US passes Ukraine aid package: what now?

US passes Ukraine aid package: what now?
Congress has voted through a new $61bn aid package for Ukraine. It will take several weeks for fresh supplies to reach the frontline, but morale has been immediately boost. However, the aid will not substantially change the course of the war nor solve Ukraine's other problem: the lack of men. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin April 21, 2024

The US stepped forward to rescue Ukraine on April 21 that has been staring defeat in the face, and not a moment too soon.

The US House of Representatives adopted the long-awaited $95bn package of bills on military aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, on the seizure of the frozen Russian sovereign assets in order to give them to Kyiv, and on additional sanctions against China on April 20.

In particular, the package includes $60bn for Kyiv and $26bn for Israel and humanitarian aid for civilians in the conflict zones, including the Gaza Strip.

The bill was passed 310 to 112, with 101 Republicans voting in favour of the Ukraine aid bill, 112 voted against, and one abstained. All the 210 Democrats voted yes. The bill must now be passed by the Senate that will vote on April 23 and then signed by the president before aid can begin to flow.

“Today, we received the awaited decision on the US aid package that we long fought for. And a very significant one. Our warriors on the front lines, as well as our cities and villages suffering from Russian terror, will feel it,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said after the votes were counted.

“We appreciate every sign of support for our country and its independence, people, and way of life, which Russia is attempting to bury under the rubble. America has demonstrated its leadership since the first days of this war. Exactly this type of leadership is required to maintain a rules-based international order and predictability for all nations,” the Ukrainian president added. “We will undoubtedly use American assistance to strengthen both of our nations and bring a just end to this war closer, the war that Putin must lose.”

The simple systems like shells will begin to leave immediately, but some of the more sophisticated and most needed arms, such as fresh ammunition for the air defence system, will take longer to arrive as it has yet to be manufactured. Russia is expected to make the most of Ukraine closing undersupply window and intensify its attacks in the coming weeks.

Biden urged the Senate to vote on the bill as soon as possible.

"It comes at a moment of grave urgency, with Israel facing unprecedented attacks from Iran, and Ukraine under continued bombardment from Russia," Biden said.

Frontline in Ukraine war as of April 20

Delivery times

When Biden signs the new aid package into law, expected in the next few days, it will still take time for the weapons and ammunition to reach the battlefield.

The Pentagon says it has already been preparing military supply consignments that can be rapidly deployed, but some of the most sophisticated weapons have not even been ordered from suppliers. Deliveries of the crucial artillery shells could begin in the next few days the Washington Post reported, but more air defence missiles could take a month or more to start arriving.

The Pentagon has a massive infusion of military aid for Ukraine “ready to go,” US officials said. They also noted that the Defence Department initiated the assembly of this assistance package well before the coming votes in a bid to speed the process up. The package is almost certain to contain desperately needed ammunition for systems Ukrainian personnel rely on most, including 155mm shells used in Nato howitzers and munitions for medium-range rocket artillery.

“Ukraine will likely be in a significantly improved operational position by June 2024 regardless of delays in the arrival of US security assistance to the frontline, and the Russian military command will likely consider significant changes to the large-scale offensive operation that it is expected to launch in June, although it may still proceed as planned,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a note.

Ukraine’s military chiefs are expecting Russia to launch its summer counteroffensive in the next month, Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR) chief Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov confirmed.

With air defence munitions almost entirely depleted, Russia has been making advances as infantry enjoys air support for the first time since the fall of Avdiivka on February 17 when Russian troops gained the upper hand.

At the same time, Russia has launched a devastating attack on Ukraine’s power infrastructure, completely destroying the Trypilska coal-powered thermal power plant, the largest in the country, that serves Kyiv, as well putting the Dnipro hydropower plant out of action for the rest of the year. DTEK, Ukraine’s biggest utilities company, says that 80% of its facilities have been damaged or destroyed.

Even with the US supplies on the way, Russian forces may still be able to make operationally significant advances in the coming weeks, ISW said in an assessment. They are expected to prioritise sectors of the front where Ukraine’s defence appears relatively unstable, mainly west of Donetsk Oblast's Avdiivka, or areas of the front where Russian forces are within reach of an operationally significant objective, such as near Chasiv Yar, the Kyiv Independent reports.

Russian reaction

The passage of the Ukraine aid bill predictably provoked an outburst from former Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, who warned Russia would respond.

