The White House announced its largest-ever security assistance package for Ukraine on Wednesday — six months to the day since Russia invaded — with a $3 billion commitment that brings the U.S. price tag for this 184-day conflict to $13.6 billion.
Unlike previous aid packages that addressed immediate military needs, this new package focuses on medium- and long-term military assistance that will take months or even years to land.
“This is a long-term commitment to Ukraine to continue to fight for their freedom, and bravely, as they have been doing for the past six months,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
She added that President Joe Biden will speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday. When asked if or when Biden might visit Zelenskyy in Kyiv, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator of strategic communications, told reporters there currently are no plans for such a trip.
In late June at a NATO summit, Biden said U.S. support for Ukraine would continue “as long as it takes.” On Wednesday, the White House said that remains true.
“President Biden has been clear that we will continue to hold Russia accountable and support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Kirby said Wednesday. “… And we’re going to continue to rally the free world, galvanize allies and partners to support Ukraine as they again defend their sovereignty against this further invasion by Russia.”
The Pentagon emphasized this large new commitment doesn’t presuppose an outcome to the grueling conflict, which technically started in 2014 with Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“This type of package does not presume any particular outcome of a conflict in Ukraine,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters on Wednesday. ”So, for example, if the war continues for years, this package is relevant. If there is a cease-fire or a peace settlement, this package is still relevant, because Ukraine needs the ability to defend itself and deter future aggression.
There are signs that European interest in funding Ukraine has waned, with European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warning the continent in July against what he called “democratic fatigue” that Russia would try to exploit.
That does not seem to be the case in the U.S., where large aid packages have sailed almost effortlessly through Congress, and where a July poll saw seven out of 10 Americans support continued assistance.
But Elias Yousif, a research analyst with the Stimson Center’s Conventional Defense Program, said the administration has an obligation to continue to sell this expenditure to American taxpayers.
“It really is incumbent upon the administration to make the case to the American people as to why this investment is important,” he said via Zoom. “You know, the United States is clearly spending a great amount of time and effort on this problem. And it’ll be very important for government officials and for public policy to be pitching to the American people why this is more than just about Ukraine, why this speaks to their interests and to a certain vision for the world, and a certain world order that has their best interest at heart.”
More bullets than Ukrainians
In the last six months alone, the U.S. has doled out nearly $10 billion worth of support, comprising thousands of anti-missile and anti-armor systems, hundreds of vehicles, and nearly 60 million rounds of small-arms ammunition — more bullets, in fact, than there are Ukrainians.
“I absolutely think that it’s been worth it,” Ivana Stradner, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA via Zoom. “This war is also our war. So, it is in American interest to help Ukraine to win as fast as possible so we actually do not allow [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to wage this war in the way that he wants, and to put him actually on defense, rather than to allow Russia to dictate how long this war is going to last.”
But Yousif also warned the administration to be vigilant about where this assistance ends up.
“One of the main risks that we are all looking at is the risk of diversion of military hardware onto the black market,” he said. “This is something that we’ve seen time and time again from U.S. military aid programs, especially the very large ones. The United States, unfortunately, has a history of losing track of some of the arms that it provides in these large-scale military aid efforts, whether that’s been in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“And Ukraine also has a history of being a nexus of the illicit arms market — really, since the end of the Cold War. So, taken all together, the potential for losing some of these arms or having them leak into the black market could be quite high,” Yousif said.
Uncertain end, but certain determination
Now, six months and $13.6 billion later, how does this end? While no one knows the answer, the Biden administration has been clear on who holds the key to ending the war.
“It could end now,” Kirby said, “if President Putin did the right thing and pulled his troops out of Ukraine. There’s no reason for them to be there in the first place. … Sadly, we haven’t seen any indications by the Russian side that they’re willing to do that — quite the contrary.”
Zelenskyy, for his part, approached the six-month mark — which this year happened to fall on the day Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union 31 years ago — with determination and a hint of optimism.
“For 180 days, almost six months, the absolute majority of our people have no doubts that we will achieve the victory of Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “We are united. We are more confident now in ourselves than we have been in many decades.”
VOA’s Carla Babb contributed to this report.