Victory in Ukraine Starts with Addressing Five Strategic Problems

Available Downloads

The most recent U.S. national security supplemental package to Ukraine, passed in April 2024, mandates the administration under President Joe Biden produce a strategy for continued U.S. support of Ukraine against Russian aggression. The strategy must “help Ukraine end the conflict as a democratic, independent, and sovereign country capable of deterring and defending its territory.” This white paper is intended to support the development of such a strategy by defining five key strategic problems: (1) integrating Ukraine into the European economic and transatlantic security order, (2) degrading Russia’s continued ability to bypass sanctions and access capital, (3) combating the resilience of Russian disinformation campaigns, (4) rethinking the arsenal of democracy, and (5) sustaining and strengthening Ukraine’s economy and democracy (Figure 1).

Remote Visualization

To succeed, the strategy must have bipartisan buy-in and be effectively messaged, both to the congressional committees of jurisdiction as required by statute and to the American people. Absent public support, Russia will win. The Russian regime possesses the key advantage of autocracies: the ability to play the long game, beholden not to the Russian people but rather to its political and military elites. Russian president Vladimir Putin is emboldened by the prospect of waning public support for Ukraine’s fight in the West. Rather than treat this as yet another time-consuming reporting requirement foisted upon overworked officials by Congress, the administration should seize the opportunity to craft a strategy that will lay the foundation for continued support for Ukraine for three to five years.

Long Wars Require Strategic Vision

The optimism that took hold after Ukraine held advancing Russian columns at bay in spring 2023 has given way to the reality of a longer war. The Russo-Ukrainian war is now longer and bloodier than 90 percent of all interstate wars in the last 200 years. Once attritional struggles cross this threshold, they last on average 962 days, or almost three years.[1] And the end is uncertain.

Long wars have unique dynamics that require more focused planning and resourcing. Strategies for gaining an advantage in attritional campaigns need to follow the allure of battle and beware the myth of quick, decisive victories, which continues to plague most military and political thinking. An informed approach that incorporates lessons from past conflicts is more prudent than assumptions of swift success. Optimistic predictions can create information asymmetries, leading to miscalculations reminiscent of Ponzi schemes that promise rapid and substantial returns on investment but ultimately lose precious capital.

Therefore, stopping Russia in Ukraine requires a shift from the reactive approaches of the past two years to a more proactive strategy. This strategy should anticipate a conflict that may extend for another two to three years and prepare for the most substantial reconstruction effort in Europe since World War II. The plan must include a well-defined theory of victory and a vision for the postwar European security landscape that extends beyond Ukraine’s borders.

Effective strategy begins with a comprehensive assessment of war and the desired outcomes. This analysis identifies key challenges that, if left untreated, will increase the disparity between the current state of conflict and the potential for peace and stability, not only in Europe but globally. It is only by starting with these problems that strategists can visualize and describe opportunities, key trade-offs, and how best to align ways (foreign policy options) and means (resources). As a result, this paper defines the most pressing problems the victory plan must address to ensure victory in Ukraine and a position of advantage in the anticipated post-conflict competition with Russia.

Strategy Starts with a Clear End State

For Ukraine, the ideal end state appears clear: (1) restore its sovereign territory (i.e., the 1991 borders), (2) rebuild the country in a manner that promotes deeper Western integration, and (3) hold Russia accountable for war crimes.

Regardless of whether or not U.S. policymakers agree with this end state, it should serve as the foundation for any U.S. strategy. While the United States has now allocated over $175 billion in support of the war in Ukraine, it is not an American war. Most of the soldiers fighting and dying on the front lines are Ukrainian, not American or European. As such, U.S. policymakers should approach strategy formation with a sense of humility. There is almost certainly an ongoing debate within the Biden administration splitting those who would prefer Ukraine make concessions to avoid further escalation and more hawkish parties who see the fate of the international order at stake on the steppe battlefields in eastern and southern Ukraine. Regardless, a consensus likely exists around the need to support Ukraine in its defense against Russia, but with limits placed on attacks inside Russian territory with U.S. weapons to avoid further escalation.

