked with monitoring assistance to Ukraine, and earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., single-handedly held up passage of the $40 billion aid package over a similar demand. So far, however, efforts to more robustly monitor the aid have taken second place to getting the aid to Ukraine urgently — a priority that critics note is no longer justified as the latest aid packages signal a much longer-term effort, with plenty of time for better tracking.
In fact, the challenge of tracking where military assistance ends up, and how it is used, is hardly a new one for the U.S. But the sheer scale and speed of the assistance being sent to Ukraine has observers concerned that existing monitoring mechanisms, already riddled with problems, won’t be able to keep up. In recent conflicts, the U.S. lost track of tens of thousands of rifles and pistols it bought for Iraqi security forces, and tens of thousands more pieces of equipment were lost in Afghanistan, frequently ending up in the hands of the Taliban, who loved to display them. Elsewhere, foreign forces who were trained and equipped by the U.S. for “counterterrorism” purposes regularly used their increased capabilities to fight in conflicts unrelated to U.S. security goals, sometimes committing widespread human rights abuses in the process.
U.S. officials’ efforts to track the weapons distributed through security assistance programs across the world have often focused on developing countries — with major recipients like Israel facing little scrutiny even when U.S.-provided equipment was connected to serious violations, including against U.S. citizens. But even in those countries where end-use monitoring is in place, the offices tasked with the job are chronically understaffed. That has raised the alarm about the number of weapons flooding Ukraine in recent months, particularly as Ukraine has historically been a hub in the illicit arms trade, with weapons smuggled through Ukraine ending up in conflicts from Afghanistan to West Africa.
The State Department spokesperson told The Intercept that the administration takes the risk of diversion and illicit proliferation “very seriously.”
“We are actively engaging with the Government of Ukraine to ensure accountability of assistance, even amidst the challenging conflict environment in which it is operating. Despite Russia’s steady drumbeat of false allegations, we see Ukraine’s frontline units effectively utilizing security assistance at large scale every day on the battlefield as they defend their country against Russia’s aggression,” the spokesperson wrote, citing the Ukrainian authorities’ recent announcement of a new commission to strengthen monitoring of donated military equipment. “We will not approve transfers if we assess that a recipient will be unable to adequately secure U.S. origin materiel consistent with the provisions of the underlying agreements supporting the sale or transfer of such equipment.”
Ultimately, critics warn, flooding Ukraine with weapons faster than officials can monitor them presents risks whose full impact won’t be known for years. And while most agree there is a moral imperative to support Ukrainian defense against Russia’s aggression, they note that sending military assistance alone, and boosting military spending across the board, only sets the stage for more conflict.
“If the U.S. is going to send weapons to Ukraine, it has to be in the service of ending the conflict as quickly as possible to prevent further bloodshed.”
“If the U.S. is going to send weapons to Ukraine, it has to be in the service of ending the conflict as quickly as possible to prevent further bloodshed. … There has to be ruthless pursuit of diplomatic engagement, and the Biden administration hasn’t signaled that it’s interested in diplomacy,” said Semler, who also noted that while Ukraine aid is a fraction of the U.S. defense budget, the endless trickle of military assistance risks drumming up support for a broader increase for military spending that is already at historic levels.
“They say, ‘Ukraine needs help, that’s money for us,’ and then, ‘The overall budget needs increasing, because look at Putin, Poland is next, Finland is next, the U.S. has to be prepared,” he added, referring to defense officials. “There’s a moral case for sending weapons [to Ukraine], but as a practical matter, in terms of actually ending the conflict, I just don’t see the effort going in.”
US is running low on some weapons and ammunition to transfer to Ukraine.
As the first full winter of Russia’s war with Ukraine sets in, the US is running low on some high-end weapons systems and ammunition available to transfer to Kyiv, three US officials with direct knowledge tell CNN.
The strain on weapons stockpiles – and the ability of the US industrial base to keep up with demand – is one of the key challenges facing the Biden administration as the US continues to send billions of dollars of weapons to Ukraine to support its fight against Russia. One of the officials said the stockpiles of certain systems are “dwindling” after nearly nine months of sending supplies to Kyiv during the high-intensity war, as there’s “finite amount” of excess stocks which the US has available to send.
Among the weapons systems where there’s particular concern about US stockpiles meeting Ukrainian demands are 155mm artillery ammunition and Stinger anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles, the sources said.
Some sources also raised concerns about US production of additional weapons systems, including HARMs anti-radiation missiles, GMLRS surface-to-surface missiles and the portable Javelin anti-tank missiles – although the US has moved to ramp up production for those and other systems.
For the first time in two decades, the US is not directly involved in a conflict after withdrawing from Afghanistan and transitioning to an advisory role in Iraq. Without the need to produce weapons and ammunition for a war, the US has not manufactured the quantities of materiel needed to sustain an enduring, high-intensity conflict.
Defense officials say the crunch is not affecting US readiness, as the weapons sent to Ukraine don’t come out of what the US keeps for its own contingencies.
But the seriousness of the problem is a source of debate within the Defense Department, officials say. While the US will not be able to provide high-end munitions to Ukraine indefinitely, assessing whether the US is “running low” on stockpiles is subjective, one senior defense official said, as it depends on how much risk the Pentagon is willing to take on.
Multiple officials underscored that the US would never put at risk its own readiness, and every shipment is measured against its impact on US strategic reserves and war plans. Both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley monitor levels of US stockpiles closely, officials said.
A major manufacturing challenge
One reason for the concern about low stockpiles is that the US industrial base is having difficulty keeping up with demand quickly enough, the sources said. In addition, European allies cannot sufficiently backfill Ukrainian military requests due to their need to maintain to their own forces’ supplies.
“It’s getting harder and harder,” Rep. Mike Quigley, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. “This is a war we thought would be over in days but now could be years. At a time when global supply chains are melting down, the West is going to have a very difficult time to meet demands at this very high level.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told CNN that the US will continue to support Ukraine “as long as it takes,” while adding that no weapons transfers to Ukraine have diminished US military readiness.
“DoD takes into consideration the impacts on our own readiness when drawing down equipment from US stocks” Ryder said. “We have been able to transfer equipment from US stocks without degrading our own military readiness and continue to work with industry to replenish US inventories and backfill depleted stocks of allies and partners.”
At a press conference Wednesday following a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Austin touted the commitments of a half-dozen countries providing additional weapons to Ukraine, including Greece pledging more 155mm ammunition.
“All Ukraine is asking for is the means to fight, and we are determined to provide that means. Ukrainians will do this on their timeline, and until then, we will continue to support all the way for as long as it takes,” Milley said at the press conference. “It is evident to me and the contact group today that that is not only a US position, but it is a position of all the nations that were there today. We will be there for as long as it takes to keep Ukraine free.”
The degree to which weapons stockpiles are running low varies system by system, as the US defense industrial base is better equipped to ramp up production of some weapons, while others are more difficult – or the production line has been shut down altogether and can’t be easily resumed.
“In most instances, the amounts given to Ukraine are relatively small compared to US inventories and production capabilities. However, some US inventories are reaching the minimum levels needed for war plans and training,” Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a September article. “The key judgment for both munitions and weapons is how much risk the United States is willing to accept.”
