Ukraine fears losing its greatest weapon: US military aid

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In the two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Ukraine has found itself with its back against the wall many times and in many forms: fighting with Molotov cocktails and weapons distributed to the population, coping with power cuts and fleeing refugees. But the prospect of more U.S. aid still loomed on the horizon.

This support was essential, analysts and leaders in kyiv say. The United States has provided about half of the foreign military aid to Ukraine’s arsenal, approximately $47 billion.

But this week, leaders in Kiev waited with bated breath to see if that lifeline would end, as a standoff between lawmakers in the U.S. Congress threatens to end, for now, U.S. support for the war against Russia.

A measure that would allow U.S. arms to flow to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and fund border security was defeated in a Senate vote Wednesday, amid growing Republican opposition and deep divisions at the Capitol.

After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would try an alternative route, pushing for a vote on foreign military aid without the more controversial measures on immigration. Both Democrats and Republicans expressed some optimism about the new measure, but by Wednesday evening, lawmakers were bogged down again. Mr. Schumer suspended the Senate until Thursday noon.

But even if the Senate approves this aid, its fate in the House remains uncertain.

The Ukrainian army would not suddenly be overwhelmed, analysts say, but the degradation of its forces would be inexorable. European countries do not have stocks of weapons and ammunition comparable to those of the United States and are unlikely to make up the deficit, military analysts say.

“Ukraine could actually hold on for part of this year” without more U.S. military aid, Michael Kofman, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “But over time, there will be no prospect of rebuilding the army, and it will begin to slowly lose. »

The absence of additional U.S. aid, he said, “would indicate a dark and negative trajectory in the second half of this year.”

Not since the chaotic first months of the invasion, when Russian troops poured across borders from all directions and the country rose up en masse to resist, has Ukraine faced such a precarious moment of the war.

Russia, whose army is invigorated by Iranian and North Korean weapons, continues its attacks on towns and villages along almost the entire front line in the east. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is plotting a shakeup in the civilian and military leadership that could oust a popular commanding general.

Since late last year, Russia has stepped up its large-scale aerial bombardment in a bid to exploit dwindling reserves of critical Western air defense munitions and inflict maximum damage. A volley of gunfire hit kyiv and other cities early Wednesday, waking residents with air alarms and explosions.

“Ukraine needs help,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said in a statement. “Only the joint efforts of democracies will be able to stop the criminal Putin.”

Officials and soldiers say the reduced aid level is affecting Ukraine on the battlefield, where Russia is using its advantage in artillery and personnel to reduce Ukraine’s defenses.

During the fiercest fighting in the east, above the town of Avdiivka, the ratio of Russian to Ukrainian artillery fire is five to one, according to Ukrainian commanders. Soldiers say they no longer shoot one or two Russian soldiers who approach because they are short of ammunition and do not want to use it on small groups.

The American military and financial aid program blocked in Congress would not be entirely devoted to new weapons for Ukraine; part would be used to replace the weapons in American stocks already supplied to Ukraine. Other funds would be used for maintenance and spare parts, as well as funding for training, intelligence sharing and mine clearance.

Ukraine has already found itself overwhelmed in terms of weapons. In the first days, the military handed out rifles in the back of trucks to anyone who wanted to take them in kyiv, as Russian troops advanced into the city’s suburbs. Eventually, new U.S. weaponry arrived, such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, and Patriot air defense missiles.

Today, Ukraine is once again looking for ways to adapt and improvise by expanding its domestic arms manufacturing and relying more on drones built from commercially available parts.

To that end, Mr. Zelensky this week announced the creation of a new military branch: the Unmanned Systems Forces. Mr Zelensky said the aim was to replicate Ukraine’s success on land in combating a vastly superior Russian naval force in the Black Sea through the use of maritime drones.

However, at present, Russia’s superiority in firepower and personnel puts Ukraine behind on most of the front line.

To some extent, Ukraine has contributed to its own unrest. Corruption, a long-standing problem in the country, has diverted millions in procurement of supplies and other areas. Mr. Zelensky has sometimes gone overboard in chastising his allies for not providing enough support, earning them reprimands.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian military leaders ignored U.S. advice to focus their counteroffensive on a specific region. Instead, they spread their attacks and failed to achieve a breakthrough despite months of effort.

For soldiers, uncertainty about future ammunition supplies began to set in. “There is a certain fatalism,” said Captain Oleh Voitsekhovsky, a member of a drone reconnaissance unit. “It is like that, but we still have to complete our tasks. The number of deserters is low but continuous.

Gen. Anatoliy Barhylevych, commander of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, said he still hoped U.S. military aid would arrive. “But whatever the outcome, the Ukrainian army will continue our fight,” he said. “We have no choice but to fight this enemy.”

The European Union, collectively, has provided approximately $148.5 billion in aid since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, surpassing the total of $113 billion allocated by the United States, including $75 billion Dollars were directly allocated to Ukraine for humanitarian, financial and military support and another $38 billion for security assistance was spent largely in the United States, according to the Institute for Study of War , a research group based in Washington.

While European and Asian allies have significantly stepped up efforts to support Ukraine and Kiev attempts to increase its own weapons manufacturing, ISW researchers said U.S. aid remains essential.

The United States, they write, is “the primary source of sufficiently large quantities of essential military equipment, such as M1 Abrams tanks, armored personnel carriers, advanced air defense systems such as the Patriots and long-range strike systems.

Western support for Kiev has not kept pace with Moscow’s military stockpiles, as Russia has increased its drone production, resolved problems in its military industry and been bolstered by supplies from Iran and North Korea. In Wednesday’s barrage, two of the five missiles that struck the eastern city of Kharkiv were made in North Korea, a city police official said.

Nationwide, the volley killed at least five people, according to local authorities. As the Ukrainian Air Force warned of missiles heading toward kyiv along the Dnipro River around 7 a.m., interceptor missiles streaked across the skies to deal with the threat. But air defense systems designed to thwart such attacks are weak, officials said, and are desperately needed. U.S. officials estimated that if funding was provided by March, there might no longer be gaps in air defense.

Off the battlefield, a collapse in U.S. financial aid would impact Ukraine’s economy, with budget cuts and rising inflation. U.S. aid would include about $11 billion in non-military funding.

The European Union has approved a four-year, $54 billion aid package that partly covers Ukraine’s needs. But without U.S. aid, wartime support from the International Monetary Fund, which depends on U.S. support for the Ukrainian government, would have to be renegotiated. Ukraine could be forced to print more money, which could lead to a debilitating inflationary cycle.

Although Ukrainian officials have gone out of their way to express gratitude for all the support the United States has provided in the past, their disappointment is palpable with Washington’s dysfunction, which Ukrainians say is already costing lives on the battlefield.

“Every day we have bodies that we would not have had if we had had this help,” Oleksii Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in an interview this week in Kiev.

Ukraine has found itself in dire situations before, he said, and there is only one answer: fight with everything you can. If the West stops supplying weapons, he said, “we will bite them with our teeth.”

Maria Varenikova reports contributed.

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