It is unclear whether a coherent and well-coordinated strategy has guided U.S. support for Ukraine thus far. Although commendable for their swift response early in the conflict, Western efforts to maintain support for Ukraine appear ad hoc and less coordinated than optimal. It appears that transatlantic leaders face budget, time, and space constraints to forge a clear, deliberate theory of victory and a long-term plan to achieve it. These constraints have been evident since the start of the war. Reactive crisis management in Washington superseded strategy deliberation and focused on short-term (multi-month) solutions designed to manage escalation risks in lieu of the long-term (multi-year) planning required to ensure Ukraine wins.

For Ukraine, the ideal end state appears clear: (1) restore its sovereign territory (i.e., the 1991 borders), (2) rebuild the country in a manner that promotes deeper Western integration, and (3) hold Russia accountable for war crimes.

A comparison of the efforts to support Ukraine and the Allied planning conferences that predated World War II is revealing. Even before the United States formally entered the war, its top military leaders and strategists were already developing plans to defend Europe and create a new postwar order. There were five major planning conferences over two years before the United States formally entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor. These conferences included core strategic framing documents like the 1940 Plan Dog memorandum prioritizing the European theater and the 1941 Atlantic Charter laying out a vision of postwar Europe.

Where are the equivalent documents guiding the current war in Ukraine? The formation of a Ukrainian Contact Group (UCG) and meetings at Ramstein Air Base designed to “help Ukraine win today and build strength for tomorrow” are only the start. The UCG currently lacks a multilaterally connected political framework focused on a long-term competitive strategy extending beyond the immediate necessity of keeping Ukraine on the battlefield. Furthermore, there appears to be a lack of unity of effort, both within individual governments and across the broader transatlantic network of states supporting Ukraine. There are reconstruction envoys and meetings du jour, but none appear backed by an overarching strategy with clear end states, objectives, or resourcing plans that extend beyond the short term. There are discussions about seizing frozen Russian assets, but they appear stuck in a dangerously long deliberation phase. In the end, the West appears to be muddling through and reacting to the latest crisis rather than setting conditions for Ukraine’s victory.

Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

British prime minister Winston Churchill, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, and British and U.S. military commanders at a 1943 allied conference.

Photo: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Crisis Response Is Not a Strategy

At best, crisis response is consequence management. It is firefighting and rushing to contain a burning building as opposed to taking the time to be the fire marshal and think about how to prevent fires and control future burns. Seen in this light, congressional leaders did the right thing by asking the Biden administration for a strategic vision for victory in Ukraine.

In retrospect, it appears too much energy and political capital have been spent on debating escalation risks and securing immediate weapon stockpiles to keep Ukraine in the fight at the expense of developing a long-term strategy. The war in Gaza further set back long-term strategic thinking as the Biden administration found itself responding to two major theater wars involving multiple rivals while still maintaining sufficient forces to focus on deterrence in the Asia-Pacific.

This logic of crisis response means weapons have been delivered piecemeal to Ukraine without a clear idea of the flow of resources over time, which directly limits the ability of the Ukrainian military to conduct long-term campaign planning. In June 2023, this tendency was on display when all energy and resources were focused on an unrealistic breakthrough of a triple defensive belt without air superiority. This campaign also did not plan for resources to help reconstitute the Ukrainian military for the next three years. Uncertain flows of aid are at the forefront in an almost endless series of reconstruction conferences that fail to produce binding documents or funding vehicles for an estimated 10-year, $486 billion effort to rebuild a country scarred by large-scale combat operations. These mistakes cannot continue, or they risk letting Russia win. Worse still, they set the stage for future wars in Europe and beyond.

Five Strategic Problems

The transatlantic alliance has a unique opportunity to develop a long-term strategy for supporting Ukraine and containing Russia. As analysts who have spent time in Ukraine supporting efforts linked to ongoing hostilities, the authors see five core strategic problems that must be addressed as part of the new theory of victory the Biden administration produces in response to the directive in the national security supplemental.

