Updated Apr 20, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Air defenses and hope: How U.S. aid will boost Ukraine's exhausted army

Ukraine funeral

Burials for Ukrainian troops in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo: Hnat Holyk /Gwara Media/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The Pentagon is preparing to rush critical ammunition and air defenses to Ukraine in the coming days, delivering a lifeline to frontline forces battered by Russian bombs and demoralized by congressional inaction.

Why it matters: Eight months after President Biden first requested billions of dollars in new funding for Ukraine, the House finally is on the verge of passing a foreign aid package.

  • The delay has dealt a massive setback to Kyiv's war effort — but experts say it's not too late to turn the tide.
  • "It absolutely will make a difference," former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told Axios.
  • "It will give the Ukrainians time and resources to refit, retrain, rearm and refresh army units in preparation for a counteroffensive later this year or early next."

Driving the news: With Congress set to pass $61 billion in funding for Ukraine on Saturday, the Pentagon says it plans to mobilize "within days" to transfer weapon stockpiles that have been sitting in Europe for months.

Zoom in: Alarms over Ukraine's fate have grown increasingly dire during the past month.

  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) cited recent intelligence briefings about Ukraine's perilous situation in deciding to buck hardline Republicans — and Donald Trump — to hold a vote on more military aid for Ukraine.
  • "There is a very real risk that the Ukrainians could lose on the battlefield by the end of 2024, or at least put Putin in a position where he could dictate the terms of a political settlement," CIA Director Bill Burns warned Thursday.

The top U.S. general in Europe told Congress last week that Ukraine is currently outgunned 5 to 1 by Russia — and that the disparity will balloon to 10 to 1 "in a matter of weeks" without U.S. aid.

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was even more blunt, telling PBS Newshour this week that "without this support, we will have no chance of winning."

What to watch: The biggest immediate impact of the U.S. aid package will be to help Ukraine "stop the bleeding and stabilize the situation," a Senate GOP aide told Axios.

  • "This should allow Ukraine to hold onto what it has — to hold the line, protect its cities and infrastructure, and impose massive costs on Russia for trying to make more gains," writes Max Bergmann of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • Experts say the the renewed flow of weapons to Ukraine also will have a huge impact on troop morale, a major obstacle for Ukraine in recent months as Zelensky has been forced to expand conscription.
  • "The morale boost might be the single most important benefit of the new aid package," Taylor told Axios, arguing that it will reassure anxious Ukrainians that the U.S. is "in this for the long haul."

Between the lines: Ukraine has been unable to plan future military operations for six months because of the partisan paralysis in Congress, allowing Russia to fill the strategic void.

  • "If you are not taking steps forward to prepare another counteroffensive, Russia will take them," Zelensky told the Washington Post's David Ignatius last month.

The bottom line: Ukraine faces a significant uphill climb in clawing back territory seized by Russia and achieving a favorable pathway to peace.

  • But for the first time since last year, two key assets for Ukraine's survival — U.S. weapons and hope — are about to be replenished on the frontlines.
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