“The decision will make the USA even richer and will make Ukraine still poorer, more Ukrainians will die," Medvedev said, adding he believed the decision would fuel civil war. “"It was the voting of joyful US bastards: a) to continue the civil war of the separated people of our once united country; b) to increase the number of victims of this war as much as possible.”

“We will, of course, win, despite the $61bn of bloody dollars that will mostly go down the throat of their insatiable military production complex. Power and Truth are with us,” Medvedev added.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also took a swing at the decision, saying the decision will only aggravate the global crisis.

"The military aid earmarked by the United States for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan will exacerbate the global crises, as the military aid to the Kyiv regime is direct financial support of terrorist activity, [the aid] to Taiwan is an interference in China’s domestic affairs and to Israel is a direct path to the unprecedented escalation in the region," she wrote on her Telegram channel.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has claimed that the US aid to Ukraine approved by the House of Representatives "will kill more Ukrainians" and enrich the United States. He also warned that the United States "will have to answer for the confiscation of frozen assets of the Russian Federation" TASS reported.

Aid breakdown

The new aid package comes not a moment too soon. As bne IntelliNews reported, Ukraine’s Western allies had begun to openly talk about defeat in recent weeks if more help was not given.

However, other commentators have played down the threat of losing, pointing to the fact that the EU has continued to supply Ukraine and taken over the mantle of being Ukraine’s biggest source of funds from the US since last summer.

Nevertheless, the amount of aid that the West is supplying Ukraine is far away from being enough to allow Ukraine to win the war, or at this stage even launch a counterattack, but it is enough to allow it to struggle on in the conflict. Ukraine is increasingly trying to make up for missing Western help by producing its own arms and has relied on domestically manufactured drones to keep advancing Russian forces at bay as well as take the fight into Russia’s own territory.

“Russian forces have only achieved tactical gains during the past six months of worsening Ukrainian materiel constraints and remain unlikely to achieve a breakthrough that would collapse the frontline, says ISW.

CIA Director William Burns recently said that the new US military aid means the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) could hold its ground through 2024 as well as allowing it to challenge Russia’s recent advances and the major offensive expected in late spring or in the summer.

The EU has overtaken the US as the biggest source of support

The aid package provides $60.84bn to assist Ukraine, including $13.8bn for Ukraine to buy advanced weapons, $13.4bn for replenishing US stockpiles, $11bn to support US allies in the region, and another $13.8bn to purchase US defence systems for Ukraine.  

Another $9bn will be allocated to economic assistance in the form of loans with extremely soft terms and that can be forgiven by Biden completely within the next two years, with Congress's approval.

Pointedly, the bill also included an allocation of $26mn to specifically monitor the distribution and spending of the US funds, as worries about Ukraine’s rampant corruption, especially in the Ministry of Defence which has been roiled by multiple corruption scandals, continue to plague Western aid to Kyiv.

Congress also voted through a bill allowing Russian assets to be confiscated in favour of Ukraine by an even wider margin of 360 for and 58 against, Ukrayinska Pravda reports. The US president is given power to confiscate Russian sovereign assets and subsequently transfer the money to two funds: the Compensation Fund and Ukraine Support Fund.

Ukraine itself has earmarked $6bn of spending to acquire weapons this year and is investing heavily into its own arms industry, especially into drone production.

Washington is Ukraine's biggest provider of weapons and military equipment, having sent a total of $44bn in defence aid since the start of the conflict just over two years ago.

Despite the good news that will replenish Ukraine’s arsenal, the West is still holding back on giving Ukraine its most powerful weapons. The allies dragged their heels on sending the modern main battle tanks – German-made Leopards and US-made Abrams – that could have been a game changer. Under intense pressure, the US only sent 15 Abrams to Ukraine, of which the Russians claim to have destroyed five using new deadly anti-tank drones.

Zelenskiy has also been calling for Nato to “close the skies” since the first days of the war, but the long-promised F-16 jets have yet to arrive, with the first half dozen expected in the summer.

Zelenskiy has been particularly annoyed at the active participation by the US, UK and France in Israel’s defence during its unprecedented missile attack on April 13, where all three Nato allies actively participated in shooting down the same kind of Iranian-made missiles and drones that are being used by Russia in Ukraine.

"When we said, from the very first day of the war, 'Close the sky, protect Ukraine', we were told: ‘We can only do so much, otherwise we’ll be dragged into a war with Russia because you are not a Nato country, and we are Nato countries”," Zelenskiy said in an interview n Brazil.