  1. Integrating Ukraine into the European Economic and Transatlantic Security Order

The only way to secure lasting peace in Ukraine is to explore Ukraine’s path to a deeper relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union. By taking steps to join both of these institutions over time, Ukraine will also strengthen its internal democracy.

Ukraine applied for EU membership less than a week after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. In December 2023, the European Council gave Ukraine candidate status and approved the commencement of accession negotiations. This is significant, as current EU members waited an average of 3.5 years from the time of their application to official approval of candidate status. There are 35 areas in which reforms are required to meet the conditions of membership, which range from food safety and justice to freedom and security.

While not an EU member, the United States should support Ukrainian aspirations to join the European Union by aligning its assistance to expedite the design and implementation of required reforms. The administration’s strategy should propose the key areas of reform, which the United States can play a leading role in supporting, and coordinate with the European Union and other donor countries to ensure complementary efforts. Combating corruption and tackling judicial reform seem to be sensible areas in which U.S. assistance can focus, given substantial support in these sectors to date. Through the supplemental packages, the United States has programmed critical dollars to assist in Ukraine’s efforts to combat corruption by supporting transparency and organizations such as the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and the Specialized Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) and by funding financial accountability platforms such as Prozorro and the Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management (DREAM). The United States should also double down on investments to support judicial reform, a key requirement for EU membership and a continued challenge for combating corruption.

The only way to secure lasting peace in Ukraine is to explore Ukraine’s path to a deeper relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.

Furthermore, the United States should use its diplomatic leverage to ensure the European Union adopts the negotiation framework for Ukraine prior to EU elections in June. Following the elections, Hungary will assume the presidency of the European Council. Given the Hungarian government’s ties with Russia, it is unlikely to make progress on Ukraine’s accession a priority. Even if EU membership for Ukraine is fast-tracked, many experts argue EU expansion will require treaty reform—a complicated and cumbersome process that many nations in the bloc will not be eager to undertake. However, this should not stop the push to ensure Ukraine meets the ambitious reform agenda to secure membership when the time is right.

While EU membership would secure Ukraine’s economic future, the protection and durability of Ukraine’s postwar borders will require a multilateral security guarantee. NATO is the most obvious mechanism to provide such a guarantee. Ukrainian aspirations to join NATO predated Russia’s full-scale invasion. Members of the alliance first agreed Ukraine would become a member of NATO at the Bucharest summit in 2008. Those plans were put on pause from 2010 to 2014 when Ukraine adopted a policy of nonalignment under the leadership of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was forced into exile amid pro-democracy protests in February 2014. Putin, sensing a threat to his influence in Ukraine, illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula, setting into motion a reinvigoration of Ukraine’s efforts to join the alliance. In 2017, the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, adopted legislation confirming NATO membership as a strategic foreign policy and national security objective, which was followed by a corresponding amendment to the constitution. At the last NATO summit in Vilnius, the secretary general reaffirmed the commitment to expedite Ukrainian membership in NATO “when allies agree, and conditions are met.” The secretary general also stated that “unless Ukraine prevails there is no membership to be discussed at all.” These statements have left Ukraine without a clear set of criteria or timeline for NATO membership.

The next NATO summit is fast approaching. Heads of state, along with high-ranking foreign and defense officials, will convene in Washington, D.C., in early July. This summit will be particularly symbolic as it marks the 75th anniversary of the alliance and will be the first time in over a decade the United States will serve as host. While summits are often performative, the alliance should seize the opportunity to clearly lay out a detailed plan to support Ukraine’s victory and subsequent ascension to NATO even if it takes years.

