In the years since, she argues, U.S. security assistance has played a substantial role in producing a better trained, better equipped, better commanded Ukrainian military, signaling to the troops that the United States had their back.
Without U.S. military aid, the 300-mile-long front line in the eastern Donbass region “would have been moved further west into Ukraine, and Russia-backed rebels would have controlled more Ukrainian territory,” said Omelicheva, who last spring visited a U.S.-Ukrainian military-training center. “The casualties would have multiplied.”
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The aid has also reduced fatalities on the Ukrainian side through the delivery of ambulances and other medical resources, along with radar systems capable of spotting and tracking incoming artillery and mortar rounds, Omelicheva told me. According to the Ukrainian government, military units using these systems have witnessed a 60 percent decline in casualty rates. At the outset of the conflict, about 70 percent of Ukrainian casualties were from rocket and artillery fire.
“It is also plausible that [in the absence of U.S. security assistance] a desperate Ukraine would have been forced into a peace deal favoring Russia’s interests”—by, for example, feeling compelled to grant the Donbass region independence, Omelicheva said.
The growth of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, which rose steadily from 2014 to 2016 and has remained at high levels ever since, has indeed coincided with the conflict in eastern Ukraine settling into a less deadly stalemate punctuated by spurts of violence, though correlation is not causation and this mainly has to do with the warring parties reaching a (still frequently violated) cease-fire in 2015. Conflict-related civilian deaths have decreased from 2,082 in 2014 to 19 so far in 2019.
In her testimony yesterday, Laura Cooper, a Defense Department official who oversees Ukraine and Russia policy, argued that withdrawing U.S. military support to Ukraine would only “embolden Russia” to act aggressively against others (presumably including European NATO members, to which the United States has defense-treaty obligations) and “validate” its “violation of international law” by seizing Ukrainian territory. When asked to elaborate on her testimony that the assistance “is vital to helping the Ukrainians be able to defend themselves,” she acknowledged that Ukrainian forces “have a long way to go” before being able to fend off Russian aggression on their own.
In his testimony, Taylor argued that U.S. security assistance has also strengthened Ukraine’s position in negotiations to end the conflict with Russia.
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This view of American military aid as an unalloyed good, however, isn’t universally shared.
Benjamin Friedman, the policy director for the think tank Defense Priorities, which advocates for more military restraint in U.S. foreign policy, counters that the United States’ security assistance has failed to result in a peace deal for Ukraine, and that the aid risks prolonging the conflict, making Kyiv less willing to compromise with Moscow and turning Ukraine into a “perpetual protectorate of the United States or the NATO alliance.”