A $250 million military aid package to Ukraine, pushed by the Trump administration and approved by Congress Thursday, should benefit U.S. security by helping keep Russian forces bogged down, experts with experience in the region tell Military Times.
The aid package “tells the Russians that they can’t go to Kyiv and create a vassal state or change the geography of Europe again,” said a former U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the situation in Ukraine. “It also keeps a fair amount of Russian forces tied down that would otherwise be doing things directly against U.S. interests.”
The package will provide Ukraine forces battling Russian troops in that nation’s eastern region with a wide range of capabilities, Defense Attaché Embassy of Ukraine to the USA, Major General (UKR-Air Force), Borys Kremenetskyi told Military Times.
They include maritime and air situational awareness; naval capabilities; command and control; cyber defense; counter artillery; medical treatment and MEDEVAC; counter Russian propaganda; training and education and “other special capabilities that will save lives of our soldiers,” he said.
Support of the Ukrainian Navy is an important part of the assistance, according to a Ukraine press release, “which should contribute to the establishment of stability and security in the Azov and Black Sea regions.”
The Security Assistance package "confirms the strategic partnership and strong defense and military cooperation between Ukraine and the United States,” said Kremenetskyi. “It also confirms that Ukraine is on the right track with Defense Reform according to our Euro Atlantic Integrations priorities.”
In addition to the aid package, the State Department has authorized the sale of 150 Javelin missiles and related equipment and support for an estimated cost not to exceed $39.2 million. The anti-tank weapons are supposed to be used for defensive purposes only, Lt. Col. Carla M. Gleason told Military Times. She declined to offer specifics on the weapons involved in the air package.
Ukraine officials say they expect the delivery of the Javelins soon.
Drawn out conflict
The fight against Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists, now into its sixth year of a Russian invasion that has cost more than 14.000 Ukrainian lives and displaced millions, remains a bloody slog, Ukraine military officials say.
Between May 20 and June 2, two Ukraine soldiers were killed and 26 were wounded while 21 Russian troops were killed and 40 wounded, according to a Ukraine military PowerPoint presentation obtained by Military Times. In addition, the Russians increased their use of drones by 69 percent to 35 instances, the report states.
“It is not excluded the possibility of further efforts of the enemy to improve its tactical position by means of taking over control the least protected fortified positions of our troops,” according to the report.
Officials from the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. did not respond to a request for comment.
The $250 million aid package “will strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to more effectively deter further Russian aggression,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper, said in a statement to Military Times. “In cooperation with our Allies and key partners, support for Ukraine also promotes Euro-Atlantic security by enhancing Ukraine’s capabilities to train, exercise, and contribute to joint operations with U.S. and NATO forces," she said.
"These security assistance programs also promote the implementation of key defense reforms to modernize Ukraine’s defense enterprise in support of a more secure, prosperous, democratic, and free Ukraine,” said Cooper.
The assistance to Ukraine provided by the U.S. “address many of Ukraine's most critical needs: air and maritime surveillance, mobile counter-artillery radars, command and control, secure communications, cyber defense and strategic communications to counter Russian disinformation,” Alexander Vershbow, an Atlantic Council Distinguished Fellow, told Military Times. “Especially important is the provision of small but agile Mark VI patrol boats to enable Ukraine to maintain freedom of navigation for its commercial ships through the Kerch Strait to Mariupol and other key Ukrainian ports along the Sea of Azov.”
Supporting Ukraine's ability to defend itself “is not just important to Ukraine's survival as an independent, democratic state, but to U.S. security and that of our allies,” Vershbow said. “The future of an international order based on respect for state sovereignty and the rule of law, rather than the law of the jungle, is what's at stake.”
Vershbow said the DoD announcement “signifies a welcome reaffirmation of U.S. support for Ukraine's capacity to defend itself against Russian aggression. That aggression continues unabated on the ground in Russian-occupied areas of Eastern Ukraine, in the Black Sea and adjoining waters, and through Russia's continued occupation and illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.”