The Pentagon said in a September fact sheet it had committed more than 806,000 155mm artillery rounds to Ukraine, for instance. Cancian wrote that ammunition for the 155mm howitzers was “probably close to the limit that the United States is willing to give without risk to its own warfighting capabilities.” At the same time, he wrote that a dozen other countries could supply the same ammunition, and Ukraine was unlikely to be constrained in what it needed thanks to the global market.
“Someone saying uncomfortably low – that’s a judgment,” Doug Bush, Assistant Army Secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told reporters. “You know, that’s a judgment about risk between sending munitions to an ally to use them in combat versus a hypothetical other contingency that we need to stockpile for. You know, that’s a judgment call.”
‘No question’ there is pressure on stockpiles
Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, told reporters in a recent roundtable, “there’s no question” the weapons pipeline to Ukraine has put pressure on the stockpiles and industrial base of the US as well as its allies.
“Look, we’re seeing the first example in many decades of a real high intensity conventional conflict and the strain that that produces on not just the countries involved but the defense industrial bases of those supporting, in this case supporting Ukraine,” Kahl said. “I will say Secretary (Lloyd) Austin has been laser-focused since the beginning in making sure that we were not taking undue risk. That is that we weren’t drawing down our stockpiles so much that it would undermine our readiness and our ability to respond to another major contingency elsewhere in the world.”
Kahl added that the support the US has provided to Ukraine has not put the US military “in a dangerous position as it relates to another major contingency somewhere in the world,” but he said it has revealed there’s more work to do to make sure the US defense industrial base is more nimble and responsive.
The questions about weapons stockpiles comes as Congress is finalizing the Pentagon budget for the current fiscal year through the annual National Defense Authorization Act as well as the government spending package Congress is expected to try to pass before government funding expires on December 16.
The US military often turns to Congress for a funding boost – lawmakers have routinely added billions to the Pentagon’s budget requests in annual spending bills.
The Biden administration on Tuesday sent a letter to Congress seeking an additional $37.7 billion in funding for Ukraine. The funding includes $21.7 for the Pentagon to be spent in part to address weapons shortages, according to a White House fact sheet that says the money the Defense Department spending is for “equipment for Ukraine, replenishment of Department of Defense stocks, and for continued military, intelligence and other defense support.”
The $37.7 billion request comes as Republicans are projected to reclaim the House majority in the next Congress, which could make it more difficult for the Biden administration to authorize funding to Ukraine next year. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has said Republicans won’t give Ukraine “a blank check” – though he also clarified to his conference’s foreign policy hawks that he supports continuing to fund Ukraine’s war – and there are numerous Republicans pushing for a significant curtailing of US aid to Ukraine.
The weapons and military aid the world is giving Ukraine
In February, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine and the war has become a grinding battle of attrition.
What Vladimir Putin called a “special military operation” and what Russian generals thought would result in the quick capitulation of Ukraine’s military forces has stalemated.
But how has a country with just 200,000 active military personnel been able to stand up to a behemoth Russian army with far more sophisticated weaponry?
A large part of that fierce resistance comes from the swift coalescence of military donations by NATO and other allied countries.
More than 25 nations have joined in purchasing and delivering weapons to support Ukraine’s war effort. The U.S. has sent billions of dollars in missiles, ammunition and other items to the front. The EU signed off on a €500 million ($551 million USD) package — a first for the 27-country European bloc — to help arm Ukraine. And both Finland and Germany have rewritten long-standing policy that barred exporting weapons into war zones.
At the same time, there are tens of thousands of troops being activated and deployed by NATO countries in Eastern Europe.
Using a resource guide retrieved from the Forum on the Arms Trade that mostly relies on official government statements and reports in the media — and backfilled with our own independent research — POLITICO has worked to track and compile weapons and materials that have been announced or directed to Ukraine by various countries since January.
This non-exhaustive list focuses on lethal weapons and some non-lethal material. It does not count humanitarian and developmental aid that has been sent to Ukraine in the same period. Arms trade research organizations have noted the timeline and official receipt of equipment is hard to confirm due to security concerns. In some cases, such as with France and Turkey, an official tally has not been made public.
This table will be updated with future arms transfers and as more information becomes available.
We’re Not All Ukrainians Now
Pretending Western interests are fully aligned with Kyiv’s risks further escalating the war.
Insisting that the United States and its NATO allies should want exactly what Ukraine does is understandable politics — but it’s also dangerous policy.
Such insistence not only risks dragging us potentially into a nuclear war, it also risks giving Ukraine false hope and delaying a settlement. And our natural sympathy for Ukraine shouldn’t be confused for fully aligned interests.
Throughout the West, Russia’s invasion has prompted a widespread outpouring of support and solidarity. NATO members have helped frustrate Russia and have enabled Ukraine to mount an effective resistance with arms transfers, intelligence sharing and economic sanctions. And civil society has mobilized aid, making the Ukrainian flag a popular symbol of heroic defiance, internationalism and the survival of sovereign liberty.
Pretending Western interests are fully aligned with Kyiv’s risks further escalating the war.
For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, “one of the proudest boasts in the free world is, ‘Ya Ukrainets’ — ‘I am a Ukrainian’.” According to U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, “our job is to support the Ukrainians. They’ll set the military objectives, the objectives at the bargaining table … we’re not going to define the outcome of this for them. That is up for them to define and us to support them in.” Even President Joe Biden argues Ukraine is not just a humanitarian cause for the U.S. but a frontline state in a global war between freedom and autocracy.
At the same time, however, the British and U.S. governments have also made it clear that they will not give Ukraine all the weapons it wants or directly enter the conflict by imposing a no‐fly zone or deploying troops. That reluctance reflects an obvious divergence of interests between the West’s and Kyiv’s.
Ukraine, with its independence on the line, wants all the NATO help it can get — escalation serves its interests. NATO countries on the other hand, sensibly wary of Russia and its nuclear arsenal, rightly resist.
So, a gap has opened in Western capitals between deeds that suggest an outer limit of involvement and words that suggest a harmony of interests.
In large part, this is just politics. Leaders of democracies tend to oversell the stakes to promote policies that entail great risk. But such a gap is dangerous.
For one, it attracts domestic calls for escalation, including demands for maximal war aims, from the restoration of Crimea to direct military intervention. Secondly, the White House’s rhetoric also undermines its own refusal to comply with Ukraine’s demands for high‐risk assistance in the form of no‐fly zones, the complete economic shutdown of Russia or actual troop deployments, undercutting its own restraint.
But if Western stakes were indeed as dire as Ukraine’s, if the future of the world order hung on the course of this conflict and our democracy was at stake along with Ukraine’s, then why wouldn’t NATO be willing to join the fight for it?
Crucially, this rhetoric‐policy gap could also raise excessive Ukrainian expectations of support. But those insisting the West should give Ukraine whatever it wants ignore that what Ukraine wants partly depends on what the West will give them — or at least what it says it will. And claims of fully aligned interests may fuel Ukrainian dreams of total victory that are probably untenable and only conducive to prolonging war.
