The updated version of the bill that Kyiv Post read through on Thursday, April 18 is here

The Basics – It’s significant. It involves all manner of US government agencies. It’s the opposite of just handing suitcases of money to the Ukrainians.

It’s taken almost six months of Congressional maneuvering and haggling, but a foreign arms support bill planning the commitment of slightly more than $60 billion in US weapons and military resources to Ukraine is scheduled for a show-down vote in the House of Representatives on Saturday. The Senate already passed a bill similar to the one the House will consider and the administration of President Joe Biden has called approval of the legislation critical for American national security. 

In its present form, the bill stitches together almost all planned US government spending in support of Ukraine into a single package covering arms, logistics, training and other support not just for the Ukrainian military, but for the US military and US manufacturers.

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Almost half – just under $28 billion – is committed to “Operations and Maintenance” across the Department of Defense: this is the key category covering arms and ammunition coming from US government inventories in support of Ukraine, along with the logistics and if needed training to get the weaponry into Ukrainian soldiers’ hands. This would fund, for example, the purchase of high-tech weaponry like HARM anti-radar missiles or Javelin anti-tank missiles, but also conventional weaponry that not just America makes – like tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

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Another $6 billion would go to operations and maintenance of US forces. This could be, for instance, reconnaissance by US satellites and snooper aircraft around the Black Sea and over Russia.

Bill-writers have designated a full $5.6 billion for ammunition like shells and bullets, and another $3 million, roughly, specifically for missiles.  

A very big-ticket item is $7.8 billion for an “Economic Support Fund.” According to most analysts, this will boil down to US taxpayers helping pay salaries and operating costs for Ukraine’s military numbering an estimated 2.2 million in state service and some 900,000 active duty uniformed personnel, and their operating costs.

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A separate $1.6 billion is committed to “Foreign Military Financing,” which based on past Pentagon practice would most likely be loans or grants to Ukraine to buy US arms.

A detailed breakdown of where the money would go can be read here:

The Good News – This looks much less like a one-off D.C. minimal effort, and much more like US state institutions committing long-term to sustained Ukrainian military assistance.

As written, the bill is a document spreading funds across seemingly every part of the US military-industrial complex seeding money or in some cases pushing serious funding into long-term American support of Ukraine. Even minor line items, like Ukraine-related US funding to Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, are by Ukrainian standards, massive ($300 million). US military R&D, anti-terrorism, Space Forces, the Marine Corps, USAID all will get slices of the Ukraine pie thanks to H.R. 8035. Ten million dollars is committed to the Office of the Inspector General to keep track of it all.

The bulk of the spending, about two-thirds of it, appears to be tracked so that it might purchase ammunition or high-tech combat systems that the US military is a world leader in, and that Ukraine has already fielded with success in battles on the ground or in the air. This sum, approximately $40 billion, is roughly equivalent to Ukraine’s entire annual military budget paid by Ukrainian taxpayers. One of the most basic effects of the US assistance to Ukraine, in coming months, once the US arms and ammo are delivered, will be to dramatically increase the firepower of Ukrainian combat formations.

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A final advantage of the funding becoming available in May 2024 is that it will, effectively, cram a year’s worth of US military assistance to Ukraine into about five months, because FY 2024 ends in September. Once released, due to that telescoping effect, US military aid in Summer-Fall 2024 might even resemble a WW2-style flood of arms and ammunition courtesy of Uncle Sam – at least for several months.

The Bad News – Since Congress spent about six months deciding how to fund assistance to Ukraine for FY 2024, the clock for FY 2025 has already been ticking for some time.

Although the bill once the taps are open will end the short-term famine for US arms and ammunition in the Ukrainian military, elections upcoming in November 2024 will probably translate to another Congressional brake on Ukraine support, and more time-consuming debate and confrontation, unless one of the political parties takes control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

The more likely scenario is that, just as aid to Ukraine was stymied for months because there wasn’t a collective political will in Washington to get it approved prior to the elections, once the new Congress is shaken out and the next President elected, Washington will need time before it can take up legislation efficiently, and controversial legislation like military assistance to Ukraine has every chance of getting kicked down the road six months from now, just as it was for the past six months.

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Also, although the US military and industry has the unique, superpower-only capacity to commit force and resources to enable Ukrainian battlefield superiority in Russia, the bipartisan view in D.C. seems to be that the US’ role in the Russo-Ukrainian war is to support Ukraine and stop Russian aggression, but, defeating the Kremlin and when the war ends are questions Europe should decide and mostly pay for. The funding bill is that of a US willing to lead but unwilling, both because of domestic politics and competition with China, to confront Russia and commit wholeheartedly to a quick resolution of the war. 

