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For $80 Billion (And Counting) U.S. Taxpayers Have Bought A Bloody Stalemate In Ukraine

At some point the bipartisan Washington consensus in favor of funding the Ukraine war has to tell the American people what we’re buying.


The trove of recently leaked intelligence documents related to the Ukraine war should prompt Americans to start asking tough questions about our involvement in that conflict, which one of the documents, a Feb. 23 overview of fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas region, describes as a “grinding campaign of attrition” that has reached a “stalemate.”

U.S. taxpayers have poured nearly $80 billion into this war over the past 14 months. At what point are we allowed to ask whether a “stalemate” in a “grinding campaign of attrition” is a good deal for Americans?

Above all, Americans should demand the bipartisan Washington consensus that supports indefinitely funding the war explain what our strategy is, define what the American interest is in it, and detail how they plan to achieve something beyond an interminable war of attrition that risks pulling us into direct conflict with nuclear-armed Russia. At the very least, the American people deserve more than inane platitudes from Antony Blinken about “Ukrainian victory” and “standing united with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” as if total Russian defeat and withdrawal is a realistic outcome.

The classified documents lend some urgency to these questions because they reveal, among other things, a severe shortage of air defense weapons in Ukraine — so severe it could mean the difference between an ongoing stalemate or a Russian victory in the coming weeks or months. Without adequate air defenses, Russian warplanes will be able to bomb Ukrainian positions at will, which in turn might make Ukraine’s planned spring offensive impossible. No wonder, then, that earlier this month the Biden administration pledged $2.6 billion to rush air defense systems to Ukraine. 

What the documents also suggest, as if it hasn’t become obvious by now, is that the war has not been an unbroken chain of brilliant underdog battlefield victories for Ukraine and crushing defeats for Russia, as the corporate media and the Washington political establishment have led us to believe. It rather seems like chaotic and indecisive butchery on both sides, with weapons and cash pouring in not just from the U.S. but from all over the world sustaining a large-scale war of attrition with no end in sight. Behind the scenes, according to the leaked documents, U.S. officials are predicting only “modest territorial gains” from Ukraine’s big spring counteroffensive, the recent surge of U.S. weapons and air defense systems notwithstanding.

One of the results of this slow, grinding warfare has been the rapid expenditure of munitions, at least on the Ukrainian side. U.S. weapons stockpiles are now badly depleted, and our defense industrial base is taxed to the point that we have been unable to deliver some $20 billion in promised military supplies to Taiwan. This of course raises the question of China, which the Biden administration, along with Republican leaders in Congress, refuse to talk about candidly in the context of the Ukraine war.

What is the plan if (and really, when) Beijing decides to invade Taiwan? No one seems to have an answer — or even seems willing to acknowledge there’s a problem. Nor do our political leaders have an answer to the increasingly obvious reality that U.S. sponsorship of Ukraine is pushing Moscow into Beijing’s arms and helping to accelerate a China-led coalition to challenge the U.S. dollar reserve currency status and usher in a truly multi-polar world. 

Meanwhile, economic uncertainty prevails here at home, with inflation continuing to hit American families hard, U.S. banks failing, and talk of an impending recession setting markets on edge. As mentioned above, since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, American taxpayers have given Ukraine about $80 billion — and counting. That includes nearly $50 billion in direct military assistance, many orders of magnitude more than we give even our closest allies like Israel, which got just $3.3 billion in military aid in 2020.

Setting aside the larger question of how this war will end (spoiler alert: it’s almost certainly going to end with a negotiated political settlement), there’s the narrower question of what, exactly, the American taxpayer has been purchasing with all this largesse. The Ukrainian state is famously corrupt, which hasn’t changed under President Zelensky and indeed might be far worse now given the sheer volume of U.S. dollars washing through the country. Is Ukraine going to emerge from this as a functioning democracy allied with the West, a reliable partner and not a dangerous welfare case? Is there any reason so far to think that will be the case?

And why isn’t there any transparency about the aid and cash we’ve sent? We’re told by White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby that, yes, there are indeed a small number of U.S. special forces operating inside Ukraine, but they’re only there “to help us work on accountability of the material that is going in and out of Ukraine,” and are not “fighting on the battlefield.” Presumably, that should mean we have more clarity about where weapons and cash are going inside Ukraine. But if that’s the case, no one in Washington will talk about it.

From where the situation stands now, it seems like the U.S. taxpayer has unwittingly bought nothing more than a bloody stalemate in Ukraine, one that increasingly runs a very real risk of ending in a nuclear showdown. Absent a hard push from Washington for peace negotiations — the one thing our leaders seem unwilling even to consider — we’re left with bad options all around: escalation and inevitable U.S. involvement on the one hand, or total abandonment of Ukraine on the other.

The only real question, at this point, is how many more tens of billions will American taxpayers have to spend to find out how this ends?

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