Supporting Ukraine: Transparency is key

Essay By
Learn more about Igor Khrestin .
Igor Khrestin
Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director of Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute
The war in Ukraine

Igor Khrestin, Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director of Global Policy at the Bush Institute, details why continued U.S. support of Ukraine will require increased oversight.

In his State of the Union address last night, President Biden said that “we will stand with [Ukraine] as long as it takes.” POTUS directed those words at Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, whom he invited to join him as a special guest for the SOTU.

This reassuring gesture and promise, however, will be severely tested in a new divided Congress, where members have made vocal demands to cut off Ukraine’s military and economic support entirely, or called for increased oversight before any more funds reach Kyiv. Last May, 57 Republicans and 11 Senators opposed the standalone Ukraine aid package.

While the Administration still has substantial drawdown authority remaining to help Kyiv, the dynamics on the battlefield are changing rapidly. After a series of setbacks, the Russian military has regrouped and is significanly ramping up its brutal assault in eastern Ukraine. This means a new aid package will be needed from Congress sooner rather than later, both to supply Kyiv with new arms and economic aid, but also to replenish US stocks and to provide new assistance to our frontline NATO allies.

Even among ardent Ukraine supporters on the Hill, it is evident that any new aid to Kyiv will most certainly mean increased oversight of how these funds are spent and used.

The Administration seems to have listened. Last week, a delegation of US Inspector Generals visited Kyiv and met with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal and a number of other Ukrainian government officials and civil society leaders. Prime Minister Shmygal publicly expressed his gratitude to the mission and pledged to strengthen cooperation – an important sign that the Ukrainians take oversight seriously and understand what is at stake.

This visit is also crucially important because the Offices of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the US Agency for International Aid (USAID) will bear the brunt of answering to Congress not only whether the existing aid to Ukraine is spent effectively and transparently, but whether sufficient monitoring mechanisms in are in place to authorize new assistance to Kyiv that will certainly be needed in the near future.

The week prior to the IG’s visit, the Administration published the Fiscal Year 2023 Joint Strategic Oversight Plan for the Ukraine Response (JSOP). The JSOP states that since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the US Congress has appropriated more than $113 billion for Ukraine across 11 US government agencies and departments. Oversight agencies have published 14 reports with “findings and recommendations to improve internal controls, reduce costs, ensure safety, and improve operational efficiencies.” This bureaucratic lingo means that the interagency process is getting better at working out the kinks of aid delivery and is improving that important process every day.

It remains to be seen whether this level of transparency will mollify the critics in Congress of additional US assistance to Ukraine. But it should be reassuring to the US taxpayers that their hard-earned dollars are being vigorously monitored and audited – and make a convincing case that US support to help Ukraine’s fight for freedom should continue.