KIEV, Ukraine – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Kiev on Monday in a high-profile effort to keep money and weapons flowing to Ukraine, even as U.S. and international resources are strained. pressured by the new global risks posed by the alliance between Israel and Hamas. conflict.
Austin, who traveled to Kiev by train from Poland, is scheduled to meet with senior Ukrainian officials and publicly press Ukraine’s urgent military needs as it enters another harsh winter of fighting.
This is Austin’s second trip to kyiv, but he does so under very different circumstances. His first visit It occurred in April 2022, just two months after Russia’s full-scale invasion. At the time, Ukraine was in the midst of a wave of global anger over Moscow’s invasion, and Austin launched an international effort in which 50 countries now meet monthly to coordinate what weapons, training and other support could be sent to Kiev. .
“I am here today to deliver an important message: The United States will continue to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom against Russian aggression, both now and in the future,” Austin posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
But the conflict in Gaza could attract attention and resources of the Ukraine fight. The United States has worked fervently since the October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, and the weeks of devastating Israeli bombings on Gaza that followed, killing more than 10,000 civilians, to prevent those attacks from escalating into a regional war. .
The United States has already sent two aircraft carrier strike groups, dozens of fighter jets and thousands of American personnel to the Middle East, and has had to change its force posture and conduct airstrikes against Iran-backed militant groups that are now attacking US bases in Iraq and Syria on a regular basis.
To date, Ukraine has received more than $44 billion from the United States and more than $35 billion from other allies in weapons, ranging from millions of bullets to air defense systems, advanced European and American battle tanks, and, Finally, promises of F-16 fighter jets.
But Ukraine still needs more, and after nearly 20 months of sending weapons to Ukraine, cracks are beginning to appear. Some European countries such as Poland have reduced rear support, pointing out their need to maintain an adequate fighting capacity to defend themselves.
Ukrainian officials have strongly rejected suggestions that it is in a stalemate with Russia after a long-awaited counteroffensive over the summer did not radically change the battle lines on the ground. On a visit to Washington last week, Andriy Yermak, head of the president’s office, did not provide details but confirmed that Ukrainian forces had finally overcome to the east bank of the Dnieper River, which has essentially served as an immovable front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces for months.
However, as winter sets in, it will be more difficult for either side to make breakthroughs due to ground conditions. This could further harm Ukraine if US lawmakers perceive there is time to wait before more funds are needed.
Fred Kagan, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said that would be a mistake.
“If we stop providing aid to Ukraine, it is not that the stalemate will continue. “Aid is really essential to prevent the Russians from starting to maneuver again in a way that allows them to defeat Ukraine,” Kagan said. “So the cost of cutting aid is that Russia wins, Ukraine loses, and NATO loses.”
Further complicating support is that the Pentagon has only a dwindling amount of money left in this year’s budget to continue sending weapons to Ukraine, and Congress is months behind on approving a new budget and failing to has adopted a supplementary spending package that would include Aid to Ukraine.
Since the war began in February 2022, the United States has provided more than $44.2 billion in weapons to Ukraine, but funding has nearly dried up. The Pentagon can send about $5 billion more in weapons and equipment from its own stockpile. But it only has about $1 billion in financing to replace those shares. As a result, recent gun support announcements have been for much smaller dollar amounts than in previous months.
“You’ve seen smaller packages, because we need to look at them,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Thursday. “Because we don’t know when Congress will pass our supplemental package.”
Officials have been urging Congress to provide additional money, but a growing number of Senate Republicans have opposed additional aid to Ukraine without gaining support for other unrelated provisions, such as stricter immigration laws and additional funding for enforcement. frontier. A stopgap spending bill passed last week to avoid a government shutdown over the holidays did not include money for Ukraine.