Though peace talks are now at a standstill, they may revive when Russia’s Donbas push either succeeds or ends in stalemate, and Ukraine may again be presented with an unpleasant peace offering — lose Crimea, accept more autonomy for much of the Donbas, commit to neutrality. If Kyiv thinks Western support is endless, or likely to grow more direct, it may end up rejecting a deal it should have taken and suffer for it when the help it banked on doesn’t materialize.
The problem here isn’t helping Ukraine, it’s pretending the help is unconditional.
This conflict itself was partly precipitated by a series of false but beguiling assurances from Washington to Kyiv, which gave the impression of an alignment of interests.
The fatal dalliance included promises of “ironclad” support, the hollow suggestion of eventual NATO membership and the establishment of a security partnership backed by increased material and military assistance that fell short of a guarantee. That all left Ukraine in a vulnerable no-man’s land: without the shield of actual Western commitment yet emboldened to take measures that accelerated Russia’s determination to stop it from joining the West, like rejecting neutrality.
The idea that nations can heavily contribute to a war effort without any say in its execution is offensive. Those arming Ukraine may not be risking enough to suit Ukraine, but they aren’t risking nothing — the danger of Russian retaliation remains. And sanctions entail economic pain for those sanctioning as well as the sanctioned.
Moreover, the terms and timing of war‐termination will affect NATO countries too, determining the extent and severity of economic blowback, as well as the likelihood of another invasion and resulting crisis. Surely Western leaders have a right — even a responsibility to their constituents — to determine how to use their military aid and economic sanctions in ways that also serve their interests, not just Ukraine’s.
The normally banal observation that Ukraine has different interests than the U.S. or U.K. has now become essential to sound policy choice, and pretending there is no difference risks war escalation with potentially horrific consequences.
Reasonable people can disagree about precisely where Western interests lie in the terms of the war’s end. But they should not disagree that this interest is not identical to Ukraine’s.
Why military aid in Ukraine may not always get to the front lines
In a war being fought largely in World War II era trenches, with Soviet ammunition, the vast influx of modern NATO weapons and military supplies from the West into Ukraine has proven to be among the largest determinants of whether territory is lost, or gained, along Ukraine’s embattled border region with Russia.
The bulk of these weapons and military supplies make their way to the border of Poland, where U.S. and NATO allies quickly ferry it across the border and into the hands of Ukrainian officials.
Jonas Ohman is founder and CEO of Blue-Yellow, a Lithuania-based organization that has been meeting with and supplying frontline units with non-lethal military aid in Ukraine since the start of the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in 2014. Back in April, he estimated that just “30-40%” of the supplies coming across the border reached its final destination. But he says the situation has significantly improved since then and a much larger quantity now gets where it’s supposed to go.
The government of Ukraine notes that U.S. defense attaché Brigadier General Garrick M. Harmon arrived in Kyiv in August 2022 for arms control and monitoring. CBS News has reached out to Harmon for an interview.
The United States has committed over $23 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the start of the war at the end of February, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which has been tracking global commitments of aid to Ukraine. The United Kingdom has committed $3.7 billion, Germany $1.4 billion, and Poland $1.8 billion, with multiple other countries following suit.
A combination of Ukraine’s constantly shifting front lines with its largely volunteer and paramilitary forces has made delivery of the military aid difficult for those attempting to navigate the dangerous supply lines to their destination. Some have raised concerns about weapons falling into Ukraine’s black market, which has thrived on corruption since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ohman relies largely on unofficial channels to deliver his supplies, which can include anything from night-vision scopes and radios to Kevlar vests, ballistic helmets and modern drones, which have proven to be essential eyes in the sky for breaking through stalemates on the battlefield. His group’s status as an NGO does not permit him to deliver “lethal weapons.”
“There are like power lords, oligarchs, political players,” Ohman said in April, describing the corruption and bureaucracy he had to work around.. “The system itself, it’s like, ‘We are the armed forces of Ukraine. If security forces want it, well, the Americans gave it to us.’ It’s kind of like power games all day long, and so eventually people need the stuff, and they go to us.”
Andy Millburn is a retired U.S. Marine colonel who served in Iraq and Somalia and recently founded the Mozart Group, a company dedicated to training frontline Ukrainian soldiers. He traveled to Ukraine after the Russian invasion and set up a base in the capital Kyiv.
“If you provide supplies, or a logistics pipeline, there has got to be some organization to it, right? If the ability to which you’re willing to be involved in that stops at the Ukrainian border, the surprise isn’t that, oh, all this stuff isn’t getting to where it needs to go — the surprise is that people actually expected it to,” said Millburn.
“If United States’ policy is to support Ukraine in the defense of its country against the Russian Federation, you can’t go halfway with that. You can’t create artificial lines. I understand that means that U.S. troops are not fighting Russians. I understand even U.S. troops are not crossing the border. But why not at least put people in place to supervise the country? They can be civilians to ensure that the right things are happening,” he said.
In July, Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security at the U.S. State Department, said “the potential for illicit diversion of weapons is among a host of political-military and human rights considerations.”
But she added, “We are confident in the Ukrainian Government’s commitment to appropriately safeguard and account for the U.S.-origin defense equipment.”
Ukraine has created a temporary special commission to track the flow of weapons inside the country. But still, weapons experts say they have seen situations like this before.
“Every country and every situation is very different, but certainly if I look back, Iraq is another country where there have been cyclical deliveries. We saw a lot of weapons come in 2003 with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and then 2014 happened when ISIS took over large parts of the country and took over large stocks of weapons that had been meant for Iraqi forces,” said Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis adviser for Amnesty International who has been monitoring human rights violations in Ukraine.
“More recently, we saw the same situation occur in Afghanistan,” she said of the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover of the country. “Oversight mechanisms should be in place to avoid that.”
“That’s one of the reasons we have to win the war,” said Ohman. “If we lose the war, if we have this kind of gray zone, semi-failed state scenario or something like that. If you do this — you funnel lots of lethal resources into a place and you lose — then you will have to face the consequences.”
How much could the GOP change the agenda?
Joe Biden’s name won’t be on any of the US midterm ballots, but the upcoming election will be seen as a verdict on the US president’s performance – and could impact his ability to govern.
But despite pockets of opposition within the Republican party, support for Ukraine aid packages passed this year have been bipartisan.
“The American people have made clear … that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well in the area of foreign policy,” Mr Biden told a press conference as midterm results were coming in on Wednesday.
“I hope we will continue this bipartisan approach of confronting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”
Mr Corben said comments from leading Republicans about not writing “blank cheques” has a lot to do with how the Pentagon has been keeping track of the weapons it has sent to Ukraine.
Congress has called for greater oversight over weapons smuggling.
They want assurances that the billions in weapons that are pouring into Ukraine are making it to the battlefield and not the black market.
Nancy Schneider, a US politics expert and the editor-in-chief of Australian Outlook for the Australian Institute of International Affairs, said the Republican rhetoric on Ukraine aid is unsurprising.
It is consistent with the broader narrative the party consistently takes about being accountable to the taxpayer and being able to have government oversight.
Particularly from those aligned with former US president Donald Trump’s “America First” approach.
“The idea of cutting funding to Ukraine comes from this idea of small government not writing blank cheque,” Ms Schneider told the ABC.
“They want to make sure that they know exactly where every dollar is going and where every weapon is going.”
