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How the United States is helping Ukraine and when we’ll be given the ATACMS: An interview with Oksana Markarova

Will the U.S. aid be enough for Ukraine? An interview with Oksana Markarova

Will the U.S. aid be enough for Ukraine? An interview with Oksana Markarova

Although the United States has provided a fraction of its GDP in aid to Ukraine in the war, its total amount since the full-scale invasion has reached $111 billion. New assistance packages are announced weekly, and any red lines with respect to long-range weapons or the status of a state sponsor of terrorism appear to have gone. Nonetheless, not all issues are settled as swiftly as the Ukrainians would want them to, and Kyiv’s needs in defense assistance for this year have already exceeded the scope of the current U.S. programs.

How do Americans form different types of assistance to Ukraine, how do disbursements to Ukraine impact their economy, and what are the chances for Kyiv to use U.S.-made weapons in Russian territory? The Page talked with Oksana Markarova, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United States.

How is the U.S. assistance to Ukraine formed?

Oksana Markarova: How is the U.S. assistance to Ukraine calculated? Photo: Getty Images

Oksana Markarova: How is the U.S. assistance to Ukraine calculated? Photo: Getty Images

What percentage of the defense assistance provided to Kyiv by the United States before the end of the fiscal year has already been spent, and will the allocated money be enough until the fall (in the U.S., the fiscal year ends on September 30)?

All the assistance we receive from the United States can be classified into three categories:

  • defense (or security) assistance;
  • direct budget support;
  • humanitarian aid, recovery assistance, and other support.

Speaking of security assistance, it is provided in three ways:

  • Presidential drawdowns (provided from stocks under the U.S. President’s authorization);
  • USAI (Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative): purchase of weapons specific to Ukraine;
  • FMF (Foreign Military Financing): foreign purchases used by all partners.

The Congress has allocated significant resources under all three programs, and new packages provided to Ukraine under either of them are announced weekly.

After the announcements made in the past two weeks, we have around $2 billion left under presidential drawdowns and around $1.9 billion under USAI.

Of course, we actively work with our partners to expand this funding. We will obviously need additional assistance since nobody knows how the Russian criminals will develop their military campaign or how we will move on. Therefore, our task is to secure everything our defenders might need.

In addition, given the continual missile attacks, there’s a constant need for additional air defense. We do everything we can to receive assistance under the already available funding as quickly as possible, while at the same time working with our partners to obtain additional funding, which will require authorization from the Pentagon and the Administration, as well as the Congress.

Will the U.S. aid be enough for Ukraine?

Oksana Markarova: Will the U.S. aid be enough for Ukraine? Photo: Getty Images

Oksana Markarova: Will the U.S. aid be enough for Ukraine? Photo: Getty Images

Direct budget assistance for us has been calculated on a month-by-month basis and should be sufficient, taken together with financial aid from the EU, the IMF, and other partners. We use humanitarian aid as required, while specific projects—like restoration or energy—are funded depending on their preparedness and the availability of necessary equipment. Meanwhile, speaking of security assistance, it’s safe to say that we will need more, and we are already working on it.

And what are the risks that the budget for supporting Ukraine will be cut in the next fiscal year?

It’s too early to talk about budget cuts since there’s no budget for the next year yet.

I want to emphasize that we work with the United States in the framework of budget amendments or supplementary budgets. Speaking about the base budget, even before the full-scale phase of the war, it has always had the USAI program, which provided for security assistance for Ukraine (around $300 million).

These were packages linked to specific reforms (including those to bring us into compliance with NATO standards), and they set the limits for the funding we received. This is how Ukraine obtained its first Javelins and other equipment. The rest of the unprecedented aid ($66 billion in 2022 and $45 billion in 2023) is budget amendments, not base budgets.

The budget for 2024 is now being discussed in the U.S. Congress. Of course, we would like and we work for the base budget to provide for more money allocated for helping Ukraine. However, we also understand that, given the active phase of the war, no base budget can be planned for a year ahead to include everything we will need.

For this reason, obviously, we will keep working under supplementary budgets this year as well as further on until victory. Hence, the issue is not about increases or cuts but the discussion of our needs.

How the United States changed its mind about the ATACMS

In late May, there was an important shift in the tone of President Joe Biden’s answers regarding the provision of long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine. While all his previous answers were basically Just forget it, that was the first time we heard that the question was under consideration.

The situation in the media and public debates since February 2022 has always been very different from actual discussions. Naturally, our constant communication at the levels of the Office of the President of Ukraine—the White House, the U.S. Department of Defense—the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry—the U.S. State Department, the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence—the U.S. DIA, and all of our diplomacy related to political and military issues is predominantly non-public.

Hence, I, as well as our president and our whole team, have always emphasized that we are discussing absolutely every option with our partners. Something can be done easier and faster, and other things are, as it seems to us Ukrainians, always too late, and we would like to receive much more.

However, there are no insuperable red lines, and there are many capabilities we heard "no" about, which later changed to "yes". This is not always about a clear NO position switching to a clear YES position—rather, there are plenty of factors that impact the provision of each capability. And the political willingness to provide aid is an important one, but not the only one.

