washington — As Ukrainian forces struggle to fend off Russia’s invasion with dwindling supplies of rockets and other munitions, some supporters are arguing that there is more the Biden administration could do to re-arm them without waiting for long-delayed congressional approval.
The administration’s request for $61.4 billion in new military assistance is tied up in a partisan battle in Congress, where Republicans have linked it to demands for a package of tough new restrictions on migrants and asylum-seekers at America’s southern border.
But some Ukraine advocates point out that the administration still has previously approved authority to ship $4.2 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine from its own stockpiles.
The catch: Without a new bill passing Congress, there is no money to replenish the American stockpile, leaving questions about U.S. military readiness and the country’s ability to respond to a crisis somewhere else, such as Taiwan.
“There is no statutory requirement to replace equipment sent to allies” under the Presidential Drawdown Authority approved by Congress in December 2022, Mark Cancian, a former Office of Management and Budget defense specialist, told Bloomberg.
He suggested that in theory, the Department of Defense can send weapons and munitions to Ukraine without replenishment funds.
Money better spent in US, say critics
Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the U.S. military understands the severity of Ukraine’s needs, and that’s why it is working with Congress to win approval for the supplemental funding.
“While we do have that $4.2 billion in authority, we don’t have the funds available to replenish those stocks should we expend that,” he explained at a briefing this month. “And with no timeline in sight, we have to make those hard decisions.”
Critics of President Joe Biden’s $61.4 billion supplemental funding request, which would also include aid for Israel and Taiwan, have argued that the money could be better spent at home and that the administration’s first priority should be securing the border with Mexico, where record numbers of asylum-seekers have been crossing illegally into the United States.
They have also called for greater transparency and accountability concerning the $111 billion in weapons, equipment, humanitarian assistance and other aid that has already been sent to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion almost two years ago.
Reducing US supply worth it, say some
Some Ukraine supporters, however, argue that the risks of allowing Russia to gain ground on the battlefield because of Ukrainian supply shortages outweigh the risks of allowing the U.S. stockpile to be temporarily reduced.
“Certainly at the moment, it would seem to be that the greatest risk is one of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin gaining some battlefield successes, certainly killing more Ukrainian civilians, if not gaining advantage on the front lines,” said Scott Cullinane, director of government relations at Razom, a U.S.-based Ukrainian diaspora organization.
Cullinane told VOA Ukrainian he believes withholding military aid sends a message of American weakness.
“It creates doubts in the minds of our Ukrainian partners that the U.S. is willing to stand with them and makes an opening for Putin to think he can outweigh us by simply extending the war,” he said.
Alexander Vindman, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who was the director for European affairs at the National Security Council, also believes the risk of reducing the U.S. weapons stockpile is overstated.
“The reality … is that the traditional Republican hawks will continue investing in the U.S. defense,” the Ukrainian-born Vindman said in an interview.
“They’re not going to take risks to the U.S. defense, especially when it undermines this almost antiquated perception that the Republican Party is good for defense, is good for the defense industry and is supportive of the military.”
Vindman added that even if the administration did send the $4.2 billion of weapons to Ukraine immediately, it would cover that country’s battlefield needs for no more than several weeks.
Michael Allen, a former special assistant to the president and senior director at the National Security Council, argued that by not using its remaining authority to help Ukraine, the Biden administration is maintaining pressure on Congress to approve the full $61.4 billion request.
“We want them to look at the funds that have been appropriated and conclude that the Department of Defense is correct,” he told VOA Ukrainian. “We need this urgently, so it’s good that the administration is very clear about where they are.”
VOA’s Iuliia Iarmolenko and Ostap Yarysh contributed to this article.