Ukraine to Set Record for US Security Assistance

A wide view of the Security Council Chamber as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (on screen) of Ukraine, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine. April 2022. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Elias Yousif
WASHINGTON DC, May 24 2022 – Less than halfway through the year, the May 19, 2022 passage of more than $41 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine positions the country to become the largest single recipient of U.S. security sector assistance in 2022.

The latest funding includes at least $6 billion in direct military aid to Ukraine, and billions more for Ukraine and other European partners. Altogether, even a conservative estimate places the value of the military assistance Ukraine will receive in 2022 as equivalent to what the U.S. provided Afghanistan, Israel, and Egypt in FY2020 combined.

In the aftermath of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Ukraine had already become the most significant recipient of U.S. security assistance in Europe, receiving $2.7 billion in American military aid between 2014 and 2021. But now, those totals are being quickly eclipsed as the United States and its western allies rush billions of dollars worth of weaponry to Kyiv.

The unprecedented sum reflects both the strategic earthquake resulting from Russia’s invasion as well as the West’s evolving assessment of Ukraine’s prospects in its fight with Moscow. With such enormous quantities of weaponry now making their way to Ukraine, it’s worth reflecting on the evolution of this extraordinary surge in international military assistance and its consequences.

What’s Been Committed to Ukraine Since the February 24, 2022 Invasion

After Russia crossed into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the United States massively expanded its security assistance efforts and began making use of emergency authorities to expedite the transfer of weaponry and equipment to the country.

Since February 2022, the United States has provided $3.9 billion in security sector assistance to Ukraine. In short, in less than three months between February and April 2022, the United States provided one billion more in security assistance than it did in the seven years between 2014 and 2021.

The United States has provided a wide range of weapons and equipment. According to U.S. government reports, as of May 6th, United States had committed the following:

More than 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems

5,500 Javelin anti-armor systems

14,000 other anti-armor weapon systems

700 Switchblade drones and an undisclosed number of Phoenix Ghost Tactical Drones

16 helicopters

Hundreds of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles

90 155mm Howitzer artillery pieces and nearly 200,000 shells

200 armored personnel carriers

7,000 small arms

50 million rounds of small arms ammunition

The vast quantity of weapons and equipment provided to Ukraine totals over $3.8 billion so far and excludes the billions in military related assistance in the emergency supplemental passed by Congress on May 19.

The new funding package adds an additional $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative – the Ukraine-specific program that funds defense acquisition for the government in Kyiv – and an additional $4 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Ukraine and other European allies.

Additionally, the bill adds $9.05 billion to replenish U.S. weapons stockpiles depleted by a series of transfers to Ukraine and other neighboring states. The bill also raises the statutory limit for what the President is permitted to transfer from existing U.S. weapons stockpiles to $11 billion, providing another pool of equipment that the President can draw from.

Arriving at an exact total for military aid committed to Ukraine in the aftermath of this bill’s passage is challenging. Much of the assistance is being made available to Ukraine and “and countries impacted by the situation in Ukraine.”

In addition, the funding for stockpile replenishment may not represent the exact equivalent of military hardware that has already been transferred to Kyiv. Nevertheless, estimates of the aggregate value of military aid committed to Kyiv would likely make Ukraine the largest yearly U.S. security assistance recipient of the 21st century.

The Evolution of U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine

Changes in the scale, scope, and makeup of U.S. security assistance over the first four months of the conflict in Ukraine reflect shifting war imperatives, political realities, and appraisals of potential conflict outcomes.

The earliest days of the war following Russia’s invasion in February 2002 were characterized by positional urban fighting and small unit tactics. The United States, Kyiv, and other international partners were focused on equipping forces defending key urban areas with weaponry that could be quickly delivered and used without significant sustainment or training need.

The result was thousands of shoulder-fired anti-armor and anti-air missiles, thousands of small arms, and millions of rounds of small arms ammunition pouring into the country. Just over two weeks after the beginning of the conflict, by March 16, 2022, U.S.-origin equipment committed to Ukraine included:

600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems

2,600 Javelin anti-armor systems

Tactical drones

200 shotguns

200 machine guns

40 million rounds of small arms ammunition

1 million grenade, mortar, and artillery rounds

While the United States did provide a handful of rotary aircraft and armored personnel carriers, much like Ukraine’s other military patrons, Washington was acutely concerned that the provision of more advanced or heavy weaponry could provoke an escalation from Moscow.

In striking the balance of providing weapons to help Ukraine defend itself, Washington sought to test the limits of assistance without sparking a wider war or a direct retaliation from the Kremlin, especially as President Putin rattled his nuclear saber.

Those sensitivities were on full display after a surprise proposal from Poland to transfer some of its Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine in exchange for new U.S. aircraft was shot down by the Biden Administration for fear it was too direct an incitement of Russian animosity.

Those calculations changed in late March, as stiff Ukrainian resistance and failures in the Russian assault allowed Kyiv to withstand much of the Kremlin’s initial offensive, especially around the capital.

Incapable of managing their stretched logistics and maintaining pressure around so many axes of advance, Russia elected to withdraw from significant portions of the country and re-orient their war effort toward seizing the country’s east and, potentially, coastal south.