She added that “pulling the plug is not going to happen in any way, shape, or form in any near future”, and any changes to aid are unlikely to have an impact on the war any time soon.
“What’s already in motion is very hard to stop,” she said.
“What we’re looking at is coming next year, in the next six months to two years or five years, rather than next week.”
While analysts agree that it is highly unlikely funding will dry up, the GOP is likely to take a different approach.
Mr Corben said it will depend on the situation on the battlefield with the risk of support waning if the war falls into a holding pattern over the European winter.
“Support for Ukraine from both the public or Congress has — from my point of view — been highest when Ukraine has been making verifiable gains on the ground,” he said.
“That absence of verifiable gains could contribute to a lack of support and not help Ukraine’s cause with Congress.”
He expects Mr Biden to push through additional funding in the “lame duck period” between the midterms and when the new Congress takes effect next year.
But a lot can happen in the meantime that could sway the Republicans’ support for funding moving forward.
“I think we also have to give a few months to see just how important this issue actually is to Republican lawmakers,” he said.
“There’s every chance that other things may well come up between now and early next year that will take the spotlight away from prosecuting the war in Ukraine, particularly if it’s not in the news as much because it’s in a holding pattern.”
When will the war in Ukraine end? And how?
Rochester expert on war termination discusses ‘massive consequences’ for Europe, worst-case scenarios, the outlook for peace, and what makes Putin so dangerous.
Hein Goemans, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester, is an expert on international conflicts—on how they begin and how they may end.
Rochester voices in The New Yorker
“This will shape the rest of the twenty-first century. If Russia loses, or it doesn’t get what it wants, it will be a different Russia afterward,” Hein Goemans tells the New Yorker. “If Russia wins, it will be a different Europe afterward.”
He says the hasty withdrawal of Russian troops from northeastern Ukraine is by no means signaling the last stretch of the war. “Most people believe that if one side wins a battle or a campaign, peace becomes more likely,” says Goemans, author of War and Punishment: The Causes of War Termination and the First World War (Princeton University Press, 2000) and coauthor of Leaders and International Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
But that’s not true. “If I fight a war with you and do poorly—but expected to do poorly in the hopes that the next battle will go better for me—then I’m not going to change my war aims. Only if something unexpected happens, would I change my expectations and my strategy.”
Likewise, Putin’s sham referenda in occupied territories and his calls for a cease-fire do not make peace now any more likely, according to Goemans. “He’ll propose a deal that the Ukrainians or the West cannot accept; and the Ukrainians will propose a deal that he cannot accept. That’s for domestic consumption in Russia; he’s just posturing.”
Ukraine war update: Q&A with Hein Goemans
Russian forces hastily retreated in mid-September from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, in the northeast. Is that possibly signaling the end of the war?
- While unexpected, this Ukrainian battle victory is not the beginning of the end of the war.
Goemans: No, it’s not the beginning of the end, but it was unexpected. Individual victories or defeats in a specific battle are often mistakenly read as indicating a change in the likelihood of war termination. Instead, what matters most is whether and how expectations on both sides change. And in this case, clearly Russian expectations of a swift victory have changed. The proof is in the conscription of 300,000 more Russian men, some reportedly without any military training or experience. Russia, I think, has become more pessimistic about getting its original war aims fulfilled. But you don’t just kill the enemy and that’s that. You need the opponents to change their mind. On the other hand, Ukraine has perhaps become more optimistic. If that is true, the key point to realize is that the gap between the minimal demands may not have decreased at all. While the terms may have shifted in Ukraine’s favor, both parties may well be as far apart as they had been before.
How do expectations affect war strategy and the likelihood of peace?
- A change in expectations is often more important than a single battle or campaign victory.
Goemans: Most people think that if you win a battle or a campaign, peace becomes more likely because the other side is defeated, and they recognize that they are defeated, which makes them more willing to make a deal. But that’s not the right way to look at it. A change in expectations is often more important than a single battle or campaign victory. Because if I fight a war or battle with you and do poorly—but expected to do poorly in the hopes that the next battle will go better for me—then I’m not going to change my war game. Only if something unexpected happened, would I change my expectations and my strategy. That’s the fundamental thing. You could sustain a military defeat and still get a better deal.
A good example is the Yom Kippur War of 1974. The attacking Egyptian army was drastically defeated by the Israelis. Yet the Egyptians got the Sinai back. You ask—how is that possible? Well, it’s because the Egyptian army showed that they were able to cross the Suez Canal and with it all the booby traps and barricades that Israel had built on the Suez Canal. They showed themselves a lot more competent than the Israelis had thought after 1967. So, you have this weird case where militarily Egypt lost, and still, the Egyptians got a better deal in the end, which was clearly not a military outcome. What happened was a change in expectations.
What do you make of Putin’s calls for a cease-fire? Do the latest sham referenda in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south, and in the pro-Russian, separatist “republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine make a faster end to the war more likely?
- Neither is likely to speed up a cease-fire.
Goemans: No. I still expect the war to last at least another year, maybe two. Both sides still have plans and ideas to test before their expectations are likely to converge. On Putin’s side, he may still expect Europe’s unity to crumble and try to force Ukraine to lower its minimum demands, especially if he can freeze them over the winter as a result of the lack of Russian natural gas. He’ll propose a deal that the Ukrainians or the West cannot accept; and the Ukrainians will propose a deal that he cannot accept. That’s for domestic consumption in Russia; he’s just posturing.
I’m not a foreign policy expert, but he probably does this because his massive mobilization is deeply unpopular among the Russian people. He has to find a way to say to his domestic audience something along the lines of, “I have to do this. My hands are forced. I’m trying honestly to make peace so it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of the ‘evil Ukrainian Nazis.’”
Ultimately, I think Putin’s trying to strengthen his bargaining position with the sham referenda and illegal annexations. If it had been a fair referendum under United Nations’ supervision—that might have had an effect. But not like this. I mean—voting was held with guards with machine guns at the polling stations and we’ve seen reports of men with guns at people’s doors, forcing Ukrainians to fill out ballots while being watched. That sends a clear message.
War termination—so the theory goes—is about finding the thing what makes both sides agree to stop fighting. How does that work?
- Essentially, one side must get the other to change their mind and to convince them that striking a deal now is better than to continue fighting. “It’s the best explanation we have so far. But it’s not satisfying.”
Goemans: Generally speaking, war provides information and shows the truth—the opponent’s cards—because there’s no more bluffing. We learn things about our opponent that we wouldn’t have known had we not fought. You can see your foe’s true strength on the battlefield: whose forces are stronger, how good are their tanks, how capable are their generals—all that becomes public knowledge. That’s the prerequisite for peace; you can strike a deal because both sides now know the truth.
That’s the theory, at least. But I’ve come to see that intuitive kind of view as insufficient.
We know that some leaders continue fighting for their own survival, against the very interests of their country and their own people. We saw that in Germany in the First and Second World War and also in Japan during World War II. We political scientists hold that opponents fight in order to find that something that makes peace possible. But what really is that? One side must get the other to change its mind. You must get them to agree that making a deal now is better than to continue fighting. I think it’s the best explanation we have so far. But it’s not satisfying.