“In this case, the situation involving Israel is completely pragmatic – they had to destroy everything that was heading towards the Israelis (nice job shooting it all down, and thank God that people are still alive there). But this is a double standard – at that moment, everyone forgot that Israel is not a Nato country,” he added.

Zelenskiy noted that in defending Israel from the Iranian attack, the allies demonstrated "that there is sufficient technology to shoot down hundreds of Iranian missiles and Shaheds [UAVs]", and this was also "meant to be a message for Russia".

"Because both Russian aircraft and missiles have repeatedly crossed Polish and Romanian airspace, and there was no reaction. This speaks of double standards," the president stressed.

Zelenskiy said allied aircraft should also be employed to shoot down the missiles and drones that have been raining down on Ukraine for more than two years, Ukrayinska Pravda reported.


Relief on the frontline was palpable as the vote went through. Soldiers were huddled around phones to watch the proceedings and there was an outpouring of relief as the Ye’s took the vote, according to frontline reports.

“I spoke to soldiers from different brigades and many of them told me how not only they were waiting with bated breath for the vote, but when the vote was over, people gave vent to their emotions. Some told me how they wept with joy. It was a feeling of "faith in humanity restored",” Radu Hossu, a Ukraine social media watcher, said in a post on X. I can feel their hope, their optimism restored. Morale, even though they are exhausted from so much fighting and deprivations, has returned. They have confidence again, even though they are aware that it will be some time before military aid reaches the front.”

But while the aid will alleviate Ukraine’s rapidly accelerating ammo crisis, it will not solve Kyiv’s other big problem: a shortage of manpower.

Russia has reportedly lost between 300,000 and 350,000 men killed in action or wounded, but after a partial mobilisation in the autumn of 2022 to make up for disastrous losses during the invasion, has successfully been recruiting between 30,000 and 40,000 volunteers a month that are more than enough to replenish its military strength. Russian patriotism is currently at an all-time high and Russia’s military strength is thought to be 15% larger than at the start of the war.

Ukraine’s losses, on the other hand, remain a state secret but it is clear that Ukraine is suffering from an acute shortage of men. Zelenskiy signed off on a controversial mobilisation bill last week and said at the end of 2023 that the Defence Ministry has asked him to recruit an additional 450,000 to 500,000 soldiers to shore up Ukraine’s defence.

Peace talks?

The passage of the aid bill has linked the Ukraine conflict more closely to the other conflicts the US is involved in. There were four bills in all covering aid to Ukraine, Israel, spending on defence in the South China Sea to counter China’s influence there, and cyber-defence. Johnson revived George W Bush’s “axis of evil” effectively tying Washington’s problems with Russia, Iran and China together.

"I believe that Xi, Vladimir Putin and Iran are truly the axis of evil. I think they are coordinating their actions. I'm willing to take personal risks for this because we have to do the right thing. And history will judge us,” Johnson said as he introduced the aid package to the house of representatives. “To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys,” he added in statements after the vote.

With geopolitical tensions continuing to mount, talk has begun about possible peace talks. The Kremlin has signalled that it is prepared to go back to the negotiating table and suggested that a new deal could be thrashed out on the basis of the Istanbul agreement made in the first month of the war, if it takes “realities on the ground” into account. That would mean Kyiv conceding the new territories that Russia has annexed since the first agreement was reached in April 2022, including the four regions Russia annexed that September.

In recent weeks Zelenskiy too suggested for the first time since April 2022 that he might be open to starting ceasefire talks.

But a deal is possible as some have speculated the new US aid package might be the last and that the same funding crisis will re-emerge in 2025.

Despite the “as long as it takes” rhetoric and talk of a Ukrainian victory, the White House has made it clear its actual war goal is to “put Ukraine in the strongest possible position for when ceasefire talks eventually begin.”

Following the failure of Ukraine’s counteroffensive last summer, that point looked increasingly remote as the AFU’s situation deteriorated. However, the new aid package gives Ukraine’s armed forces the possibility of reviving and improving its position. At the same time, the four-month delay in passing the new US package suggests Washington is tiring of the war in Ukraine as it becomes increasingly distracted with rising tensions in the Middle East and South China Sea.

Talks couldn’t begin until Ukraine has solidified its crumbling front line and reintroduced an effective air defence. The AFU also has to withstand Russia’s summer campaign, but if talks were to happen they could start this autumn.