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Ukraine is NOT losing, US assistance must continue

The congressional faction that opposes Ukraine assistance shares a common talking point with the Kremlin — that Ukraine is losing the war with Russia anyway. Having just returned from Ukraine, where I met with top Ukrainian officials and participated in a security conference, I have found substantial evidence to the contrary. 

Yes, obstacles for Ukraine are high. Russia has the benefit of greater manpower resources and the ability to recruit more fighters through lucrative contracts — one Ukrainian official talked about Russian women “selling their alcoholic husbands.” Russian firepower is reportedly ten times greater in aggregate than Ukraine’s and about seven-fold just for artillery and mortars. And U.S. congressional failure to approve the next tranche of support in a timely fashion has led to an increased loss of Ukrainian lives and territory on the front lines and ongoing gaps in air defenses. There is real danger looming with further delay. 

Nonetheless, none of the Ukrainian towns surrendered in the conflict to date represent strategic losses. So far, the Ukrainians have held on to critical positions along the Dnieper River. One western journalist told me that their reporting found an overwhelmingly determined mindset among Ukrainians in the direct crossfire. While commanders must now ration weaponry, morale remains strong enough to hold the line.

Despite these challenges, data pointing in a positive direction is mounting. First there is the maritime domain: Over the last year Ukraine has systematically destroyed a significant portion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, forcing the remaining ships to retreat to Russian waters. Using long-range Storm Shadow missiles and their own sea drones Ukraine has established a trade corridor hugging the NATO side of the Black Sea along Romania and Bulgaria. 

Regular trade, at pre-February 2022 levels, has resumed including major commodities such as grain, iron ore and steel transiting to foreign markets and likely to yield at least several billions in future annual revenue for Ukraine. And just Sunday, Ukraine conducted yet another set of successful attacks on Russia’s Black Sea fleet, hitting two landing craft and military installations in Crimea.

In the last several weeks Ukraine has successfully destroyed or disabled about half a dozen Russian oil refineries (and struck more than a dozen over the last two years) which serve the domestic market, and the armed forces and may also reduce Moscow’s export ability.Indeed, the Financial Times reported that Washington has warned Ukraine to desist, fearing a rise in global oil prices.

During roughly the same timeframe, pro-Ukrainian Russian forces conducted raids on military towns inside Russia along the border, forcing a partial evacuation of civilians from those towns. While they didn’t seize and hold any territory, this was the first military incursion into Russia from Ukraine since World War II — and last July’s march on Moscow from Ukrainian territory led by Yevgeny Prigozhin. This is a blow to Putin’s argument that he keeps Russia safe and stable. Indeed, the sense of insecurity in that region spread to the capital in the aftermath of the horrible terrorist attacks on a Moscow concert hall. That Putin cannot fully protect his borders and his people is now a demonstrated fact. 

While the Ukrainians hardly welcome a new Russian offensive in the spring or summer, they believe it is likely. The officials we met with explained that Putin needs to show progress, some kind of victory to justify renewed mobilization and, emboldened now by his fake elections, he is likely to move on the ground and may try once again to open a land corridor to Crimea. But such decisions may plant the seeds of military overreach. This could be facilitated by vulnerabilities in Russia’s attempt to ramp up defense production. Russia relies on Western technology and tools, and more stringent export controls under the current circumstances could prevent Russia from accessing the resources it needs. 

And in perhaps the biggest potential game changer, Ukraine appears to be getting closer to receiving $330 billon frozen assets, of which $217 billion is held in Belgium and the remainder in the United States. If the EU and the United States can agree on a mechanism for transferring these assets to Ukraine by the G-7 summit in June, this will be the strongest signal to Putin that time is not on his side. This substantial sum of money will ensure that Ukraine can fight and rebuild for years to come. It will also smooth the way to EU membership for Ukraine, removing fears by the Polish and others about the impact on EU agricultural support funds.

Ukraine is winning. The only factor that would change this reality would be if the U.S. and Europe stopped providing assistance. Most Europeans have realized the danger is so great, they cannot stop supporting Ukraine. Most members of Congress understand the implications for our security as well. We should not let a minority in Congress drive U.S. policy towards reckless inaction. 

Evelyn N. Farkas, Ph.D., is executive director of the McCain Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia.

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