You’ve written extensively about certain leaders “gambling for resurrection.” How does that idea apply in Putin’s case?
- Leaders continue with an unwinnable war, against their country’s interests, because anything other than victory would mean their own exile or death.
“Even if Putin were to be assassinated now, I’m not sure that these hawks wouldn’t simply escalate the war and press on.”
Goemans: He’s boxed himself in. If Putin loses in Ukraine he’ll fall from power, and likely end up being killed. Leaders in such situations “gamble for resurrection,” which means they continue with a war, often at greater intensity and brutality, because anything other than victory would mean their own exile or death. It reminds me of the case of Germany in the First World War where just four months into the war Kaiser Wilhelm II and his cabinet concluded that it was unwinnable. Yet, they fought on for another four years. Why? Because they knew that if they lost, they would be overthrown by a revolution. Of course, they were right. Leaders in such unwinnable situations are very dangerous. They are the reason that World War I dragged on much longer than it should have. That’s why Putin is so dangerous.
Has Putin become more dangerous with Russia’s recent losses in northeastern Ukraine?
- Putin is boxed in and can’t really make a peace deal.
Goemans: He’s certainly doubling down. He’s painted himself into a corner and can’t really make a peace deal. According to classic war-termination theory, three variables have to be considered—information, credible commitment, and domestic politics. As long as both sides believe they can win, which clearly they do, and their distrust for each other is growing—think of the recently discovered mass graves and reports of torture by Russian soldiers—there will be no peace.
Putin also has a domestic problem. Originally, he delayed mass mobilization to avoid domestic unrest, against the advice of the political hawks in the Kremlin who want a larger-scale war. Over the past week, more than 200,000 Russians have fled their country to avoid conscription. Even if Putin were to be assassinated now, I’m not sure that these hawks wouldn’t simply escalate the war and press on. It scares the [expletive] out of me because these people talk about nukes and about attacking Poland and Latvia, Lithuania, and about nuking Paris and London. They are nuts.
Do the hawks in the Kremlin think Russia can survive an escalation that includes nuclear strikes?
- “[P]eople in Washington have said very clearly . . . that they told Putin and the Kremlin nukes would be unacceptable. So that tells me they are afraid that Russia might actually do it.”
Goemans: The hawks in the Kremlin think the war has been fought wrongly or poorly. And in a sense, they are right. The Russian army is just a very weak, poor army. What worries me is that if Russia continues to have to retreat from occupied territory, a small, tactical nuclear strike becomes a real possibility—in an attempt to stop Ukrainian advances. My friend, Branislav Slantchev [a Rochester PhD and now a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego], has written about this in a recent, terrifying blog post. In that scenario, he said, he expects the Russians to use a nuclear weapon under 1 kiloton, which he says one could fire with artillery or any of the multiple dual-use rockets and missiles the Russians have in their arsenal. He’s got a very good eye and good ears. He’s scared. As am I.
Of course, the United States and the rest of the world would go absolutely bananas. The thing that really struck me a few days ago is that people in Washington have said very clearly, and in very unmistakable terms, that they told Putin and the Kremlin nukes would be unacceptable. So that tells me they are afraid that Russia might actually do it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have to spell it out like that.
The outcome of this war could have “massive consequences” for Europe, the world. How?
- The consequences depend on whether Russia wins or loses, and on whether Ukraine survives or is dismembered.
Goemans: Well, let’s start with the worst-case scenario—if Russia wins and Ukraine is dismembered or wiped out. As a result, the whole security infrastructure in Europe would crumble with direct repercussions for NATO, European Union cohesion, Germany, and the Middle East. All these policies that have led to peaceful cooperation will all be thrown out, creating instability in Europe and affect the United States deeply. And, of course, other would-be dictators would learn from Putin’s example. A large part of the stability that we saw during the Cold War era was based on the expectation that the situation would be stable. It was stable because we expected it to be stable. But that’s clearly no longer the case.
In the best-case scenario Ukraine wins a better deal than before the war. For me that means more defensible borders, which would mean some form of continued Western presence and the arming of Ukraine by the West, along with training and funding. All that would create a much more stable Europe. I hope that the extremists in Russia would have learned a lesson and everybody in Europe would be on their guard with respect to Russia for another generation or two.
How is the war in Ukraine affecting Russia, the Russian people?
- Putin is “gambling with Russia’s future” in both social and economic terms.
Goemans: Putin is gambling with Russia’s future. On top of the sanctions, the brain drain is tremendous, as is the exodus of young and middle-aged, educated males who have the means and who are worried about being conscripted. Add to that the mounting numbers of dead soldiers: Russia is going to have an acute shortage of men, which will create all kinds of economic and societal problems.
What’s the best Russia can hope to achieve?
- Maybe a return to the status quo before February 24, and internationally overseen plebiscites in Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea. But “I don’t want to advocate for this.”
Goemans: Their army is poor, their equipment is rotten, and the sanctions make it impossible to build new equipment, to update their machinery. The best they can hope for? Well, I don’t want to advocate for this, of course, but maybe a return to the status quo before February 24, and internationally overseen plebiscites in Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea. That’s the very best they could get. But I don’t think the Ukrainians would ever accept plebiscites in Luhansk and Donetsk and the areas’ possibly going to Russia. The question is, what would the Ukrainians accept for Crimea? I don’t know. Ukraine’s Zelensky has basically said that Ukraine would not give up Crimea so that ties his hands, otherwise people would say, “you betrayed us.” If Zelensky accepted peace terms right now, he’d be out of office in a day.
“When shooting starts, things get out of hand. That’s important to recognize,” says Hein Goemans, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester, who is an expert on international conflicts, territorial disputes, why countries go to war, and how wars end.
“I study war because war is awful; it’s truly terrible.” Thousands of Ukrainian civilians, and Ukrainian soldiers in the trenches, he notes, are going to die as a result of missiles and artillery fire without ever seeing any Russian soldiers.
“War brings massive casualties, destruction, and costs for everybody concerned. We should not forget those people who are fighting and the costs they are willing to shoulder. Many of them will die because of Putin’s folly,” says Goemans, who is the author of War and Punishment (Princeton University Press, 2000) and the coauthor of Leaders and International Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Goemans warns that a Russian victory—but also a Russian defeat or stalemate—could have dramatically bad consequences for the West, and indeed the whole world.
Q&A with Hein Goemans
Why does Russia want Ukraine?
- Putin wants to reestablish a Russian empire and at the same time prevent a democratic encirclement around Russia.
Goemans: I read his goals as twofold: he wants to reestablish directly or indirectly, by annexation or by puppet-regimes, a Russian empire—be it the former USSR or Tsarist Russia. A second possible answer has to do with the role of domestic Russian politics, which the standard literature on conflict takes very seriously: Putin has seen what happened in some former Soviet successor republics and the former Yugoslavia, several of which experienced “Color Revolutions” and democratized. Indeed, it was a Color Revolution in Ukraine in 2014, which Putin mischaracterizes as a military coup. He wants to prevent more of these revolutions and prevent a democratic encirclement of countries around him, which could provide a safe haven for Russian dissidents who’d be dangerous to Putin’s political survival. Both of these goals overlap in the sense that he is seeking regime change, which is a dangerous game. As my colleague Alexander Downes at George Washington University has recently shown, regime change can be a “catastrophic success.”
