The West must keep supporting Ukraine to deter future aggression

Learn more about Igor Khrestin .
Igor Khrestin
Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director, Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute
Elizabeth Hoffman
Guest Author

The $61 billion in U.S. support for Ukraine signed by the president Wednesday has the potential to both save the Ukrainian state and deter further Russian aggression against Europe and NATO allies.

The assistance – part of a $95 billion support package for U.S. allies – may avert a catastrophe, and not just for Ukraine. U.S. national security interests in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific would have been harmed if the legislation had failed to pass, as CIA Director Bill Burns warned last week in remarks at the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The aid package demonstrates a significant milestone for U.S. global leadership. But only if the assistance is delivered quickly, deployed effectively on the battlefield, and combined with a longer-term strategic plan.

Making a lasting difference in Ukraine requires a three-pronged strategy of security, economic, and diplomatic actions by a U.S.-led coalition of nations that support Ukraine’s fight for freedom.

That’s because Russia is determined to destroy the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian identity. Ukrainian officials have estimated that around 700,000 to 750,000 Ukrainian children have been kidnapped from their homes and “adopted” into Russian families. Ukrainian faith leaders, particularly evangelical Christians, are tortured in the hands of Russian occupiers.

It will stop only when it is stopped. As Speaker Mike Johnson persuasively stated: “To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys.”

First, we must get the weapons to the Ukrainians without delay. Due to the time spent debating this package – it’s been over six months since it was requested by the administration – the Russians have gained the momentum on the battlefield. U.S. officials have stated that Russia now enjoys as much as a 10-to-1 ammunition advantage over the Ukrainian defenders. The Russians batter large Ukrainian cities like Kharkiv daily, with rising civilian death tolls.

The Ukrainians also urgently need counter-drone technology, short and medium-range missile defense systems, and capable combat aircraft, such as the F-16. These weapons – which are long overdue – need to be a priority for the Pentagon and Ukraine’s European partners.

Second, even this substantive package will not provide for Ukraine’s long-term security, which can only be guaranteed by its admission to NATO. President George W. Bush stated at the Bucharest Summit in 2008 that Ukraine should have “a clear path to NATO.” Six years later, Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea and Donbas, followed by the full-scale invasion two years ago.

The Biden Administration has an opportunity to fix this by advocating for Ukraine’s entry into NATO at the alliance’s upcoming summit in Washington, D.C. Members reiterated that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO” at last year’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Deeds must now follow words. Ukraine is a country at war, with a fifth of its territory occupied. Despite this challenge, there are viable proposals – such as one offered by former NATO Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen – to accept it into the alliance. An invitation to join NATO in July doesn’t mean that Ukraine would immediately become a member, but it would lay out a clear path for admission. For the sake of NATO’s own future, its members should make Ukraine’s victory a top priority.

Third, the West must move rapidly to guarantee Ukraine’s economic security. The war has taken a terrible economic toll on Ukraine, which lost 30% to 35% of its GDP after the full-scale invasion, leading to rapidly rising unemployment and poverty.

Ukraine’s economy has since rebounded, due to international support and domestic resilience efforts, but the effects will be likely felt for years. Ukraine currently spends nearly 60% of its revenues on defense. Sending military support to Ukraine will do little good if we stand by and allow its economy and state infrastructure to collapse.

Much as NATO membership is essential for Ukraine’s long-term security, entering into the European Union (EU) will be critical to its long-term economic security.

This is a historic moment not just for Ukraine, but for the United States. Across the Pacific, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is watching closely with an eye on Taiwan. Beijing considers the democratic island of 24 million people a “renegade province” which Xi has promised to “reunify” with the mainland by any means necessary. Ukraine’s loss would also mean emboldened dictatorships in Iran and North Korea, regimes which sponsor terrorism and gravely violate human rights.

Ukrainians are holding the line between democracy and dictatorship. They are not asking for our soldiers, only our support. The world in which Russia wins is a world that would be extremely hostile to U.S. interests. That is the key reason we must help Ukraine succeed.

Igor Khrestin is the Bradford M. Freeman Managing Director for Global Policy at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas. Elizabeth Hoffman is the Director of Congressional and Government Affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.