The Ukrainian Weekly

Jan 15, 2024

Rarely has there been such a confluence of American values and interests as there currently exists in Ukraine. For the sake of the country and the larger geopolitical order, nothing is more immediate than Congressio¬nal passage of a robust Ukraine aid package – ideally, the $61 billion in supplemental funding in the Biden Administra¬tion’s request, if not more. A funding appropriation of that size would ensure Ukraine has enough military and other support to get it through the 2024 U.S. elections, which could be especially politically fraught if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee.

From both a human and policy perspective, providing Ukraine with the assistance it needs should be a no-brainer, whether as part of a larger national security aid package linking it with Israel and other national security issues or as stand-alone legislation. It is an evolving, difficult, and messy process. At present, that funding is linked to border security, a particularly controversial issue between Democrats and Republi¬cans. I remain cautiously optimistic that, in the end, compromises can be forged that will pave the way for the approval of crucial assistance for Ukraine.

One way or another, Congress must act and all of us must do our part in encouraging Congress to act as expeditiously as possible. Not providing Ukraine with sufficient military and economic resources to defend itself – something that’s simply not possible without the U.S. –would be an unmitigated disaster for Ukraine, for the European security order, and, indeed, for global stability. A vote against Ukraine aid would be a vote for tyranny, terrorism and Russian Presi¬dent Vladimir Putin. It would in effect be a sanction for evil, even if that were not the intent.

This is a historic moment. Congress is facing a historic opportunity. I sense that most of the legislators opposing Ukraine support are doing so not for policy reasons, but largely for political reasons. The case for assisting Ukraine, especially militarily, but also with economic and humanitarian aid, is both morally justified and strategically wise. It is both right and smart.

Most wars have some degree of moral ambiguity, but the case for Ukraine is crystal clear. Moscow’s war is totally unprovoked, unjustified and unnecessary. It is evil. Russia violates international law with impunity. Ukraine, a democracy that has freely chosen to integrate with the trans-Atlantic community of nations, did absolutely nothing to deserve this. It is simply defending itself. It’s about survival.

Autocratic, kleptocratic bully Putin and his minions have nothing but contempt for freedom and democracy. Americans, like most civilized people, disdain bullies who invade peaceful countries

and perpetrate extreme violence against innocent civilians to achieve their delusional imperial goals. America has a long history of supporting freedom and democracy – principles that lie at the heart of our nation.

Congress and the American people – all of us – must not lose sight of the war’s human dimension. Putin’s genocidal, immoral, criminal aggression has led to immense human suffering and dislocation, including murder, torture, rape, the abduction of children, the uprooting of families and the devastation of property. The staggering savagery of Russian actions in Ukraine during the past 22 months of the full-scale invasion shocked the civilized world’s conscience. Russian aggression has not disappeared. Russian missile attacks on innocent civilians remain a daily occurrence. And then, there is the behavior of Russian authorities in the land that they’ve taken.

Sometimes forgotten are the estimated 4-6 million Ukrainians remaining in Russia-occupied territories who are subjected to brutal repression and a wholesale denial of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. This includes egregious violations of religious rights. It is no accident that Evan¬ge¬lical Protestant Christians have been singled out, as they are perceived by Moscow to be the most pro-Western. It appears as if conservative Christian Republi¬can legislators are increasingly taking note of this dire picture, despite Kremlin propaganda parroted by “useful idiots” in this country peddling the falsehood that Ukraine, not Russia, is violating religious rights.

Moscow’s genocidal policies aim to eradicate not only Ukrainian statehood but also its national identity. This is patently manifested in the occupied territories, where the Ukrainian language and culture, or any pro-Ukrainian expressions, are harshly suppressed. Russification is the norm, whether through the indoctrination of Ukrainian kids, by denying the use of the Ukrainian language or learning its history, by compelling Ukrainians to become Russian citizens (passportization), or through the destruction and theft of Ukrainian cultural treasures.

The plight of Ukrainians who continue to suffer under Russian occupation – many since 2014 – should bolster the argument that Ukrainian victory be defined by the complete liberation of all occupied Ukrainian territory. This means the removal of all Russian forces from Ukraine.