There is every chance we will see the D.C.-aid-for-Ukraine circus again, very possibly before 2024 is out.

Q: How Much Will All This Help Ukraine? A: A lot but it won’t win the war.

Some US politicians and news platforms have called the American aid package a live-or-die issue that will determine whether Russia or Ukraine wins the war. That’s overstating things.

If the US military support to Ukraine is passed as proposed, at about $60 billion, then for FY 2024 America’s contribution to international arms and military material transfers will be slightly less than half of all other nations’ taken together, and about one-third of all nations’ financial support to Ukraine.

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The US assistance figure also does not take into account Ukrainian domestic arms production.

Some of that production, particularly low-cost FPV drones produced in the tens of thousands monthly, isn’t state-financed but crowd-funded and has proved devastating to Russian assaults.  

It’s also worth noting that by far the most substantial assistance package planned for Ukraine’s Air Force – a multi-national project that would eventually transfer 60-80 Afghanistan War-era F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv and train pilots and ground crews – is almost totally financed by European states, with practically no US involvement.

The key value of US military assistance to Ukraine is in high-tech weaponry other nations either don’t produce at all or in quantity, and that Russia has no effective counter to.

Most prominent are the high-end Patriot anti-aircraft system and precision-guided long-range rockets for the M270 and HIMARS launch systems. America is the only manufacturer of those systems and without US funding Ukraine can’t defend its cities effectively against Russian ballistic missiles, nor take out Russian airfields or ammunition depots deep behind the battlefield except in isolated strikes using homemade drones or very limited numbers of Europe-produced missiles.  

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America is equally critical to Ukraine for the single most important weapon of the Russo-Ukrainian War – artillery ammunition – which many nations produce but none in quantities the Ukrainians need.

The bill, if passed, would not only allow the US government to devote shell production capacity to Ukraine, but also transfer to Kyiv artillery ammunition already stored in US arsenals – not in quantities to cover all Ukrainian needs, but at least sufficient to roughly match volumes provided by Europe. This would not be automatic, the president would have to order it and almost certainly he wouldn’t do that unless Pentagon top brass decided that commitment wouldn’t unsafely reduce US stocks.

Given the Russo-Ukrainian War’s voracious ammunition consumption rates, the $60 billion of US military aid would most likely give Kyiv significant and heavy additional firepower that would cause major headaches for the Russian army and dramatically reduce Ukrainian casualties, however would not be enough to win the war.    

Q: How Close Are We to Ending This Soap Opera? – A: Probably close, but there are still pitfalls.

Conventional wisdom in D.C. seems to think the bill will be placed before the House as scheduled and there are more than enough votes to pass. However, the House must approve or reject amendments proposed by individual members. So far, there are 40, each one carrying the potential of delaying the bill with debate, or introducing a change that the Senate or Biden’s office wouldn’t agree to.

Representative Victoria Spartz (Indiana) – who coincidentally was born in Ukraine’s Chernhiv region and immigrated to the US in the 1990s – proposed the Ukraine bill ban funding for “Administration for Children and Families Refugee and Entrant Admission.” This helps her with voters opposed to additional US funding to immigrants, but runs counter to majority views in the Senate and the White House.

Representative Andy Ogles (Florida) has submitted an amendment banning the White House from canceling any Ukrainian debt for military- and security-related assistance, which the Biden administration would almost certainly object to as Congressional overreach into executive branch responsibility for national security policy.

Any amendments attached by the House to the bill must return to the Senate and be (re)-approved there. Support to Ukraine in the Democrat-controlled Senate is strong and the bill the House has been dragging its feet on for more than two months was passed by the Senate 70 to 29 on Feb. 13. Were a Congressman like Ogles or Spartz to get a House majority to attach an amendment the Senate would object to, potentially, that amendment would stop the Senate from approving the bill and stall it again, pending negotiations.

The horse-trading and backroom negotiations that would need to take place, before actual votes, could absorb more time. Were the Senate to pass new amendments of its own, the bill might be further delayed.

Despite those potential hurdles, Capitol Hill watchers mid-week were cautiously upbeat.

Political analyst Gregory O’Conner told Kyiv Post: “Unless we hear Democratic or Republican leaders say the Johnson plan is dead, my expectation is positive. (There will be) a vote this week on Ukraine aid, (t)he resulting bill text will be sent to the Senate. (Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer made the Senate work over the weekend and into a scheduled recess in February to pass HR815. He will do so again.  Despite being different from HR815, Senate Democrats and Republicans, House Democrats, and the White House will all work to make this happen as fast as possible. There will be opposition and reality-TV-like drama from pro-Russian actors in the House and Senate…(but) serious people are doing serious work.”

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