- Putin perceives the West as weak but is also fighting for his own political survival.
Goemans: One answer could be that he now feels strong enough to do it while the West appears in disarray. He doesn’t want an increasingly westernized country in his backyard; instead he wants puppets whom he can control to protect his own domestic political position. Of course, it’s not just his political position. It’s also his head if he loses power. It’s virtually certain that he would be prosecuted back home and would go to jail. Very bad things could happen to him—something that I think he’s very well aware of.
What about Ukraine might have set Putin off?
- Ukraine represents a westernized counter example to Russia’s autocratic dictatorial system.
Goemans: Ukraine is becoming more westernized, it’s becoming more diverse and has a regime that he cannot control. Over time, it sets an example for others in Russia who would like to become more democratic. It provides a counter example to Russia’s autocratic dictatorial system. You have these rows of dominoes, one Color Revolution after another, and at the end of the domino series is Russia. All this is dangerous for him.
What are ‘salami tactics’ in international relations and how do they apply here?
- Salami tactics involves asking for more, slice by slice, until you have all you want.
Goemans: “Salami tactics” mean you ask for a little bit more and a little bit more until you have complete control—in this case Russia over Ukraine. There’s also an interlocking commitment problem here: Ukraine cannot promise not to join NATO in the long term, which Russia sees as a threat to its borders. At the same time, Russia can’t promise credibly not to ask for more if Ukraine made some concessions now, whether it be territorial concessions, regime change, or a promise not to join NATO.
Is invading Ukraine a war over territory, which is your research specialty?
- Maybe. But Putin is after more than just Ukraine’s separatist territories.
Goemans: Some people thought initially this would be a war over territory, essentially about the two separatist areas, and that Putin wouldn’t claim much more. That’s evidently not the case. It could still be considered a war over territory but only in the sense that he wants to annex the entire Ukraine, which seems to me unlikely to succeed. It seems much more likely that he’ll install a puppet regime instead. And the reason for that, from the theory of warfare and from a leader perspective, is that he does it to ensure his personal survival.
What happens if Putin succeeds in Ukraine?
- It would represent a blatant transgression of international norms, diplomacy, and relations.
Goemans: The principles of the International Order would be destroyed. Such principles include “territorial integrity,” which is something that Russia committed to when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons and became independent. Essentially, Putin is flipping the bird at the West and the rest of the world. For example, he declared a “military operation” right at the time when the UN Security Council was meeting to discuss the crisis.
Other countries, most prominently the Baltic states, but also other USSR successor republics, will have every reason to think they are next. If Russia is successful, the world will change and NATO will have to rearm and all countries will have to spend more on defense. There will be rounds of arming and rearming. In this environment, even a small mistake, a glitch, a missed phone call, a mistranslation, a malfunctioning GPS can get out of hand really quickly.
What do you think Putin will do if he loses in Ukraine?
- If Putin doesn’t achieve his goals, he may pursue extremely risky actions in the hope of staying in power.
Goemans: A loss might doom his domestic, political, and physical survival. In a very recent book, Catastrophic Success, Alexander Downes suggests that these kinds of regime changes, which Putin is pursuing, often backfire very badly. If Russia’s objectives fail, Putin is really in deep trouble. As you can see today from the demonstrations in many Russian cities, there is a significant and sizable component in the Russian public that’s actually willing to go outside and protest against this war, which is a very risky and extremely brave course of action.
So, if Putin doesn’t achieve his goals, it becomes much more likely that he’ll be overthrown. That’s why he may do some very risky things—which is called “gambling for resurrection”—in the hope it’ll keep him in power. I wrote about that in my first book, to explain why the First World War lasted for four years although the German leaders had already concluded in November 1914 that they couldn’t win; they fought for another four years because they were afraid of domestic political punishment.
The dangerous thing that is difficult to grasp is that the West may not be able to do anything to counter the logic of gambling for resurrection. There is talk of giving Putin an “off-ramp” but that completely misses the point that Putin is afraid domestic enemies might overthrow and kill him, and there’s little the West can do to address those fears.
Is this the most dangerous situation since World War II?
- Yes. We are in a situation where Putin’s “success” or failure in Ukraine both present dangerous situations.
Goemans: Yes. It’s not just Putin’s possible success that scares me, it’s also the possibility of a big failure for Russia. So if we’re in a situation where either success or failure both present horrible, dangerous situations, we’d better be very careful and think very, very carefully about what we can do, and perhaps what we cannot do, and prepare accordingly. You don’t want to corner Putin with sanctions to the extent that he feels that he must gamble—all or nothing. The impulse, and I certainly share it, is to punish him severely. But if you punish him too severely, then you risk his doing even more dangerous things in order to protect himself personally. So it’s a very difficult tightrope to walk. I’m sure that the Biden administration is aware of these things. I’ve been impressed with the competence shown—the careful, mature attitude, the communications, the collaboration with allies.
What else did Putin hint at in his recent, very belligerent speech?
- Putin said that the borders drawn after World War I and World War II are illegitimate and had to go.
Goemans: One thing he said in his speech, which is just stunning, is that nationalism cannot be the basis of a state. Everybody in academia and most of the world thinks that nationalism is the justification and the basis of a state. But his speech went further than that. He said the borders that were drawn by Lenin and by Stalin, partially as a result of the First and Second World War, are illegitimate and have to go. And if those borders have to go, well, then there is no obvious stopping point: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia—all the successor republics are going to ask, “Are we next?” The new threats against Finland and Sweden, to warn them off from joining NATO, are also extremely concerning.
Now, of course, in many of the successor republics Putin already has an elite, which is favorably inclined toward him. He has puppets in Kazakhstan, he has puppets in Belarus and elsewhere that he can control. Leaders in these countries depend on him, directly and indirectly, to stay in office. So it’s this whole musical-chairs scenario of dictators who are all afraid of losing office. In order to prop up one, Putin has to prop up all.
The question is, which empire does he think needs reconstituting? Is it the Soviet Union? Or is it Tsarist Russia? And if it’s the latter—and there are some indications in his speeches that he does mean the latter—then Poland and other countries are going to be justifiably worried.
