30.04.2024 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Will US military funding make any difference in Ukraine?

Will US military funding make any difference in Ukraine?

The US Congress’ passage of the Ukraine military aid bill – which would see the US spending US$ 60 billion to directly or indirectly arm the Ukrainian military to fight Russia – has apparently provided a lot of relief to the anti-Russia elements, both in the West and elsewhere. For months, political elites in the US negotiated this bill, but it remains uncertain whether or not this funding will ultimately make much difference at all. Questions about the efficiency and the effectiveness remain unanswered – not only because there are serious bottlenecks in the West itself, but also because, as it stands, this aid might still be far from enough to match the extent of resources Russia has mobilized and will continue to utilize in its efforts to resist Washington’s agenda of NATO’s expansion. More importantly, will this aid help Ukraine reclaim the losses it has suffered in recent months?

While these questions remain, let’s first see what the US is doing in Ukraine. Surely, Washington is fighting Russia in order to advance NATO’s reach to Ukraine. This would help Washington ‘encircle’ Russia permanently. At the same time, however, Washington is also using Ukraine as a testing ground for its new military technologies, i.e., it is sending technologies that are far from fully developed that the Russian military forces have been able to overcome without much difficulty. Washington, in other words, has, directly and indirectly, contributed to Ukraine’s losses more than it may have contributed to any potential successes. A New York Times report notes:

“The war in Ukraine has, in the minds of many American officials, been a bonanza for the U.S. military, a testing ground for Project Maven and other rapidly evolving technologies. The American-made drones that were shipped into Ukraine last year were blown out of the sky with ease … “At the end of the day this became our laboratory,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, commander of the 18th Airborne Division”.

More than ever, the report notes, Ukraine needs more traditional weapons and ammunition than technologies in experimental stages. The fresh aid package is supposed to supply exactly that. Will that make any significant, ground-breaking difference on the ground?

For one thing, a lot of this supply depends upon a fast-tracked production of enough ammunition in the US and elsewhere. Russia, on the other hand, is already producing three times more artillery shells than the US and Europe combined. These figures are based upon NATO’s intelligence estimates. Therefore, it is entirely possible that Russia might be producing much more than that – something that it can do because of the quick transformation of its economy into a war economy. Russia, after all, is pitted against the combined military strength of NATO.

In December 2023, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia was already producing 17.5 times as much ammunition, 17 times as many drones and 5.6 times as many tanks as it did before it began its special military operation in Ukraine. This is in addition to Russia’s recent deployment of its electronic warfare capabilities, allowing it to neutralize US HIMARS missiles too. In fact, HIMARS launchers, too, have been destroyed. These estimates indicate that Russia can, without facing any difficulty, sustain its military operations for several years. Can the West do that?

In addition, the breakdown of the aid package also reveals its immediate ineffectiveness.  The package includes $23.2 billion intended to replenish US weapons stocks; $13.8 billion for the purchase of advanced weapons systems for Ukraine; and another $11.3 billion for ongoing US military operations in the region. That is to say, in effect, the direct military assistance to Ukraine will actually amount to about $13.8 billion till end-2024. This is much more than the US$ 23 billion worth of aid – which has not made a difference towards ensuring a Ukrainian victory – the West has collectively sent since the start of the conflict. Will the fresh aid, therefore, have any immediate impact on the front is a big question mark. This is, of course, apart from the fact Russia is reportedly already planning a major offensive before the US starts sending its supplies.

There are many other difficulties too in Europe and US. The big question in everyone’s mind – and this includes Ukraine’s military planners – is what will happen if Biden is replaced by Donald Trump as the US President? Will Trump continue to supply? Trump’s long-running grudges against Ukraine are already well known.

Elsewhere in Europe, Hungry has now been joined by Slovenia in opposing supplying more military aid to Ukraine. Instead, these countries are now urging, more than ever, Ukraine to seek a negotiated settlement with Russia. The situation in the EU is also likely to change in June. The EU also expects many pro-Russia political players and parties to sweep the European Parliament elections, which might turn the EU’s disposition vis-à-vis Ukraine and Russia, making it a lot more difficult than today to maintain the momentum of supplies.

China, on the other hand, is also taking a position that reinforces Russia’s. The US$60 billion aid is being funded through Russian financial assets seized in the West. This is an illegal activity by any standards. China is extremely concerned about it insofar as it sees this as a step directly undermining the existing international financial order. A report in the Global Times noted that the bill (The 21st Century Peace through Strength Act) “will set a disastrous precedent against the existing international financial order”.

US steps are, therefore, bringing China and Russia closer than ever. In this context, despite persistent US threats to China, China’s support for Russia has not changed. Vladimir Putin is all set to visit China in May to expand the already existing “no-limits” friendship. While all of that happens in the backdrop, there is little gainsaying that Moscow is very keen to use the existing window to double down on its current plans in Ukraine and give Ukrainian forces a setback that might prevent them from utilising the aid as effectively as the West thinks it can be used. To that extent, Russia continues to hold the initiative on and off the ground.


Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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