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A Patriot air missile defence system unit. Picture: REUTERS
A Patriot air missile defence system unit. Picture: REUTERS

Washington has finally acted to offer Ukraine new help. Additional military support for Ukraine was a matter of debate for months in the US Congress. In the end, House of Representatives speaker Mike Johnson put the matter to a vote, the proposal passed by a margin of 311 to 112, and new American weapons and money are now on their way to Ukraine.

The agreed-upon plan also provides security spending for Israel and Taiwan, but it’s the nearly $61b for Ukraine that will make the biggest near-term difference. 

This money will help Ukraine pay for Patriot air defence munitions, artillery ammunition, drones, counter-drone weapons and missiles that can be fired from fighter planes. It’s the first cash for Ukraine Congress had authorised since December 2022 and the largest single aid package that Kyiv will have received since the outbreak of war.

Some of the weapons systems and ammunition is already reaching the front lines. The US has helped in other ways too. Even before the aid was approved, the Pentagon had quietly shipped a new long-range missile system to Ukraine, which its troops quickly used against a Russian airfield in Crimea and Russian troops in the Donbas region. 

Less talked about is an element of the new package that helps Ukraine and hurts Russia financially. The so-called Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity for Ukrainians Act, embedded in the larger aid package, allows the Biden administration to seize Russian state assets frozen in the US and use them to help Ukraine. Before greenlighting it, Biden wants to be sure that Washington’s European and other Group of Seven (G7) allies are on board with this plan. If they agree the move is legal under international law, and this could mean another $5bn in help for Ukraine that’s drawn directly from Russian central bank assets.

The EU, meanwhile, is already reserving windfall profits generated from Russian central bank assets frozen in Europe that could give Ukraine another €3bn per year.

Ukraine needed this help. Sixteen months of congressional inaction has left its exhausted forces short of the artillery and air defence ammunition needed to halt Russia’s recent advances along the front lines and its drone and missile strikes against Ukrainian cities. That shortfall has allowed Russian forces to grab more than 349km2 of Ukrainian territory over the past four months, including the strategically valuable city of Avdiivka in February.

Fears that Russia was preparing a major push for more Ukrainian land this summer raised the spectre, in Kyiv and in Washington, that a big breakthrough could leave Ukraine on the verge of military defeat by the end of this year. This latest surge of US material support makes that much less likely. And if Ukraine can build new fortifications along the front line and secure the air defence systems it needs to protect its cities and energy infrastructure, despite a shortage of these supplies created by the war in the Middle East, it can stabilise their defensive position through 2025.

But while Washington’s bid to close the ammunition gap between Ukraine and Russia can restore the on-the-ground stalemate established late last year, it won’t move Ukraine back on the offensive. That’s because Kyiv has another battlefield problem that its allies can do little to address: Ukraine’s shortage of soldiers. A new law, which President Volodymyr Zelensky signed reluctantly earlier the year, has lowered the age of military mobilisation from 27 to 25. It also reduces the number of exemptions from service and extends the amount of time soldiers can be ordered to serve. That will help if the new troops can be effectively trained and quickly deployed. But it won’t, by itself, change the game in Ukraine’s favour. 

In addition, this is likely to be the last package Ukraine can expect from Washington until after the November presidential election. If Donald Trump wins that election, Kyiv could find itself completely cut off from future help. Even if Biden wins, US public willingness to provide future $60bn aid packages will be limited. In the meantime, Russia has many more young men it can throw into the battlefield “meat grinder”.

The US aid package provides a lifeline that can keep the Ukrainians in the fight through the end of 2024. That will give Ukraine’s friends in Europe more time to produce and deliver more weapons and ammunition. It can also deal Zelensky a stronger hand at the bargaining table that finally ends the war. 

But it’s unlikely to help Ukraine avoid an eventual partition, one that cedes Russia some illegally taken Ukrainian land in exchange for the European future that most Ukrainians still want. That's a painful reality after two plus years of brutal war. 

• Bremmer  @ianbremmer is president and founder of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media.

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