September 20, 2023

How Much Have We Spent in Ukraine?

As Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky ask for more, it’s worth an accounting.

The United Nations General Assembly convened in New York City this week, and both American President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave impassioned speeches pleading for more aid for Ukraine in its grinding war against the invading Russians.

The U.S. has already allocated $113 billion for Ukraine, with the Biden administration requesting another $24 billion during the current spending fight on Capitol Hill. More on that in a minute.

After appearing via video last year, Zelensky spoke in person this year, giving a blistering denunciation of one of the UN’s permanent Security Council members. He labeled Russia’s invasion as “clearly a genocide,” though he warned that Russian aggression poses a threat to the world.

Believe it or not, Biden said a few things that were right. (Correction in the White House transcript):

Russia alone bears responsibility for this war. Russia alone has the power to end this war immediately. And it is Russia alone that stands in the way of peace because the — Russia’s price for peace is Ukraine’s capitulation, Ukraine’s territory, and Ukraine’s children.

Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence.

But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the United States [U.N. Charter] to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?

I’d respectfully suggest the answer is no.

We have to stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.

But here’s the ugly truth: Biden’s weakness was provocative. To be sure, that’s not news; our Douglas Andrews titled an analysis with that assessment back in May 2022, and we’d said so even earlier. If Joe Biden had not assumed the presidency in January 2021, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

No one else views Biden as strong, either. Certainly not China, which flew more than 150 military planes toward Taiwan Monday.

So, how much aid for Ukraine is too much?

That question has roiled the American political arena for a year and a half. We won’t go into all the twists and turns in that debate here, other than to say Republicans have uncharacteristically soured on such aid in large measure because it smells like swamp establishment and no one trusts Biden to manage it well. To put it mildly, his family’s ties to a thoroughly corrupt Ukraine are hugely problematic and come with national security consequences.

Instead, we want to focus on the dollars being spent.

The total allocation from Congress is, again, $113 billion. The White House says $101.2 billion has been spent, and there’s an outline to spend another $9.8 billion. The $24 billion Biden is now requesting would add to that total, and it’s split roughly in half between military and humanitarian assistance.

“Since January 2021,” reports the State Department, “the United States has invested more than $44.4 billion in security assistance” for Ukraine. The Congressional Research Service roughly agrees. State lists dozens of specific military weapons and munitions sent from the U.S. to Ukraine — including bullets, bombs, missiles, batteries, and tanks. Fighter jets are reportedly on the way in the near future.

Has that worked? Well, many analysts thought Ukraine would fall within days or weeks of Russia’s initial invasion. Here we are more than 600 days later and Ukraine is still fighting.

That doesn’t mean accountability should go by the wayside. “Where’s the accountability on the money we’ve already spent?” asked House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. “What is the plan for victory? I think that’s what the American public wants to know.” It’s also what he says he plans to ask Zelensky on Thursday, when the latter heads to Washington to meet with lawmakers.

Part of the answer is right here at home, and National Review’s Jim Geraghty, who spent several days reporting on the ground in Ukraine last month, gives it. “The U.S. government established its Ukraine Oversight Interagency Working Group in June 2022, four months after the war started,” he writes. “As of the end of March 2023, the federal government has more than 160 personnel from 20 U.S. oversight organizations tracking and auditing the weapons, ammunition, equipment, and money sent to Ukraine, personnel who are primarily pulled from the Offices of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. As of March, investigations ‘have not yet substantiated significant waste, fraud, or abuse,’ although it’s proven difficult to monitor weapons at the final stages, near the front lines.”

So the government says the government is spending the money well. Our elected representatives would do well to remember the old “trust but verify” maxim. Republicans in Congress and GOP voters more broadly are certainly skeptical of spending more.

What about Europe? A frequent complaint has been that the U.S. will, once again, be left holding the bag for Europe’s mess. Geraghty points to updated numbers on Europe’s part in the fight: “When you add up all the military, humanitarian, and financial aid sent to Ukraine, Europe collectively is sending $2.22 for every dollar the United States has sent.” Europe’s totals grew considerably over this past summer, when he says, “New aid packages and expansions of assistance programs were announced by the United Kingdom, the European Union, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, and Lithuania.”

The Ukraine war has been going on a lot longer than 18 months. The outcome will have significant American and global security implications.

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