FEBRUARY 10, 2024 – As Congress once again addresses U.S. military aid to Ukraine, a DOD official said helping Ukraine defeat Russian aggression is in the United States’ interest.
Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, that U.S. aid to Ukraine has global impacts.
Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2021. Russian forces were larger and better equipped, but Ukrainian forces stopped them from capturing the capital of Kyiv and decapitating the government and installing a puppet regime that answered to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Ukrainians also held Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, and fought Russian forces to a standstill in the south and east.
The United States has provided $43 billion in support to Ukraine, covering everything from Javelin missiles to tanks to ambulances to long-range strike missiles to air defense capabilities and much, much more. U.S. service members are training Ukrainian forces in Europe and the United States. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III formed and still leads the Ukraine Defense Security Group which now has 50 nations that contribute to Ukraine’s defense.
This aid is key to helping Ukrainian forces take on and, in many areas, push back the Russians. U.S. government officials said in January that more than 300,000 Russians have been killed or wounded in Ukraine.
Wallander said the United States wants a Ukraine that is sovereign, independent and secure, adding that the Ukrainian people do not want Russian overlords and are fighting for their freedom. “We want the Ukrainian people to be able to live the European life they have chosen,” she said during the discussion.
While supporting Ukraine is the right thing to do, U.S. support is about more than just Ukraine, Wallander said. “[Our support] is about the international order that keeps all countries and all populations safe, including Russia,” she said.
Putin is seeking to “shred” the international order, the assistant secretary said. Putin wants the ability for large countries to intimidate and dominate smaller neighbors.
And Russian actions have implications around the world, she said. “It’s not just a European security issue, it is a global security issue,” Wallander said.
Built into the fabric of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the agreement that nuclear powers will respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries and agree to support the peaceful use of nuclear energy for their prosperity. “All of that is at stake in Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine,” she said.
Further afield, Chinese leaders are watching the war in Ukraine closely and have “a huge stake in Russia[‘s] success,” Wallander said.
If Putin is successful in shredding the United Nations Charter and benefiting from the use of force in Europe, “What’s to stop China from following that path when it is ready?” she asked.
China has supported Russia in its illegal invasion, and the Asian nation has benefited from Russia’s increasing isolation. “The Chinese leadership doesn’t want Putin to lose, because of what that would mean about the strength of the international community in pushing back against a bully,” she said.
Beyond the geopolitical reasons for supporting Ukraine, there are very human reasons, as well. The Russian invasion has been incredibly brutal, with indiscriminate attacks on civilians throughout the country. Wallander noted that Russian brutality has not been limited to Ukraine. The Russian military has used the same tactics in Chechnya and Georgia.
But in Ukraine, Russia has gone beyond merely targeting civilian infrastructure. Russia has been taking Ukrainian children from their families or taking orphans and sending them to Russia. It is an almost “Nazi-like idea of ethnic purity that they need to be educated as Russians and that they are somehow going to be re-educated and brought back to benefit the Russian Federation,” Wallander said. “It is just astonishing to think that a Europe, which faced the horror of such a leadership doing that to populations in the 1940s, is now confronted with another leadership that is doing that … in the 2020s.”
By Jim Garamone , DOD News