How the US is helping Ukraine fight Russia
The U.S. has contributed more than $1 billion to help Ukraine’s military over the past year and has pledged more aid as Russia’s weeklong war against the country continues.
Washington has reportedly sent hundreds of Stinger missiles as part of the latest package of defensive aid, while the White House on Wednesday asked Congress to authorize an additional $10 billion in security, humanitarian and economic assistance for Ukraine.
But as the war presses on, the U.S will have to change its strategy on how to get that aid to Ukraine, as well as evaluate how to help Ukraine survive a longer-term conflict through security and humanitarian aid.
Over the past six months, President Biden has used his presidential drawdown authority three times, a power that allows a president to respond to unforeseen emergencies without legislative sign-off.
The most recent use of this authority was the Feb. 26 approval of $350 million in security assistance.
Jessica Lewis, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that the package included Javelin anti-tank missiles, which can be carried and launched by a single person.
“Those are probably the most impactful weapons that we can provide the Ukrainians because they can be used by individuals from ambush positions or in lots of different circumstances and they can pretty reliably kill Russian tanks,” said Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.
The U.S. has also reportedly sent Ukraine hundreds of Stinger anti-aircraft missile defense systems, which can be deployed by ground forces to shoot at targets in the air.
Kagan said it’s harder to take down Russian aircraft with the anti-aircraft systems, but they can “absolutely become a nightmare for Russian helicopters.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. continues to work with bilateral partners to rush defensive equipment to Ukraine and that such equipment is being delivered to troops fighting Russia.
But sending additional equipment to Ukraine will get harder as Russia continues its invasion.
Due to time constraints, the Ukrainian military will need things that it can train on quickly — things like ammunition, Javelins and Stingers.
“That puts a significant constraint on what we can provide, you know, because it has to be very short-term focused,” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program.
“I think as time goes on, you’re probably going to see a lot more munitions flowing because modern wars just use up a lot of ammunition — militaries tend not to stockpile a lot of it,” he continued. “So some of it’s just going to be bullets and things like that.”
The U.S. has also had to reconsider how it delivers weapons, as it cannot fly planes directly over Ukrainian airspace due to the conflict. But smaller weapons systems can still be sent via ground transportation.
Leah Scheunemann, a former Pentagon official now at the Atlantic Council, pointed out that some of the ground routes being used to deliver security aid are also being used by Ukrainians looking to flee the conflict.
“No one is better at logistics than the U.S. military,” she said. “So we can help sustaining these key land routes so that when we’re talking about all these aid packages that are under consideration right now in Congress, that aid actually needs to be able to get into the country.”
The Biden administration has been clear about not sending troops directly into the conflict, though it has sent roughly 15,000 troops to bolster NATO’s eastern flank over the past couple of months.
And the idea of establishing a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace has been shot down as a non-starter in Washington — as doing so would involve U.S. troops possibly shooting down Russian aircraft, raising fears of rapid escalation.
Short of sending troops directly into the conflict, there’s still other options on the table for helping Ukraine resist Russia’s invasion, experts say.
“If the war goes on for a long time, then there are other things you could do,” Cancian said. “We could train Ukrainians outside of Ukraine. We could think about introducing a new type of equipment, but you know, that’s if the war goes months.”
It will be just as important to send humanitarian assistance, including food, medicines and fuel supplies, to help the Ukrainian people cope with the war.
“I think as we focus on getting weapons to Ukrainians, we also need to be really focused on getting all of the life support to the Ukrainians that they’re going to need to make it through his conflict, and then be okay on the other side of it,” Kagan said.
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