On his first trip abroad since Russia began its “special military operation,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden yesterday and also addressed the U.S. Congress. 

Zelensky spoke in English, with a speech that had some notes of humor, but also explained how hard it has been for Ukraine to deal with this war.

Why did Zelensky travel to the United States? The reason is obvious. Washington is the largest aid provider to Kiev and has financed vital financial packages to Ukraine to, among other purposes:

*  provide military assistance;

*  grant humanitarian aid;

*  give support to the Ukrainian government given that the conflict has had a disruptive effect on the functioning of such elementary aspects as income tax collection;

*  finance the costs of operations and activities of the United States in the country, such as those required to transfer embassy personnel or cover the expenses of government agencies to prosecute war criminals.

As of November of this year, the United States had provided Ukraine with $68 billion U.S. in aid – to put it in context, this amount represents a third of the country’s nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 11.5 percent of GDP as measured in terms of purchasing power. Therefore, it is not a marginal effort. By October, the European Union had allocated 16 billion euros to the country, a figure considerably lower than that approved by the United States. In third place among donors, the United Kingdom has authorized 6.430 billion euros and then comes Germany with 3.100 billion. Poland is another important source of support, with 2.892 billion euros.

However, the assistance disbursed by the United States does not show the same priorities or characteristics as that granted by the Europeans. Thus, of the $68 billion approved by Washington, more than half goes to military assistance that includes, in the short term, transfers of both U.S. and other allies’ weapons, training of Ukrainian military personnel and intelligence information. The military support that the United States finances also includes long-term resources that the Ukrainian government could use to buy weapons, both from Washington and other countries. However, these resources, which total 10.4 billion dollars, have been intended for the reconstruction of the country’s military capabilities, perhaps when the conflict is over, since they can only be used for the acquisition of new weapons and, therefore, they will take time before reaching the Ukrainian territory.

In contrast to that, the European Union provides mostly financial assistance to Ukraine. Of the 16 billion euros approved, 12.3 billion are for this sphere, while military assistance is equivalent to only 2.5 billion euros. It is perceived with concern that the largest donor – namely, the United States – places more importance to military over humanitarian assistance. This is because Ukraine, out of a population of 41 million inhabitants, has 7. 8 million Ukrainians outside the country that need to settle in neighboring territories while another 6.5 million are internally displaced. This means that a third of Ukrainians have had to leave their homes and move to other parts, inside or outside the country. All in all, that would explain why the European Union places more attention on humanitarian aid but not as much as needed. 

Now, to understand why Zelensky addressed the U.S. Congress, one may want to take a look at the figures. The assistance granted by the U.S. can be authorized by the executive branch but Congress also has an important role. So far, three assistance packages have been approved for the benefit of the Slavic nation. The first of them, for an amount of 13.6 billion dollars, was approved in March. The second, which contained most of the aid, was for 40 billion dollars and was awarded in May. This package was voted in Congress where the representatives overwhelmingly supported it by 368 in favor against 57 in the House and 86 against 11 in the Senate. The third package for 13.7 billion dollars got the green light in September. Good. However, various congressmen have told President Biden that it is important to push for an end to the war between Russia and Ukraine, since they do not seem willing to continue channeling resources from U.S. taxpayers to a country in a never-ending conflict. It is known that Biden has approached Zelensky so that he can negotiate with Putin, something that the Ukrainian president has refused to do. Thus, Zelensky, fearing that the resources the U.S. has been granting to Ukraine – which are the most important to sustain the war against Russia – could come to an end, chose to travel thousands of kilometers to convince the skeptic American legislators that the aid given so far is not enough and that their money is not charity but an investment in global security and democracy. Likewise, at the joint press conference between Biden and Zelensky, the former stated that the U.S. will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. Of course, this will not be easy.

On November 15th – after the midterm elections in which the House of Representatives ended in the hands of the Republicans while the Senate stayed with the Democrats – the Biden administration made a fourth request for assistance to Ukraine for 37. 7 billion dollars, which would raise the aid provided to a total of 105.5 billion dollars. This last package is designed to last until the end of the fiscal year, that is, September 30, 2023, but it is believed these resources will be exhausted in May due to the monthly average of expenses being 6,800 dollars.

What would happen if U.S. aid is substantially reduced? There is, as it is well known, a bipartisan consensus on the importance of supporting the Ukrainian war effort. After all, it is not feasible to send U.S. troops to the region, for political as well as military and strategic reasons. In this sense it is to some extent “comfortable” that the Ukrainians take over, of course, under the guidance and patronage of Washington. However, in the second aid package that went through Congress, as observed, there was opposition and this could grow if Ukraine is perceived as a kind of “bottomless barrel” as has also been suggested by some political figures, especially on the Republican side.

As a footnote, a face-to-face meeting, from the Ukrainian perspective, between Zelensky and Biden was important. As is known, back in 2020, the then president Donald Trump had a famous telephone conversation with Zelensky who asked him for approval of arms sales to Kyiv. Trump did not say yes, but instead “asked for a favor.” He asked Zelensky to provide him with information on Hunter Biden, son of the virtual Democratic presidential candidate at the time, in order to derail his presidential campaign. Hunter Biden is the black sheep of the Biden family. He is alleged to have links to financial fraud, drug and prostitution rings and corruption. In Ukraine, Biden’s son was a shareholder of the Burisma gas company, which faced corruption allegations. This episode itself reveals that Trump asked Zelensky to conspire to destroy Biden’s presidential campaign. That was one of the claims of the Democrats and the main argument for the impeachment they sought against the controversial Republican. That Zelensky and Biden sat down to talk yesterday to support Ukraine in this terrible armed conflict must be a relief for the president of the Slavic country, which shows once again that Biden is not vindictive or has hard feelings for what happened two years ago. Biden is institutional, which favors Ukraine and especially Zelensky.

In short: if U.S. aid were to be reduced, it would diminish Ukraine’s military capabilities and give Russia a huge advantage. Zelensky is counting on this scenario as undesirable for Washington, which has repeatedly insisted that “Russia cannot win.” All in all, U.S. public opinion shows fatigue around the issue considering the internal economic situation, inflation and fuel prices. And pay attention: one of the most repeated arguments of the Republicans during the electoral process this year is that Biden pays more attention to Ukraine than to its southern border, a reason they say they are no longer willing to approve more resources for the benefit of Kyiv. There are initiatives by legislators to audit and make accountable the money given to Ukraine and the issue has the potential to become a headache for Biden if the armed conflict does not end and becomes an issue in the 2024 electoral process. Finally, despite the large flow of resources from Western nations to Ukraine, it would be important to develop mediation and conflict resolution initiatives between Kyiv and Moscow to put an end to this disruptive armed conflict that today seems more focused on the military than on the political and diplomatic approaches.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by María Cristina Rosas, a professor and researcher at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Rosas (pictured above) can be reached via email at:[email protected]


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