US still Ukraine’s greatest military backer but more can be done
Ukraine has spent more than seven years defending Russia’s aggression. The United States has been its best friend throughout.
Since 2014, Washington has spent nearly $2.5 billion to provide Ukraine’s military with everything from secure radio sets to tank killers and even warships.
Despite the leadership changes in the White House and the work of pro-Russian lobbyists, Ukraine still enjoys broad bipartisan support in Congress and annual defense assistance.
Yet, despite this generosity, Ukraine’s defense community still has a long wish list.
The country desperately needs to replenish its aging air force with more advanced American jets, even used ones. It can also use American anti-ship missiles and a modern air defense grid to defend vital infrastructure.
Costs may be high. But many experts believe that helping plug holes in Ukraine’s defense is justified, as it effectively prevents the Kremlin from unleashing more aggression against Europe.
Even though Ukraine has not seen shipments of major weapons like Javelin anti-tank missiles in 2021, U.S. security assistance has been bountiful. This year, Ukraine has already received $275 million for security alone.
The aid includes supplies that troops in Donbas greatly need: medical kits, drone jammers, counter-artillery radar systems, secure radio sets, and electronic warfare equipment.
The U. S. is also helping Ukraine resurrect the naval power it lost during the 2014 invasion of Crimea.
According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, the country expects to acquire its first Mark VI patrol boats from the U.S. as soon as 2022.
According to a 2020 contract, the U.S. is building the boats from the scratch and intends to provide Ukraine with six fully armed vessels as part of a nearly $600 million defense assistance package. Ukraine has the option of buying ten more.
The new gunboats are expected to guard Ukraine’s littoral waters, joining the two Island-class patrol boats previously donated by Washington. Soon, the U. S. Coast Guard will supply three more Islands and Ukraine is already preparing the crews to man them.
U.S. aid has not passed by the forces on the shore. In February, Ukraine welcomed a new shipment of 20 Humvees and 84 airboats for its marines and special operations forces.
On June 18, U.S. media reported that $100 million in defense aid to Ukraine, which included lethal weapons, was frozen by the administration of President Joe Biden.
The rumors brought back bad memories from 2019, when former U. S. President Donald Trump put a hold on $400 million in Congress-approved military aid to Ukraine to force Kyiv to dig up dirt on Biden.
In a statement, the White House denied freezing aid and said that the $100 million had been prepared as an additional aid package in the event of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, which was luckily avoided during the Kremlin’s spring military buildup near Ukraine’s borders.
According to the latest news from Congress, strategically important U.S. aid will keep flowing into next year.
On July 1, the Ukrainian mission in Washington D. C. said an appropriation bill for the fiscal year 2022 included at least $481.5 million in assistance to Ukraine, $28.5 more than in 2021.
So far, it is known that $125 million can be spent on Ukraine next year as part of the Foreign Military Financing program alone. Total spending on Ukraine in 2022 is expected to amount to at least $275 million.
More to come
Other military assistance projects, which have been under discussion for years, are still collecting dust.
Ukraine’s fleet of military aircraft are so old that the Air Force might simply go defunct by 2030.
In recent statements, the Air Force command said it wants to replace its old Soviet fighters with F‑16 Block 70/72s.
Yet the U.S. government has never shown any readiness to give or lease its F‑16s to Ukraine. Nor is it ready to provide Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which the Ukrainian navy said it desperately needs.
Other items on Ukraine’s wish list, like Patriot surface-to-air missiles, may be out of the question due to their extreme cost.
Despite record-high security spending, which reached over 5% of its gross domestic product, Ukraine is still greatly dependent on foreign security assistance, experts say.
“To get on our own feet, we still have to build up a navy, fully renovate our air force, replace all air defense systems, start operating new missile defense grid,” says Mykhailo Samus, the deputy director with Kyiv-based think tank Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies.
“It is highly desirable to totally replace the control and communications system. We’re not even talking about ground hardware.”
The expert estimates the price tag to be as high as $100 billion. In 2021, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense budget will barely reach $4 billion. Ukraine needs to use every chance it can get to acquire modern hardware — assistance, loans, or leasing.
But, Samus said, it should not be forgotten that a U.S. president once signed the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, under which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for “security assurances.”
“Ukraine is far from being the country on the security of which the U.S. spends a lot of its taxpayers’ money, compared to others,” the expert said.
“But Ukraine is suffering from Russian aggression… so the U.S. should be at least taking care of Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. The U. S. bears direct responsibility, because we ceased real nuclear weapons, and the cost of it was a little higher than $300 million a year.”