The battlefield transition also catalyzed a transition in Washington’s view of the conflict and the nature of its security assistance to Ukraine. Strategically, it crystallized assessments that Ukraine and its government would survive the conflict with significant territory under its control and could potentially reclaim some areas it lost to Russia in the conflict’s initial phase.

With the imminent and existential threat relatively at bay, and with somewhat more generous time horizons, new opportunities to consider security packages with more advanced weaponry with longer lead times became viable.

Additionally, a battle for Ukraine’s east represents a fundamentally different operational context. Far from the positional urban fighting that Ukraine was able to master early on, the famed Eurasian steppe presents new advantages for Russia.

Shorter supply lines, a more concentrated frontline, and open terrain that advantages Russia’s mechanized armor and long-range heavy firepower will create significant tactical challenges for Ukrainian defenders.

As Ukraine’s foreign minister put it to a NATO gathering, “the battle for Donbas will remind you of the Second World War with large operations, thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, planes, artillery.”

Accordingly, in this new phase of the conflict, the United States has dramatically enhanced its security assistance to Ukraine, expanding to newer, more advanced weapons systems that speak to the particular battlefield realities of this new phase in the war.

With battlefield outcomes now being determined by the accuracy and range of heavy weaponry, the U.S. has committed additional artillery, air defense systems, advanced radar systems, more rotary aircraft, and a slew of never before seen drones that will see some of their first combat in Ukraine.

The change reflects both the new battlefield challenges Ukraine will face in the Donbas, but also the view from Washington that Russia’s warnings against providing additional weaponry to Kyiv are mostly rhetorical.

In addition, the United States has expanded its assistance in non-material but strategically significant ways. Perhaps most important has been Washington’s provision of real-time intelligence to Ukrainian forces.

Reports suggest that Ukraine has made use of the information to target high-ranking Russian military officials and to sink Russia’s famed Black Sea flagship, the Moskva. The U.S. has also begun providing training to Ukrainian troops on some of the new weapon systems they are set to receive, though the training continues to take place outside of Ukraine.

Extraordinary Authorities

Since 2014, the United States has relied on a handful of conventional security cooperation and assistance authorities to support Ukraine’s defense and security forces, including Foreign Military Financing, International Military Education and Training, and the purpose-built Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

These programs followed typical Congressional appropriations processes and reflected a more methodical approach to building Ukrainian security capacity.

However, current events have changed the traditional assistance model. In late 2021, as the U.S. intelligence community became convinced that a Russian invasion was imminent, the United States faced a new urgency to shore up Ukrainian defenses against the substantially more developed military might of the Kremlin. The Biden Administration reached for new and exceptional tools to get hardware to Ukrainians quickly.

The most prominent of those exceptional tools has been the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the Executive Branch to take weapons, ammunition, and other materiel from existing U.S. stocks and provide them to other countries without congressional authorization.

The Biden Administration has invoked the authority ten times for Ukraine since August 2021. To put that in context, a 2016 Government Accountability Office report found that the authority was invoked just 11 times between 2011 and 2015. The authority offers some advantages in the current context, including reducing lead times for materiel from months or years to days and weeks.

Additionally, in March 2022, the President invoked an emergency authority under the Arms Export Control Act, which allows the Executive Branch to bypass the statutorily mandated congressional notification process and proceed immediately with an international arms sale or export.

The authority requires the Executive to certify that an emergency exists that creates a national security imperative for the immediate sale or export of defense articles or services without the typical 15-30 pause for notification and congressional consideration.

The authority has only been invoked on a handful of occasions, including in 2019 when President Trump controversially used it to transfer munitions and other defense articles to members of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen without congressional notification and despite strong congressional opposition.

Congress has also passed an updated version of the World War II-era Lend Lease Act, authorizing the Administration to provide military equipment to Ukraine and other countries in the region on an indefinite basis and without the need to come back to Congress for additional funding. During the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the statute to arm Britain and, to a lesser degree, Russia.

In addition, with the passage of the most recent 41 billion dollar package, the President has now submitted and been granted two emergency supplemental funding requests to Congress amounting to more than $54 billion related to Ukraine including at least $32.3 billion for European theatre defense and security assistance.

Conclusion

The war in Ukraine has fundamentally shifted the focus of U.S. military assistance. For the first time in the 21st century, the largest recipient of U.S. security assistance is not in the Middle East or Central Asia, but in Europe.

The war in Ukraine has become the defining foreign policy priority of the Biden Administration, and with a growing consensus in Western capitals that the end to the war is nowhere in sight, it is likely that the volume of military assistance the United States provides to Ukraine will continue to climb.

Elias Yousif is a Research Analyst with the Stimson Center’s Conventional Defense Program. His research focuses on the global arms trade and arms control, issues related to remote warfare and use of force, and international security cooperation and child-soldier prevention. Prior to joining the Stimson Center, Elias was the Deputy Director of the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy where he analyzed the impact of U.S. arms transfer and security assistance programs on international security, U.S. foreign policy, and global human rights practices.

IPS UN Bureau

 


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