These factors also include:

  • availability of equipment;
  • training, including the time we need to master the capability;
  • integration of the capability into our battlefield operations;
  • availability of sufficient amounts of weapons, since after the provision of any capability is authorized, a permanent system for its delivery needs to be deployed;
  • availability of the capability not only in the United States but in other partner countries;
  • manufacturing facilities to support the capability;
  • logistics.

The latter is an extremely important element. Scores of case studies will be written after our victory to analyze the ways we managed to find, test, mobilize, and ship these enormous amounts of defense assistance across the world, to Ukraine, and inside it. In a way, it is also a unique operation.

To sum up, we work toward all capabilities, and when we hear another "no", "not possible", or "not available", we take it as an additional challenge to find what exactly we have to do to turn this "no" into "maybe", then "maybe" into "yes", and to make this "yes" appear on the battlefield as soon as possible.

Who helps find weapons for Ukraine?

Oksana Markarova: How the U.S. helps Ukraine with weapons. Photo: Getty Images

Oksana Markarova: How the U.S. helps Ukraine with weapons. Photo: Getty Images

Providing security assistance to Ukraine is the coordinated work of a large American-Ukrainian team ranging from the presidents and offices to diplomats, defense ministries, and, of course, the military of both countries.

However, before the next meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (the Ramstein group), I’d like to specifically emphasize the personal role of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In addition to coordinating the unprecedented bilateral assistance, he has organized and holds, together with our Oleksii Reznikov, monthly meetings of the group, which already includes 50 countries. Each of these meetings yields important results for Ukraine.

Since the very beginning and until this day, our negotiating position at both private and public meetings hasn’t changed: Ukraine confronts an immense, brutal, and malicious enemy that has no red lines, and therefore we need every capability to win this war.

Since the very beginning, we have talked about fighter jets, helicopters, and all the systems crucial for full-fledged air defense.

Since the very beginning, we’ve been saying that we need long-range capabilities (for example, HIMARS systems with their 70-km range were very important at the time to turn the tide on the battlefield), and we also continuously work to obtain capabilities with much longer range (150–200–300 km and the like).

The challenges are finding them, making sure they are available, and negotiating. I’m certain that we are moving in the right direction.

Will Ukraine be able to target Russian territory?

As for longer distances, the ability to destroy enemy stockpiles and military facilities in Russian territory is of urgent importance. How likely is the United States, which now insists that American weapons should never be used inside Russia, to change its position at some point? Because if we don’t destroy these stockpiles, the war may drag on.

I’m not a military expert, but it’s obvious that to win the war, we need to use our weapons to the greatest extent possible to drive the enemy out of our territory. And the Russian aggressors continually strike us from their and other territories, such as Belarus, the Caspian, and the Black Seas. To be completely accurate, the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter allows our country to defend itself against an attack and to take such measures as the country deems necessary without limiting ourselves to our own territory.

But when we talk about longer distances, for which we need our artillery to have long-range capabilities, it’s because we cannot reach the enemy everywhere on our land. Therefore, to conduct successful operations and liberate our territory, we still need many additional weapons, including longer-range ones.

At the same time, we need to respect the agreements we have on certain types of American-made weapons as to the way we promised to use them.

As a democracy, the United States listens to its citizens, who don’t want to be dragged into the war. We hear it from ordinary people and see it in the answers they give in polls and the support they show for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from other countries where they were involved in military operations. This is the position of the U.S. public, which at the same time is clearly on our side in our struggle and supports the provision of weapons and other aid to that end.

Does aid to Ukraine impact the U.S. economy?

Oksana Markarova: Does aid to Ukraine impact the U.S. economy? Photo: Getty Images

Oksana Markarova: Does aid to Ukraine impact the U.S. economy? Photo: Getty Images

What is the percentage of aid to Ukraine in the total U.S. GDP? To what extent does it impact the U.S. economy? Some American congressmen complain from time to time that the aid is too large and demand that it be cut. What do you think about such claims?

Speaking in numbers and percentages, the aid we have received from Congress since February 24, 2022, is $111 billion, while the U.S. GDP was $25.4 trillion in 2022 and is estimated at $26.5 trillion in 2023. Thus, the aid is less than 0.5% of the GDP. Any minister of finance would dismiss this number as insignificant. On the other hand, we have to understand that the United States has no formal legal obligation to help us, so $111 billion is a lot.

Moreover, I'd like to note that all this funding is grant assistance, which means that we won’t have to give it back. This is the first time in the history of our relations with the United States that this has happened. And this helps not only now, but also in the future as our debt does not increase.

We are extremely grateful to all Americans for this money—from President Joe Biden to ordinary citizens—because even if it were $1 billion, this is money the country took from its taxpayers and gave to us. But we haven’t won yet. And I really like the phrase by President Biden, who said that assistance to Ukraine is a contribution to the global security system (investment in defending democracy).

Thus, while we are grateful for all the assistance we received, we are working to keep this assistance going and even increase it. Even after our victory.

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