Ukraine: A War of Attrition and Funding

 

Photo Attribution: “Biden Pledges U.S. ‘Will Not Walk Away From Ukraine'” by DOD News, December 12, 2023

Many Americans are weary of funding the Ukraine War. After seven decades of Europe depending on US defense and passing the costs onto US taxpayers, they’re reluctant to provide an additional $61 billion for Ukraine. Regardless of the validity, these sentiments align with Putin’s strategy, encouraging him as he waits for Ukraine’s funding to dwindle.

Congress recently approved $95 billion in military aid, dividing it among Ukraine, Israel, and other US allies. With most of the funds directed to Ukraine, this injection is intended to support the country until year-end. Ongoing discussions about funding underscore the reality that the conflict in Ukraine has transformed into a war of attrition, where the outcome will be determined by which side exhausts its resources—whether it’s cash, munitions, soldiers, or determination—first.

Russia, being notably larger and wealthier, possesses a substantial industrial base and abundant access to raw materials and gold reserves. However, Western sanctions, along with two years of battlefield losses, have taken a toll on Russia’s munitions supply and its ability to upscale manufacturing.

In contrast, Ukraine’s ability to sustain the conflict heavily relies on the commitment of the United States and its allies to maintain financial support. However, American fatigue is growing as they question funding a foreign war that many believe doesn’t concern them.

A panel discussion took place on May 10th at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) to explore the topic of Incoming Military Support for Ukraine and the repercussions of delayed funding. Underlying this discussion is the assumption that if funding were to stop, Ukraine would be lost.

Sam Green, Director for Democratic Resilience at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), pointed out that delayed funding has given Russia a significant advantage in its offensive. This has negatively affected Ukraine’s recruitment of new soldiers and complicated its future planning, as Kyiv remains uncertain about the timing, amount, and potential discontinuation of funding.

Another panel member, Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, the former commander of the United States Second Fleet and NATO Joint Force Command for the Atlantic, astutely noted that funding Ukraine’s defense isn’t solely a US responsibility but should also rely on NATO’s support.

The Admiral’s point is echoed by many conservatives. Some insist on reallocating resources from the war effort to address domestic issues, especially securing the southern border. They argue that while Ukraine is important, it’s primarily a European concern and should be Europe’s responsibility. They point out Europe’s dependence on US protection since World War Two, neglecting to fund its own military and shifting the burden to American taxpayers. Contrary to certain media portrayals, Trump’s claim that the US covers 70% of NATO’s funding is accurate.

The recent aid package supplies the Ukrainian military with everything they need for a potential counteroffensive against the Russians, though its success remains uncertain. The Admiral emphasized the need for support to extend beyond funding to direct involvement in combat, wherever necessary. He stressed, “From a military standpoint,” it’s not just about money; “it’s about fighting alongside the Ukrainians.”

This sentiment confirms the concerns of many conservatives, who are already weary of funding a war they oppose. Now, there’s the added concern that they may be called upon to send their children into battle.

Nico Lange, a CEPA fellow who previously served at the German Ministry of Defense, addressed both of the admiral’s points. Firstly, regarding the prospect of someone other than the US funding the war, he expressed uncertainty about Europe’s level of support due to lack of unified leadership and urgency. Furthermore, Lange noted that Europe simply cannot match the $61 billion provided by the US.

Regarding the Admiral’s second point about conscription, Lange remarked, “For the Europeans, there is, I think, a looming discussion whether troops will be sent to Ukraine, some countries are open to this when it comes to training, maybe also helping on air defense, some are very stiffly resisting it, including my country, Germany.”

It appears that Mr. Lange suggests Europe is relying on the US to finance the remainder of the war. Furthermore, some Europeans are contemplating sending troops to participate in the conflict. While some oppose deploying their troops into combat, they are open to having their armies undertake support roles closer to the front lines.

Americans will recall that this is precisely how the US became entangled in the Vietnam War. It began with 900 observers and advisors in 1960 and concluded with 2.7 million Americans serving and 58,000 killed. If the White House were to ask Americans to fight in Ukraine, the war would become highly unpopular, and those against it would push hard for the US to pull out and stop funding altogether.

Russia started the war with a stockpile of old Soviet munitions, which it has almost completely exhausted. With many troops deployed, Putin now faces a shortage of workers for his munitions factories. Sanctions have also hindered Moscow’s ability to buy high-quality machine parts from the US and Germany, forcing them to rely on inferior Chinese-made components. Additionally, Iran is supplying Russia with drones, North Korea is selling them missiles, and China is reportedly providing money and non-lethal aid.

Pavel Luzin, a Non-resident Senior Fellow with the Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), suggests that Russian political and military leaders are playing a waiting game. Alongside efforts to produce or acquire weapons, they anticipate a reduction in Western assistance.

Moscow closely monitors US news and social media, observing debates surrounding ongoing support for Ukraine. This reinforces Putin’s belief that time is on his side—he simply needs to wait until Ukraine exhausts US funding and resolve.

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Dr. Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China MBA, is an economist and national security analyst with a focus on China and Russia. He is a graduate of American Military University.

You can email Antonio Graceffo here, and read more of Antonio Graceffo's articles here.

 

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