cnn.com, “US is running low on some weapons and ammunition to transfer to Ukraine.” By Jim Sciutto, Jeremy Herb, Katie Bo Lillis and Oren Liebermann; csis.org, “United States Aid to Ukraine: An Investment Whose Benefits Greatly Exceed its Cost.” By Anthony H. Cordesman; defense.gov, “Department Moves Quick to Replenish Weapons Sent to Ukraine.” By C. Todd Lopez; theintercept.com, “U.S. MILITARY AID TO UKRAINE GROWS TO HISTORIC PROPORTIONS — ALONG WITH RISKS.” By Alice Speri; politico.com, “The weapons and military aid the world is giving Ukraine.” By Joseph Geden; cato.org, “We’re Not All Ukrainians Now: Pretending Western interests are fully aligned with Kyiv’s risks further escalating the war.” By Justin Logan, Benjamin H. Friedman, and Patrick Porter; abc.net.au, “What will happen to Ukraine’s weapons supply if Republicans control US Congress and stop the ‘blank cheque’ to Kyiv?” By Annika Burgess; cbsnews.com, “Why military aid in Ukraine may not always get to the front lines.” By Adam Yamaguchi and Alex Pena; rochester.edu, “When will the war in Ukraine end? And how?” By Hein Goemans; rochester.edu, “Why does Russia want Ukraine?” By Hein Goemans; historyextra.com, “Russia-Ukraine crisis: 9 milestone moments in history that explain today’s invasion.” By Serhy Yekelchyk;
Russia-Ukraine crisis: 9 milestone moments in history that explain today’s invasion
Russia has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on the orders of Russian president Vladimir Putin. To make sense of the current conflict we must understand the history of the relationship between the two inextricably linked countries, which dates to at least the 9th century
Why is Ukraine being invaded, and what might Russia want from its neighbouring country? Here, Professor Serhy Yekelchyk, an expert in Ukrainian history and Russian-Ukrainian relations, explains nine milestone moments in the history of Ukraine and Russia…
Russia and Ukraine have been embroiled in conflict for the past eight years – in 2014, Russia took advantage of political turmoil in the neighbouring country to seize and establish military control over Ukraine’s southern Crimean peninsula. An ensuing war – between Ukraine’s military and Russian-backed rebels and Russian troops in Ukraine’s two eastern regions collectively known as the Donbas – never formally ended, and to date an estimated 14,000 people have been killed and an estimated 1.5 million displaced.
A full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is currently underway, following a huge build-up of troops along the Ukrainian border. Russia’s president Putin denied planning an invasion during that troop build-up. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, compared the situation to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, a tense 13-day standoff between the US and the Soviet Union over the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba, which historian Mark White described as the most dangerous confrontation in human history.
In January, Russian officials issued an ultimatum to the west demanding written guarantees against Nato’s further eastern expansion. President Putin wants Ukraine and other former Soviet states to be banned from ever becoming members of the organisation.
With Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, Putin has started what could be the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War, says the EU.
Here, to put today’s Russia-Ukraine crisis into context, historian Serhy Yekelchyk charts nine milestone moments in the history of the relationship between the two countries…
1 9th century: Kyivan Rus
At some point in the late 9th century, a group of Norsemen calling themselves Rus (pronounced “Roos”) established control over the East Slavic communities in what is now Northwest Russia, then moved down the Dnieper River to make the city of Kyiv, in what is now Ukraine, their capital. Historians call this large medieval state Kyivan Rus.
The Norse elite soon assimilated into the local Slavic population, which began to refer to itself as the people of Rus, or Rusyns. The heart of the Rus state was present-day central Ukraine; Moscow was established in the 12th century in what was then a far-flung northeastern frontier. In 988, Grand Prince Volodimer (‘Volodymyr’ in Ukranian, ‘Vladimir’ in Russian), who died in 1015, accepted Christianity from Byzantium. Few Rusyns read or spoke the literary language of the church and state, Old Church Slavonic. Instead, they spoke a host of East Slavic dialects from which the Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian languages would eventually develop.
In the mid-13th century, the loose federation of Rus principalities was easily conquered by the Mongol empire, but Russia and Ukraine still contest the glorious legacy of medieval Rus.
A brief history of Ukraine
Where is Ukraine?
Ukraine is located in eastern Europe between Russia and the EU/Nato member states Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Ukraine also has a borders with Belarus in the north and Moldova to the south. Crucially, Ukraine shares a border with Russia.
Is Ukraine part of Russia?
Ukraine and Russia are two independent countries, which emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But as a former Soviet republic, Ukraine has deep social, cultural, and economic ties with Russia.
What language is spoken in Ukraine?
Ukrainian is the only state language of independent Ukraine. Nevertheless, until recently most urban centres and industrial areas were predominantly Russophone, except for the solidly Ukrainian-speaking westernmost regions. This began changing in the 2000s, with new generations going through the Ukrainian school system. Russian aggression and the subsequent introduction of Ukrainian language legislation have accelerated the switch to Ukrainian in all spheres of life.
Does Russia occupy Ukraine?
The overwhelming majority of the world considers Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 an unlawful occupation. Russia’s seizure of Crimea was the first time since the Second World War that a European state annexed the territory of another. Although the Russian government denies it, Russian “volunteers” and regular troops are also present in the two self-proclaimed pro-Russian “people’s republics” in the Donbas region near the Russian border.
2 1654: Treaty of Pereiaslav (aka the Pereyaslav Agreement)
Exploiting the late 14th-century decline of Mongol power, the Grand Principality of Moscow and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the latter eventually uniting with Poland) divided the former Rus lands. A new social group of Ukrainian Cossacks developed on the southern frontier of Poland, guarding it against Crimean Tatar raids. The Ukrainian Cossacks were a large group of free people, many of them runaway peasant serfs, who guarded the southern steppe border of Poland against Turkish and Tatar raids.
The concept of ‘Ukraine’ already existed, but locals continued calling themselves ‘Rusyns’, while referring to the future Russians as ‘Muscovites’. By the early 17th century, the Orthodox Christian population of the Ukrainian lands had become antagonised by Catholic Poland’s religious policies and the spread of serfdom – a form of slavery in which peasants were bound to the land and sold with it. A 1648 Cossack rebellion led by Hetman (military leader) Bohdan Khmelnytsky (c1595–1657) became a mass social and religious war against Polish rule, resulting in the creation of the Hetmanate, a Cossack polity nominally autonomous under the Polish king but independent in fact.
Searching for allies against Poland, Khmelnytsky accepted the “protection” of the Orthodox Russian tsar in the 1654 Treaty of Pereiaslav. The exact meaning of “protection” continues to be debated today, but subsequent Russian policies effected the absorption of the Cossack lands, especially after Hetman Ivan Mazepa’s (c1639–1709) failed attempt in 1709 to break with Moscow.
3 1876: The Ems Act
In 1764, Catherine II (1729–96) abolished the Hetmanate to erase the last remnants of Ukrainian autonomy, and the Russian army destroyed the Cossack stronghold on the Dnieper. Cossack officers could make claims to noble status – the empire agreed to accept them as equal to Russian nobles as long as they could provide the relevant paperwork – but Ukrainian peasants eventually became enserfed.
During the partitions of Poland in the late 18th century, Catherine acquired a large stretch of Ukrainian lands that Poland had retained after 1654. As the institutional legacy of the Hetmanate was being dismantled, new interest in Ukrainian history and folklore developed among intellectuals under the influence of pan-European Romanticism. During the 1840s, Ukraine’s national bard, Taras Shevchenko (1814–61), published his first poems in Ukrainian and subsequently co-founded a secret political society that discussed a free Slavic federation and the abolition of serfdom.
The Ukrainian national revival was also underway in the westernmost Rus lands, which passed from Poland to the Austrian Empire. Worried Russian authorities responded in 1863 by banning the publication of educational literature written in the Ukrainian language. In 1876, Tsar Alexander II (1818–81), while holidaying at the bathing resort of Bad Ems in Germany, signed the Ems Act, which banned all publishing in the Ukrainian language. The empire continued to promote assimilation to Russian culture by rewarding those “loyal” Ukrainians it considered to constitute the ‘Little Russian tribe’ of the greater Russian people, while simultaneously discriminating against politicised Ukrainians in the form of lost jobs, arrest, and exile.. Ukrainian patriots now began using ‘Ukrainians’ as an ethnic designation to signify their distinctness from Russians.