“It is important that DoD has confirmed that Ukraine has made continued progress on defense and anti-corruption reforms, after the false narrative that the White House put forward last year in the context of impeachment,” said Vershbow.
American-made medical equipment, night vision devices and counter-mortar radar makes a difference for Ukrainian troops, but it was also at the center of the impeachment proceedings against Trump.
House Democrats asserted Trump abused his power, arguing that the president and his allies pressured Ukraine to announce investigations of his political enemies while withholding nearly $400 million in military aid and making a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president conditional on such an announcement. The hold was lifted in September 2019.
Trump and his GOP allies have argued Trump acted appropriately out of concern over Ukraine’s corruption. Trump’s defenders have embraced Russian-fueled conspiracy theories that seek to cast blame on Kyiv rather than Moscow for interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The Republican-controlled Senate ultimately acquitted Trump in February.
Then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, who certified formally in a May 23 letter to Congress that the 2019 tranche could be released to Ukraine because it made sufficient anti-corruption progress, said at the time that he “never really received a clear explanation” as to why the White House delayed the money last summer.
“In the weeks after signing the certification, I did become aware that the aid had been held,” Rood told reporters. “I never really received a clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine as the purpose.”
Rood’s certification, legally required before the aid could be released, asserted Ukraine had taken “substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purpose of decreasing corruption." Rood sidestepped a question about why the Pentagon and the White House had contradicted one another.
“We do believe the Ukrainians have made progress in meeting their defense reform goals and made progress in working on corruption,” he said. “There is more work to be done, significant work to be done. All I can say is that that’s what we’ve been consistent[ly] saying in our public comments and our written correspondence to the Congress and others.”
Kremenetskyi, Ukraine’s Defense Attaché, said the aid package has an additional benefit for the U.S.
We “also share with the US our experience in hybrid warfare with Russians and I am sure that our Lessons Learned are valuable for the US military,” he said, echoing other Ukraine officials.
In an exclusive interview with Military Times in March, Volodymyr Yelchenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, said there are many reasons the U.S. should care about the conflict in Ukraine.
There are “plenty of military lessons” for the U.S. in Ukraine, Yelchenko said during a break in the “US-Ukraine Security Dialogue XI” held at the National Press Club in Washington in March.
“This is real war going on in the middle of Europe and this experience is different from Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq, so this is probably something which the U.S. military doesn’t have experience with.”
Yelchenko said he has heard from people inside the Pentagon that “they really enjoy learning from Ukrainians, who are on the front line, about their own experience. I think this is very valuable” for the U.S. military.
The “full spectrum” of Russian military doctrine has been on display in Ukraine since the Russians took over the Crimea in 2014 and are engaged in ongoing bloodshed, assisting rebels in the east.
Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant defense secretary responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia and the Baltics, offered a take similar to Yelchenko’s in an interview with Military Times during the forum in March.
“We learn more from how Ukrainians fight this hybrid warfare with the Russians than we do through any other means,” said Carpenter.
“And so in terms of how Russia uses electronic warfare, how they use artillery systems, how they do reconnaissance, how they use their special operations forces, all of this is of very high value,” Carpenter said. “Not just our intelligence community, but to our military, in terms of understanding what we need to do to prepare in the event that we’re either facing Russian proxy forces, in some theater of war, say in the Middle East or elsewhere, or in the event that a NATO ally is engaged with Russian forces directly.”
“As we are facing ongoing Russian aggression, we highly appreciate any assistance from our friends and partners,” said Kremenetskyi, the Ukraine Defense attaché. “Friend in need is friend indeed.
“Is it enough? Of course, we need more,” he said, “but we all are facing difficult times now and grateful, for what we receive. At the same time, Ukraine is fighting daily against Russian aggression protecting not only our territorial integrity and sovereignty but NATO’s Eastern borders as well. It means that we contribute to the all Euro Atlantic security.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.