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Ukraine will receive $61 billion in U.S. aid. Is it enough to repel spring offensive?


Later today, the U.S. Senate is expected to approve several foreign aid bills, including nearly $61 billion in aid for Ukraine. Republicans who opposed sending more aid to Ukraine blocked the aid for months. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the help arrives just as the country prepares for what is expected to be another major spring offensive from Russia.

We wanted to talk about what this latest round of aid might accomplish. So we reached John Herbst on Skype. He is a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and the senior director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. Good morning, Ambassador.

JOHN HERBST: Good morning.

MARTIN: So we've been reporting that Ukrainian soldiers on the front line have been rationing munitions and actually building their own weapons because the military was running out of money to fight this war. Does this aid give them what they need?

HERBST: This aid makes sure that Moscow's offensive will not go very far this spring.

MARTIN: So what are Ukraine's most pressing needs on the battlefield at this point?

HERBST: Well, with the delay in our large aid package, it boils down to things like artillery and ammunition. And that's why they've been rationing ammunition, and that's the principal reason why the town of Avdiivka fell to Russian forces after a many-month siege in January. And that's why they - the Russians have made some small gains on the battlefield over the past several months.

MARTIN: So forgive me for asking this question this way - does this come on time? I mean, is it in some ways too late?

HERBST: It's definitely not too late. The failure to provide aid for six months has led to far more Ukrainian deaths, even among civilians, given the Russian massive air campaign on civilian infrastructure, but also at the front. But the Ukrainian front has largely held because they have secure lines, and they have - they're fighting for their existence as Ukrainians. And they've kept Russian gains to a minimum. So the aid is not too late. It's created some damage, but not more than that.

MARTIN: So you think a decisive military victory is still possible?

HERBST: I believe if we continue to provide support for Ukraine the way we have before this aid delay, Ukraine will eventually win. If our administration was bolder in sending more advanced weapons to Ukraine, that victory would come sooner.

MARTIN: So once this bill passes, the U.S. will have committed more than $170 billion to Ukraine's defense. The argument some Republicans have made in opposing the aid is - well, some are arguing that the southern U.S. border is a bigger priority. But others have been arguing that this aid is not yielding results. So if that argument persists, what is your argument to them?

HERBST: It's very simple. They don't understand that Russia has identified the United States as its principal adversary and is pursuing an aggressive policy designed to undermine our security, our prosperity.

So if you look at the fact that we had a containment pol (ph) with the Soviet Union, which cost us $27 trillion for not quite 50 years, meaning that we spent, like, $280 billion a year containing the Soviet Union, the amount of money we're spending today, which is, according to the Kiel Institute, something like 37, 40 billion a year - representing about 4% of our defense budget - is a very good investment to containing the Russian threat. If Putin wins in Ukraine, he will go after our NATO allies. And that'll be far more expensive and will involve American lives to stop.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, as briefly as you can, has this partisan fight affected how the U.S. is viewed in Europe with European allies?

HERBST: There's no question that the failure to send aid for six months was - is weakening American leadership. And if those naives and, you know, one small part of the Republican Party succeeded, American leadership would be completely eroded. And that would be very dangerous for the United States.

MARTIN: That is John Herbst. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and he's the senior director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. Ambassador, thank you so much for your time and for your insights.

HERBST: It's my pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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