To ensure broader regional security, the administration’s strategy for victory in Ukraine must consider its neighbors—notably, the former Soviet republic of Moldova. While other Ukrainian neighbors including Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary are in both the European Union and NATO, Moldova is more isolated. It shares a lengthy border with Ukraine and is within striking distance of Russian-occupied Crimea. It is also home to the breakaway province of Transnistria, which houses an unknown number of Russian troops. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, NATO has continued to strengthen its relationship with Moldova. Building on the country’s 2022 membership application, Moldovans will go to the polls in fall 2024 to vote on a referendum to amend their constitution to state citizens’ desire to join the European Union.

To support Ukraine, the U.S. strategy should also support Moldova’s demonstrated desire to align more closely with the European Union and NATO. Russia is actively and openly interfering in Moldova’s presidential elections, slated to occur concurrently with the EU referendum. Should Russia succeed, this could open up yet another vector to destabilize Ukraine and the region. The Biden administration clearly recognizes the importance of Moldova, having channeled nearly $260 million to the nation of just 2.5 million in 2023 alone.

Ukraine’s neighbor to the north, Belarus, will continue to pose a challenge so long as pro-Russian president Aleksandr Lukashenko remains in power. The administration’s strategy must also contend with how to deal with this reclusive nation, which many view as a proxy state of Putin. However, Belarus experienced mass protests in 2020 signaling popular discontent with the despotic leader. While the charismatic opposition leader in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, captured the attention of the West immediately following her surprise presidential candidacy in August 2020, attention on Belarus has slipped from the consciousness of many policymakers. The West became distracted as new crises emerged and Lukashenko appeared to consolidate power and suppress the opposition. However, to ensure regional stability, the Biden administration must contend not only with Russia but with Belarus as well.

Any strategy for Ukraine must see Kyiv as part of a larger European security order that connects the Black Sea with Central and Eastern Europe. This geopolitical perspective should align programs designed to support civil society groups seeking reform in Belarus, protect Moldova from malign influence as its citizens decide on EU membership, and work with European partners to create optimal security guarantees for frontline states. Failing to take a regional perspective risks a victory in Ukraine becoming a stalemate for Europe as Moscow continues its delusional attempt to rebuild an old empire.

  1. Degrading Russia’s Ability to Access Capital and Bypass Sanctions

According to Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero, “Endless money forms the sinews of war.” In the modern world, this includes the ability to access high-tech components needed to make precision weapons. Despite Western sanctions, Moscow retains the ability to earn hard currency through oil exports, often facilitated through unregistered ghost ships and third-party refinery loopholes. In March, Chinese imports of Russian oil reached 2.55 million barrels per day, near the all-time high of 2.56 million barrels per day last June. Russia has displaced Saudi Arabia as China’s top supplier of oil. Based on data compiled by Bloomberg, the value of crude exports from Russia for one week in April reached $2.15 billion. While Asia is the primary destination for Russian crude oil, China is not the only country buying these shipments. India accounts for nearly half of the purchases of Russian oil over the past year. Turkey, a member of NATO, also purchases a substantial amount of Russian oil.

The United States and allied countries must discern a way to cut off Russia’s cash flows. Pressure should be brought to bear on India and Turkey, in particular, to cease buying Russian oil. However, alternatives must be offered. All options should be on the table, including increasing liquified natural gas exports. In fact, the only way Washington can convince Ukraine to stop striking refinery targets deep inside Russia is by showing Kyiv alternatives for reducing Moscow’s cash flow.

Second, the transatlantic community needs to develop better mechanisms for limiting Russia’s ability to import the critical electronic components required to expand its arsenal of authoritarianism. Modern precision-strike regimes and battle networks rely on microprocessors and other material inputs to pass targeting data to weapons. Russian military theory—from sixth-generation warfare to strategic operation for the destruction of critically important targets (SODCIT)—calls for using long-range precision fires to break enemy will. As a result, ensuring a steady supply of electronics is critical for Moscow’s war machine. No chips, no precision strike.

