More aid to Ukraine unlikely to bring about victory

While Western aid might help the Ukrainians better defend themselves, the prospect of achieving victory over Russia grows less likely by the day

On April 23, 2024, in Washington, DC, the Senate passed a $95 bn foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.
Anna Moneymaker/AFP
On April 23, 2024, in Washington, DC, the Senate passed a $95 bn foreign aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

More aid to Ukraine unlikely to bring about victory

The new $61bn aid package for Ukraine that the Biden administration finally approved may help Kyiv avoid being defeated by Russia, but it does not guarantee that it will prevent Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from achieving his ultimate goal of victory and liberating Ukrainian territory from Russian occupation.

After months of political wrangling in Congress, where Republicans opposed to maintaining Washington’s support for Kyiv attempted to block the aid package, Kyiv can now look forward to receiving the desperately needed arms supplies it needs to prevent the Russians from making a decisive breakthrough.

Having been on the back foot during the first two years of hostilities in Ukraine, the failure of Ukraine to make any significant gains during last summer’s much-anticipated military offensive has resulted in the Russians seizing the initiative.

Read more: Ukraine no closer to victory two years after Russia invasion

Mounting concern

Even though the Russians’ gains have been relatively modest, capturing a narrow stretch of territory around the north-western town of Avdiivka in recent weeks, there has been mounting concern among NATO leaders that, without further backing, the Ukrainians could suffer a more significant defeat—one that could turn the tide of the war in Moscow’s favour.

For NATO, the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin could emerge victorious from the Ukraine conflict is viewed with deep alarm.

It is feared any degree of success for Russia in the conflict would encourage the Russian leader to threaten other borders in Eastern Europe, raising the prospect of a full-scale conflict between Russia and NATO.

Therefore, helping to prevent Ukraine from suffering defeat is regarded as a key priority for NATO. NATO general-secretary Jens Stoltenberg warned Washington earlier this year that supporting Ukraine was “in America’s own interest.”

If we cannot stop Russia's cycle of aggression in Europe, others will learn the lesson that using force against America's interests works

NATO general-secretary Jens Stoltenberg

In a speech to a Republican think tank in January, Stoltenberg warned that "if we cannot stop Russia's cycle of aggression in Europe, others will learn the lesson that using force against America's interests works."

This was taken as a veiled warning that other autocratic states, like China and Iran, might seek to use a Russian victory in Ukraine to pursue their own ambitions for territorial gain.

The appeals of Stoltenberg and other NATO leaders appear to have helped to resolve the impasse in Congress, with both the House of Representatives and the Senate voting in favour of the Biden administration's aid package.

Underscoring the urgency of providing fresh military aid to Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said he would "move quickly" to ensure new supplies of US weaponry were delivered to Kyiv, signalling that the US would provide "significant" support for the Ukrainian forces, including advanced air defences.

During a telephone call with Zelensky shortly after the aid package had been passed, Biden said his administration had a "lasting commitment to supporting Ukraine as it defends its freedom against Russian aggression".

The president also reassured Zelensky that he was committed to helping Ukraine "maintain financial stability, build back critical infrastructure following Russian attacks, and support reform as Ukraine moves forward on the path of Euro-Atlantic integration".

"Thank you, America!" Zelensky tweeted after the package was approved. "The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger," he said. 

The approval of the US aid package has also encouraged European leaders to follow suit, with the European Union considering a complicated plan to fund the Ukrainian war effort with money acquired from frozen Russian assets, with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, recently announcing a new $54bn finance package for Ukraine designed to support the country's war-torn budget until the end of 2027.

There is also a growing awareness among European leaders, especially in Germany and Britain, that they need to do more in terms of supplying Ukraine with air defence systems and other weaponry to protect the country against Russia's increasingly effective missile attacks on key strategic cities, such as Kharkiv.

Germany's decision to provide Kyiv with a Patriot air defence system has been widely praised by NATO leaders.

Meanwhile, in London, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Britain's largest-ever aid package to Ukraine during a visit to Poland earlier this week. The £500mn boost will include 400 vehicles, 1,600 munitions and 4 million rounds of ammunition.

Despite these new pledges of military aid for Ukraine, though, concerns remain that recent delays to maintaining support for Kyiv may mean that it is no longer possible for the Ukrainians to achieve victory over Russia and that all they can now hope to achieve is to prevent Russia from making further gains.

Senior Ukrainian military officials, for example, have questioned just how long the new weapons supplies will take to reach front-line units. "Implementation could take weeks and delivery months," a senior Ukrainian officer commented after the US aid package had been approved.

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 3rd Assault Brigade fires a 122mm mortar towards Russian positions at the front line, near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, July 2, 2023.

Ukrainian leaders and military officials suspect Russia will launch an offensive in June or July, and they say the recent targeting of Ukraine's infrastructure has been a pre-offensive campaign.

Ukrainian lawmakers are concerned that the fresh supplies of weaponry will not reach front-line positions in time to counter the planned Russian offensive. 

Opposition lawmaker Vadym Ivchenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament's National Security, Defence and Intelligence Committee, said logistical challenges and bureaucracy could delay shipments to Ukraine by two to three months, and it would be even longer before they reach the front line.

In such circumstances, while Western aid in Ukraine might prove to be a vital lifeline in helping the Ukrainians defend themselves, the prospect of Ukraine achieving victory over Russia in the conflict grows less likely by the day.

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