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Diplomacy Watch: Is new Ukraine aid a game changer?

Diplomacy Watch: Is new Ukraine aid a game changer?

New funding for weapons should help avoid disaster, but it likely won’t be enough to win the war

Reporting | QiOSK

When the Ukraine aid bill hit President Joe Biden’s desk Wednesday, everything was already in place to speed up its impact. The Pentagon had worked overtime to prepare a massive, $1 billion weapons shipment that it could start sending “within hours” of the president’s signature. American officials even pre-positioned many of the arms in European stockpiles, an effort that will surely help get the materiel to the frontlines that much faster.

For Ukraine, the new aid package is massive, both figuratively and literally. Congress authorized roughly $60 billion in new spending related to the war, $37 billion of which is earmarked for weapons transfers and purchases. The new funding pushes Washington’s investment in Ukraine’s defense to well over $150 billion since 2022.

Beyond new weapons, the new outlays also provide a much-needed morale boost for Ukrainian soldiers, who have struggled to hold the line against Russia as their stockpiles have dwindled. But the key question remains the same as it did last week: Does Ukraine have a real chance to turn the tide and win the war?

Experts say it’s a mixed bag at best. On the plus side, the new aid dramatically reduces the chance of near-term disaster, like a collapse of the Ukrainian frontlines followed by a rapid Russian advance.

But the assistance has a limited impact on the fundamentals of the conflict, including Ukraine’s growing disadvantage when it comes to manpower. Put simply, the package can only help if Kyiv manages to dramatically expand the number of fighters at its disposal ahead of an expected Russian counteroffensive this summer.

“I would expect the situation to probably continue to deteriorate over the next three months, but if mobilization goes according to plan and the U.S. aid is unblocked then the situation should improve from autumn onwards,” a relatively optimistic Polish analyst told Reuters.

Ukraine recognizes this bind and is pulling out all the stops to swell the ranks of its military. Following the passage of a new law broadening eligibility for conscription, Kyiv temporarily suspended all consular services for military-age Ukrainian men living abroad — unless, of course, they need help to come home and join up. Ukraine is also offering incentives to boost voluntary recruitment, including new rules that allow recruits to choose their unit and specialization, as well as the length of time they will serve.

But none of these efforts will pay off before a likely Russian offensive this summer, meaning that Ukraine may well lose more territory this year. The outcome of Russia’s offensive will also provide an important indicator of Ukraine’s chances for long-term success, especially given the impact that even minor Russian advances could have on the internal politics of Kyiv’s backers.

When it comes to potential peace talks, the new aid package provides some notable upsides. “Importantly, it could reduce Russian optimism about the long game and thus make Moscow more inclined to compromise,” Samuel Charap of the RAND Corporation told Politico.

But that advantage remains hypothetical so long as both Kyiv and Washington remain committed to retaking all of Ukraine’s pre-2014 territory, according to George Beebe of the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft.

“Additional aid would be justified — indeed, it would arguably be required — if it were to be used as leverage in a broader diplomatic strategy for negotiating a compromise settlement of the war,” wrote Beebe, who previously led Russia analysis at the CIA. “But it is tied to no such strategy.”

Beebe fears that, without a clear strategy for victory at the negotiating table, the new aid package “will almost guarantee that Ukraine will continue throwing its dwindling reserves of manpower into a war it cannot win.”

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— Ukraine and Russia agreed to return a group of displaced children to their home countries following the countries’ first known face-to-face negotiations in months, according to France 24. The exact details of the swap remain murky. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 16 Ukrainian children returned home via the Qatari-mediated deal, while Russian officials claimed that 29 Ukrainian minors and 19 Russian children would be repatriated.

The swap showed rare progress on a particularly thorny issue for the warring parties. Ukraine alleges that Russia essentially kidnapped Ukrainian children in Russian-occupied areas and forcibly shipped them out of Ukraine, a claim that has led to charges against Russian officials at the International Criminal Court. Moscow, for its part, claims that the children were mostly orphans who were sent away from the frontlines for their own safety.

— The Biden administration secretly sent long-range missiles to Ukraine after securing promises that the weapons would only be used to hit targets within Ukrainian territory, according to CNN. Washington had previously chosen not to give Kyiv the missiles due to fears about potential escalation as well as dwindling Western stockpiles. While the risk of escalation remains, increased missile production led the Pentagon to drop its readiness concerns.

— The Ukraine aid package quietly authorized the Biden administration to seize up to $5 billion in Russian assets held within the United States in order to help fund Ukraine’s war effort, AP News reported. In theory, the White House could start confiscating the money before the end of the year, though AP notes that Biden plans to work with allies on a coordinated set of seizures, which could delay the move. Such coordination would provide cover for European Union states that collectively hold over $200 billion in Russian assets. Moscow has pledged to fight any asset seizures in court and said it will retaliate in kind if the West moves forward with the plan.

U.S. State Department news:

In a Tuesday press briefing, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel condemned Russia’s imprisonment of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and called for his immediate release. “Russia should stop using individuals like Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, who has also been detained for five years, as bargaining chips,” Patel said. “Evan and Paul should be released immediately.”

Reporting | QiOSK
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