Supporting Ukraine is consistent with the values and principles we Americans espouse – freedom, sovereignty, democracy, respect for human life and human rights. A vote for Ukraine is a vote for human dignity, which Russia profoundly disregards.

But one might ask, what about America’s core geopolitical interests – what’s at stake there? Nothing less than the American-led rules-based international order. Since the end of World War II, until February 24, 2022, this international architecture provided an unprecedented level of peace, security and prosperity in Europe. It hasn’t been a perfect peace by any means, as the tragic Balkan wars of the 1990s, Moscow’s war against Chechnya in the mid-1990s through the early 2000s, or Russia’s 2014 initial invasion of Ukraine sadly illustrate. But if one looks at Europe’s bloody history going back many centuries (admittedly, a low bar), there’s no question that post-war Europe enjoyed an unusual period of relative peace and security.

Keep in mind that the 20th century’s two world wars were by far the two most devastating wars in human history. They were global wars that originated in Europe. In many respects, Ukraine was at the center of and, indeed, central to these wars. If it were not for American leadership in ensuring this post-war rules-based order, not only Europe, but the entire world would be a far more dangerous place.

Ukraine, with the substantial support of the U.S. and its revived North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and other partners around the world, has already significantly degraded the Russian military. Russia has incurred stupendous military manpower and equipment losses – 90 percent of its original pre-2022 invasion force, according to U.S. intelligence. Moscow now spends an estimated astounding 40 percent of its state budget to fund its war machine. Ukraine has staved off Russian aggression to an extent that few would have predicted and has retaken 50 percent of the land stolen since February 2022.

A sound Russian defeat decimating its military, economic, diplomatic and informational capabilities would be a boon to the security of the Transatlantic community and, indeed, the entire world. Among other things, a Ukrainian victory would further reduce Europe’s previously exceedingly unhealthy dependence on Russian energy. It would dramatically improve global food security, which Moscow’s war has significantly threatened. Ukraine, one of the world’s leading grain exporters, would regain its ability to feed the world more fully and freely.

The picture darkens considerably should the United States and its international partners reduce our support – something that Putin is desperately counting on. If Russia is not defeated in Ukraine, Europe will not be safe, pure and simple. Neither will Russia’s former subjects in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Belarus, suffering under the boot of Russian President Vladimir Putin satrap Alexandr Lukashenka, will not become free.

An unreconstructed Russia, sooner or later, will pose a grave threat to European, and by extension, global peace and security. Mindful of 20th century history where what happens in Europe does not stay in Europe, not to speak of our NATO treaty obligations, this would almost certainly involve American troops, which invariably means the loss of American lives. Military, humanitarian and economic costs would rise dramatically, first and foremost for Europe, but also for the United States.

Just imagine the enormous cost of deploying American troops alone should Russia attack vulnerable NATO eastern flank countries. Or the tremendous economic implications for the U.S. given that the countries of NATO and the E.U. are far and away our biggest trading and investment partners.

A Russian win would embolden America’s adversaries that collude to varying degrees with Russia – China, North Korea, Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah and other autocratic bad actors around the globe. You can be sure that Putin is not at all displeased by the Israeli-Hamas war. Next to realizing his sick imperialist vision of wiping Ukraine off the map, nothing would make him rub his bloody hands in satisfaction more than seeing instability and chaos that upends the American-led rules-based international order.

A Ukrainian victory would deter America’s greatest long-term adversary, China, from its expansionist impulses – and dissuade it from launching a war against Taiwan. It is not accidental that the Taiwanese stand firmly on Ukraine’s side.

Ukrainians are on the frontlines defending freedom and democracy. They are its brave sentinels, paying dearly with their lives, health, and well-being. All that Ukraine needs in terms of funding from the United States and our democratic partners is a tiny part of our immense wealth. It is a wealth that absolutely dwarfs Russia’s.

There is no doubt that America has been very generous in helping Ukraine defend its sovereignty– especially if one puts it in the historic context of our foreign aid spending. As the arsenal of democracy, the U.S. has given far more military security aid than any other country and this assistance has been crucial to Ukraine. To be sure, our military assistance should have been “more, better, faster” as one of my former Helsinki Commission chairmen Sen. Rodger Wicker succinctly put it. On the other hand, one does not even want to contemplate Ukraine’s dire predicament if the United States had not provided the aid it has to date.

