Will Congress vote more money for Ukraine? The Biden administration is asking for a massive $61.4 billion. $30 billion will buy arms for Ukraine and some undisclosed part of it will be used to replenish US war stocks. $14.4 billion is needed, supposedly, to support US intelligence and defense support, meaning paying for US operations supporting the war both inside and outside Ukraine. $16.3 billion is basically handing wads of cash to keep the Ukrainian government running, paying salaries and pensions, and for “security assistance” whatever that means, Finally, $481 million is to fund Ukrainians who have escaped to the United States.
Each of these should have been separate proposals, but Biden thought he could turn the trick of the full Monty by linking Ukraine aid to Israeli assistance. (Israel gets four time less than Ukraine in the proposal.)
These amounts, even if the war was going well, are unaffordable (unless bankrupting America is the goal). But now the situation on the ground has changed a lot, and there is a broad consensus in the Pentagon and at NATO (“Be prepared for Bad News” says the NATO head) that under the best circumstances the war is a stalemate, and under the worst, Ukraine is losing the war.
There are some who cry that Ukraine does not have everything it needs to win. But Ukraine has received massive amounts of weapons, resulting in the reduction of war stocks in the United States and Europe, to dangerously low levels. It seems Washington could care less, but it should. A weak US and an even weaker NATO leads to exactly the threat the US says it is avoiding by sponsoring the Ukraine war -namely it encourages our adversaries to take advantage and attack (whether in Europe, or Asia, or the Middle East does not matter, as it could be any or all of them).
Meanwhile, Congress is being told that if they don’t cough up the money, Ukraine will not be able to stay in the fight.
But Ukraine is suffering from much more than any shortage of weapons. It is short on manpower. The latest (rather draconian) recruiting drive in Ukraine only met 8% of its recruiting goal, and probably less. Ukrainians no longer want to fight, that is clear. Ukraine went out and hired non-Ukrainian “recruiters” (so far these outsiders names have not been disclosed), mostly because the life of the state-financed recruiters was threatened. Making matters worse, Zelensky fired a bunch of them for corruption (taking bribes to pass over certain recruitment candidates). Anyone under the age of 70 can be pulled into the army, involuntarily. What kind of fighters do you think these are?
Ukraine has also closed its borders and those subject to the draft can’t leave without special parliamentary permission. Locking people in is not a good formula in the end.
Worse still, Ukraine has passed three laws of note. The first law prohibits the teaching or use of the Russian language in Ukraine. The second law expands the eligible recruiting age and now includes women. The third law says there will be no elections under martial law, and even after martial law ends after the war is over, no elections for another six months. The law applies to Presidential elections. Parliamentary elections are also suspended. It is now impossible to argue there is anything remotely democratic about Ukraine.
Making matters worse, Ukraine has launched an unprecedented attack on the Russian Orthodox church, seized church properties, and arrested church leaders. Recently a leader of the Orthodox Church has been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and the confiscation of property for various supposed crimes against the state.
Meanwhile Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod, the abbot of the Kiev Caves Lavra was held under house arrest after being briefly jailed. (This is an old Communist tactic. It was employed by the Polish Communist government against leading Roman Catholic clergy. We complained about it when the Polish Communists did it, but Washington today is silent, and therefore complicit.)
Ukraine’s government also is openly in a power struggle. Numerous confirmed reports say that Zelensky is trying to sideline General Valerii Zaluzhny who is the overall commander of Ukraine’s military. Recently Zaluzhny’s top military aid was blown up by a hand grenade. The police say it was an accident. In the midst of a power struggle, the accident story is heavily discounted. Meanwhile, Zelensky has been removing important generals linked to Zaluzhny.
It isn’t the only crack in Kiev as criticism of Zelensky is coming from different quarters. Even the mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, has lined up with Zaluzhny.
Perhaps most interesting of all is how the former President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was manhandled this past week. Abiding by the law, Poroshenko got permission from the Ukrainian parliament, Verkhovna Rada, to leave the country. Officially Poroshenko had plans to meet with Polish parliamentary leaders and travel to the United States apparently for meetings with the US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson (R-La). When Poroshenko got to the Polish border his exit was blocked. Orders apparently came down from Zelensky to deny him an exit. Officially the exit denial was announced by Ukraine’s security service, the SBU. Later the Zelensky government claimed that Poroshenko was going to have a meeting with Victor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary. The Zelensky government claimed such a meeting would harm Ukraine’s interests because Orbán is pro-Russian.
Hungary, of course, is a NATO member. If, in fact, an Orbán meeting was planned, there is no justification to block Poroshenko. What is really going on? A leaked phone call (Russian language) allegedly between Poroshenko and Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov includes Poroshenko’s plea that Zelensky must be “overthrown immediately.” But is the call real or a fake? For the record, Orbán has not confirmed a planned meeting with Poroshenko.
On the battlefield the Russians continue to advance in almost all sectors, although the weather in Ukraine, freezing with snowfall, may temporarily halt Russia’s military advances. In Moscow, President Putin has announced that the Russian army will be enlarged. Russia will add an additional 170,000 troops, bringing the total force to 1.32 million soldiers. The Russian army includes both conscripts and contract soldiers. Contract soldiers are paid volunteers, similar to the US AFV (All Volunteer Force). Russia’s Defense Ministry says that the expansion does not imply any increase in conscripted soldiers. Russia has also commissioned new army training centers.
Given the turmoil in Kiev and the significant battlefield losses on the Ukrainian side (of course there are heavy Russian losses too), ramping up even more military aid to Ukraine is a risky proposition. Despite wishful thinking in the US and NATO there is no sign that Russia won’t continue to pursue the war full throttle.
In contemplating the Biden administration request, it might make sense for Congress to put aid to Ukraine on a short string, say three months at most. By that time the political and military situation may clarify. That would send a message that maybe the only way out for Ukraine is to sit down with the Russians.