4 1918: Ukrainian independence
With the collapse of the Russian monarchy in 1917 under the strain of war and political discord, patriotic Ukrainians established their coordinating body, the Central Rada (Council), which soon developed into a revolutionary parliament. The Russian Provisional Government granted Ukraine autonomy under the name of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR), but the Bolsheviks subsequently refused to recognise it and invaded Ukraine in order to include it in the Soviet state.
The UNR declared full independence in January 1918 and signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers in Brest before the Bolsheviks did the same. The German authorities installed a Ukrainian monarch under the historic title of hetman, but the UNR returned to power after the end of the First World War and proclaimed unification with the Ukrainian lands of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The UNR could not survive the titanic clash between the Russian Reds and Whites during the Russian civil war (1917–22), as neither power recognised Ukrainian sovereignty, but the precedent of Ukrainian independence forced the Bolsheviks to create a Soviet Ukrainian Republic which in 1922 became a founding member of the Soviet Union.
However, in the early 1930s Stalin returned to the unfinished task of crushing the Ukrainian political nation, which developed during the Revolution. Some 4 million Ukrainian peasants perished in the state-engineered famine of 1932–33, which in Ukraine is known as the Holodomor (“murder through starvation”) and considered a genocide – an interpretation increasingly accepted worldwide, but which Russia rejects. Stalin also destroyed the Ukrainian cultural elite and began promoting the tsarist notion of Ukrainians as the Russians’ “younger brother.”
5 1945: The enlarged Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
Following up on his agreement with Hitler on the division of East-Central Europe between them, Stalin invaded Poland in September 1939 and incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR the Ukrainian lands that Poland had kept after its brief war with the Bolsheviks in 1919, a stalemate which ended Lenin’s dream of the Red cavalry bringing the revolution to Europe. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, Churchill and Roosevelt allowed Stalin to keep these territories. The Soviets also pressured Czechoslovakia into giving up its “Rusyn” lands.
The resulting enlarged Ukrainian SSR came to incorporate nearly all the territories with an ethnic Ukrainian majority under its energetic party boss Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971). Khrushchev thereby achieved a longstanding aim of Ukrainian patriots to create a united Ukraine, but pursued a course of cultural assimilation into Russia rather than promoting Ukrainian autonomy. Stubborn armed resistance to Soviet rule by Ukrainian nationalists in the formerly Polish territories continued into the 1950s.
6 1954: The transfer of the Crimean Peninsula
Although attached by land only to Ukraine, Crimea (Ukraine’s southern Crimean peninsula) became an autonomous republic within Russia in 1921, partly because of the peninsula’s strategic significance. Neither Russians nor Ukrainians constituted a majority there, and in the 1920s the Soviets cultivated the culture of the Crimean Tatars, who had lived on the peninsula since the 13th century and whose Crimean Khanate the Russian Empire conquered in 1783, to impress the Western colonies and newly independent states in Asia with their seemingly benevolent policies.
When the Red Army retook Crimea from Nazi Germany in 1944, however, Stalin ordered a forced deportation of the Tatars, which many historians consider genocidal. As a result of this deportation, ethnic Russians became a numerical majority virtually overnight. The war had left the peninsula’s economy and cities in ruins. To mark the 300 years since Pereiaslav, Khrushchev organised the transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR, which was to rebuild it and supply it with fresh water through a major channel to be constructed. He also hoped to gratify the Ukrainian bureaucrats comprising his power base and, perhaps, to add a culturally Russian counterweight to the recently incorporated nationalistic western regions.
7 1991: The collapse of the Soviet Union
When Mikhail Gorbachev’s (1931–) loosening of ideological controls resulted in the mass rejection of Soviet communism, Ukrainian and Russian democratic activists worked together to usher in the new politics, such as freedom of speech and free elections. Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s (1931–2007) administration did not try to preserve the Soviet federation but, rather, sought an independent Russia. This made Yeltsin a natural ally of President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine (1934–), but only as long as both rejected the Soviet legacy.
The Ukrainian referendum in December 1991 spelled the end of the union, and Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus initiated its formal dissolution. However, with economic reforms stalling in the early 1990s, Yeltsin and other Russian figures increasingly appealed to domestic nationalists nostalgic for the Soviet empire by criticising Ukrainian cultural policies and questioning the transfer of Crimea.
In 1997, a comprehensive treaty between Russia and Ukraine affirmed the integrity of the Ukrainian borders – something that Russia and the Western nuclear powers also guaranteed in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, when Ukraine agreed to surrender its Soviet-made nuclear arsenal. This treaty expired on 31 March 2019.
8 2014: The annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas
When a popular revolution in Ukraine removed the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and brought to power pro-Western democratic forces – an act approved by the parliament and confirmed by snap presidential elections – the Russian authorities took advantage of the turmoil to establish military control over Crimea. They calculated that the local Russian majority would support the peninsula’s incorporation into Russia, attracted by higher salaries and better career options without the need to study Ukrainian. But the sham referendum on joining Russia produced implausible results, and the world community, aside from a few pro-Russian outliers like North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela, decisively condemned the annexation.
Facing punitive western sanctions, Russian authorities in Crimea began to repress local Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar activists. Having ensured its control over Crimea, Russia also fomented rebellions in other southeastern Ukrainian provinces, where the dominant regional parties have long cultivated pro-Russian attitudes. But this strategy only worked in the Donbas, a depressed industrial region with a Russian-speaking majority. When Ukrainian troops tried to re-establish control, President Putin’s administration covertly sent regular army units to support the pro-Russian separatists and Russian “volunteers.”
The active phase of the war lasted until the fall of 2015, with renewed escalation in 2017 and early 2020, resulting in an estimated human cost of 14,000 killed and an estimated 1.5 million displaced.
9 2021: The build-up of Russian troops and an ultimatum to the West
The war in the Donbas never formally ended; low-intensity fire is a daily reality, and casualties are reported every week. Western intermediaries helped to de-escalate military action in 2015 by holding summits in the ‘Normandy Format’ (Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine). The Minsk Protocol of 2015, signed during the summit in the Belarusian capital, charted a path to a peaceful resolution, but it remains blocked because certain steps are unacceptable either to Ukraine (a proposal to allow local elections to take place in the two “people’s republics” despite the presence of Russian troops there without having established Ukraine’s control over its border with Russia) or to Russia (acknowledging the presence of its troops and withdrawing them).
Late in 2021, Western and Ukrainian intelligence agencies released information about a massive build-up of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border and the preparation of infrastructure for a possible invasion. Russian officials insisted that these preparations were merely military exercises, but they also issued an ultimatum to the west demanding written guarantees against Nato’s further eastern expansion; restrictions on the types of weapons placed in Nato member countries who have joined the alliance since 1997; and a halt to any Nato military cooperation with other post-Soviet states (notably, Ukraine and Georgia). Meanwhile, the Russian media stoked fears about an imminent Nato attack on Russia and/or Ukrainian offensive in the Donbas.
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