As generous as U.S. military assistance to Ukraine has been, it constitutes around 5 percent of our annual defense spending. Our total assistance – security, economic and humanitarian – is less than one percent of the overall federal budget. And it is a drop in the bucket of our overall GDP; less than one-third of one percent – a rounding error. What we have spent on Ukraine is a pittance in comparison to what we spent on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Americans spend nearly twice as much on beer – $115 billion – as what U.S. President Joe Biden has requested in the supplemental appropriations package. Indeed, the current $61 billion aid request is less than one percent of this year’s federal budget.

Most of the requested funds, too, would be spent to support our own defense industry, greatly enhancing our own national defense. According to some estimates, almost 90 percent of our military aid to Ukraine is spent right here at home, providing many good-paying jobs. With the aid that Congress has already approved, workers in 30 of our states are producing weapons for Ukraine.

Undeniably, the United States faces serious challenges – the southern border for one. Unfortunately, Ukraine funding is being held hostage to this long-standing issue. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for the country, and for the entire free world, if Democrats and Republicans were to find a reasonable compromise on the border issue that would also serve to unlock Ukraine aid? What an incredible win this would be! If not in the few weeks that remain in 2023, then as early as possible in 2024?

Another weighty issue is America’s national debt, two-thirds of it fueled by entitlement programs, especially Social Security and Medicare, as well as interest on the debt. There is no question that our fiscal house is in bad need of fixing. But something is deeply amiss if the most powerful and wealthiest country in the history of mankind can’t walk and chew gum at the same time on Ukraine funding – an issue so vital to our national security. Moreover, despite some softening, notably among Republicans, it is an issue that most of the American public and its

elected officials still support. And just think of the loss of prestige and respect – the reputational damage – that America would justifiably suffer for not standing against tyranny. Obviously, this reputational damage would have a profound negative impact on global security.

Arguments against aiding Ukraine do not hold up well.

On Europe not pulling its own weight: Not true – while the U.S. has provided the most military aid, our NATO allies have provided considerably more total aid, which besides security, includes vital economic and humanitarian aid. Nearly 30 European countries provide a greater percentage of their GDP – in some cases, much greater, especially the countries on NATO and the E.U.’s eastern flank. This is not to say many wealthy European countries, as well as Canada, with its large Ukrainian diaspora, can and should not provide more support. And there are increasing concerns that some of these countries (e.g. Canada), will be reducing their support, which would be a disaster.

On corruption, Ukraine has by no means eradicated this scourge, but high-level corruption has declined.

Ukraine’s authorities are seriously combatting this curse to an extent that many observers, including this long-time critic, have not seen. And progress – mind you, in the midst of Europe’s biggest armed conflict since World War II – is being made on anti-corruption, judicial and other rule-of-law reforms. The U.S. is helping Ukraine progress, as is the E.U., especially as Ukraine moves closer to membership.

On oversight, there is an impressive degree of U.S. government oversight, with more than 100 completed, ongoing or planned audits and reports by more than 20 different agencies to monitor, audit and evaluate Ukraine assistance-related activities. To date, the Inspectors General of the Department of Defense, Department of State, and U.S. Agency for International Development – the three biggest government agency funders – have not identified any significant diversion, theft or misuse of U.S. assistance to Ukraine, according to a recent report by three key Republican House committee chairmen.

Congress’s long-standing tradition of bipartisanship in supporting Ukraine going back more than a century is something near and dear to my heart, and which I directly experienced, and tried to encourage, while working at the bipartisan, bicameral U.S. Helsinki Commission from 1981-2017. It deeply pains me that this longstanding bipartisan consensus is showing cracks. Now, as never before, Congress needs to stay the course, never forgetting that weakness only invites aggression. This means providing Ukraine – on a bipartisan basis because it cannot happen otherwise – with what it needs to ensure a more just, secure and peaceful world.

Providing assistance to Ukraine at this critical juncture may very well be among the most consequential votes that Senators and Congressmen ever take in their careers. A vote for the history books. A vote of conscience and of pragmatism. One way or another, it needs to get done as soon as possible. Failure is not an option.