Since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly four years ago, I have found a tendency by many to view U.S. governmental assistance to Ukraine largely through the lens of lethal weapons. Indeed, defensive lethal weapons, are critically important for Ukraine in raising the costs to Russia of any further aggression and in reinforcing and amplifying U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Trump administration’s recent decision to provide Ukraine with some of these weapons is to be applauded and encouraged. It is long overdue, given broad bipartisan Congressional support since 2014, which has included bills funding lethal weapons as part of larger security assistance for Ukraine.
Notwithstanding their political and practical importance, lethal weapons are only one among many necessary forms of U.S. assistance to Ukraine. For one thing, in the military/security area, non-lethal U.S. military assistance helped to advance Ukraine’s war-fighting efforts. It has included equipment, such as counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, secure communications, tactical UAVs, medical equipment, logistical infrastructure and IT systems, night vision devices, thermal goggles and up-armored civilian SUVs.
Beyond equipment, it also has encompassed training, including that of special operations forces, and provided advisers to advance implementation of key defense reforms and help Ukraine build its military long-term. The U.S. also facilitates important help in other security areas such as intelligence.
In short, non-lethal security assistance has been invaluable in strengthening Ukraine’s ability to more effectively counter Russian aggression.
U.S. government assistance, however, goes far beyond the military/security realm – and this is a good thing. U.S. help in the economic, energy, humanitarian, democracy, good governance and health realms builds a stronger Ukraine, helping counter the Kremlin’s efforts to destabilize the country and hinder its integration with the West. Thus, non-military assistance also has a national security aspect. Along with sanctions and political/diplomatic pressure, U.S. assistance is a key component of the U.S. toolbox to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression.
U.S. governmental help of all kinds to Ukraine since independence has been substantial and has only intensified since the Euro-Maidan. Trying to get a handle on an exact figure is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is hard to measure, but a reasonable estimate is that the U.S. has allocated at least $7 billion since 1992 – which is not to say that all of what was allocated has been spent. Quite a few U.S. government agencies provide assistance. In addition to the Department of Defense, these include the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the departments of State, Energy, Commerce, Agriculture, Treasury and Justice, other smaller agencies and the Peace Corps. They provide technical assistance and advisors who work with various Ukrainian ministries and in a number of localities, facilitating financial, economic, agricultural, health, justice and law enforcement reforms. Bolstering civil society to support the reform process, including anti-corruption, is a priority.
USAID, an independent government agency that works closely with the State Department, takes the lead in non-security assistance. To achieve the goal of a stable, democratic, prosperous Ukraine, USAID programs have focused on democracy, human rights and good governance, economic growth, health services, as well as energy security and agriculture. Since 1992, the agency has contributed some $2 billion in support. Its funding throughout the years has helped nurture an active civil society – a critical driver of reforms in Ukraine – and a vibrant media. It has promoted political processes designed to lead to more transparent and accountable governance.
Its humanitarian and transition assistance has helped internally displaced persons (IDPs) and populations affected by the war, and has helped in communities in the east to increase support for an inclusive Ukrainian identity and to increase citizen engagement in the reform process in local communities. It has supported the most vulnerable members of Ukrainian society, and has been at the forefront of Ukraine’s fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and polio, as well as in improving maternal and infant health. It has worked to better the business climate by helping Ukraine reduce cumbersome regulations, supported pension reform, facilitated the development of the financial sector and improved energy efficiency. It has many programs to fight corruption and trafficking in persons.
The U.S. Embassy also implements programs, such as its International Narcotics and Law (INL) section, which coordinates and implements criminal justice and law enforcement training and technical assistance programs funded by the State Department and other agencies. The State Department also funds a variety of valuable academic and professional exchange programs. More than 3,100 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine since independence. Currently there are 342 U.S. Peace Corps volunteers serving in Ukraine – more than in any other country.
To even list all of the various initiatives of USAID, and, more broadly, the U.S. government in the last quarter-century, would take several columns.
The Ukrainian American community and other friends of Ukraine have long advocated for U.S. government aid and for a few years in the mid-1990s, under the Clinton administration, Ukraine was one of our largest recipients of bilateral aid. Some readers may recall that the current Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, championed Ukraine assistance in his capacity as chairman of the relevant appropriations subcommittee, and was sometimes referred to as “Mr. Ukraine” at the time. He enjoyed bipartisan support back then, and, thankfully, assistance to Ukraine continues to enjoy strong bipartisan support to this day, despite the difficult budget climate.
U.S. assistance, which increased substantially following Russia’s invasion, was backed by the Obama administration and funded by Congress. With the proposed severe cuts in foreign assistance called for by the Trump administration, there were fears that Ukraine aid, too, would be affected. Based on my sources, it looks as if assistance to Ukraine for Fiscal Year 2018 will most likely be maintained at levels similar to the last two fiscal years – underscoring the importance that the United States attaches to Ukraine. And while there is always room for improvement in how it is implemented, U.S. assistance has been substantial and vital to Ukraine – a good use of taxpayer money. Friends of Ukraine, including the Ukrainian American community, need to make sure that this practical, consequential support for Ukraine remains a priority for the United States.
Orest Deychakiwsky is a Member of the Board of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and a former Policy Advisor at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. This article originally appeared in the Ukrainian Weekly.