Despite a wide range of Western sanctions, Moscow can still import the electronic precursors required to replenish its missile stockpiles. As a result, Russian factories are producing over 100 long-range precision ballistic and cruise missiles a month. These weapons force Ukraine to keep air defenses around Kyiv, further changing the air balance. Russia can attack Ukrainian forces along with the front and mass fires at different Ukrainian cities. And it is not just Russia: Iranian weapons supporting Moscow’s war often contain restricted electronics.

The United States and allied countries must discern a way to stop the flow of electronics in addition to creating barriers for future shipments. These efforts will require coordinating intelligence and law enforcement efforts to identify front companies used to facilitate Russia’s imports while also mapping the world of cryptocurrency exchanges used to finance illicit activity. It also necessitates considering new legislation that requires firms to keep better track of their sales, including in secondary markets. Despite U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken’s recent trip, shaming China will not prove sufficient to stop the flow of weapons precursors fueling Moscow’s war machine.

  1. Combating the Resilience of Russian Disinformation

Old ideas about active measures and reflexive control live on in Putin’s Russia and form the core of cyber-enabled political warfare. Microsoft reported Russian network intrusion efforts in over 100 organizations in more than 40 countries outside Ukraine in the first year of the war, often linked to advanced persistent manipulator teams that specialize in planting false narratives across social media. These efforts persist with new campaigns like Maidan-3, designed to undermine confidence in Ukraine and its Western backers. Kremlin operatives also tried to use better-tailored deepfakes to amplify the civil-military tension in Kyiv over the reported differences between Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and former top military leader General Valery Zaluzhny.

Globally, Russia uses cyberspace to wage what researchers at the Atlantic Council call narrative warfare, designed to erode global confidence in Ukraine. Unlike traditional cyber intrusions, the goal is to either cause chaos or shape public attitudes toward the conflict using computational propaganda—creating fake social media accounts, using bots, and targeting content prompts to unique user groups to change public attitudes. This campaign is especially pronounced outside Europe, where the Kremlin seeks to limit global support for Ukraine. Both the Stanford Internet Observatory and BBC have documented extensive misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation campaigns in Africa designed to bolster support for Russia. These measures include not just cyber operations but more overt influence activities like offering low and no-cost access to RT, a known outlet for Russian propaganda.

Even more disturbing are emerging—but unverified—reports that Russia is increasingly targeting the U.S. public. In April 2024, Microsoft claimed to have documented a new Russian online influence campaign. Using computational propaganda and traditional inform and influence activities, the campaign targeted both think tanks and the general public with content picked up and circulated by the D.C. Weekly and Miami Chronicle websites. The campaign uses doppelgängers—fake versions of real news websites in major democracies—to promote Kremlin themes and messages and even connect unsuspecting users to websites operated by Russian intelligence. Much of this content focuses not just on divisive issues in the United States but on Ukraine. According to Microsoft, “Messaging regarding Ukraine—via traditional media and social media—picked up steam over the last two months with a mix of covert and overt campaigns from at least 70 Russia-affiliated activity sets we track.”

In addition to these campaigns, Putin’s operatives are resurrecting their Soviet playbook to bribe, compromise, and exploit elected officials globally. In March 2024, a broad-reaching Russian influence campaign surfaced after the Czech government sanctioned a news site known as “Voice of Europe,” accused of being part of a pro-Russian propaganda network. In Belgium, Russian operatives paid members of the European Parliament to promote pro-Russian narratives and anti-Ukraine sentiments. The covert influence campaign funneled money to politicians from Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Hungary, often through cryptocurrency exchanges, to influence elections for the European Parliament and reduce support for Ukraine.

Any U.S. strategy for victory in Ukraine must address the ease with which Moscow conducts covert influence campaigns and cyber-enabled information operations to distort discourse in free societies. Stopping Moscow from spreading lies and bribing elected officials should be a priority. Preventing the erosion of trust in democracies must become a central pillar of U.S. grand strategy.

  1. Rethinking the Arsenal of Democracy

Any U.S. strategy should also include rethinking how the United States builds weapons and supports its partners and allies. While efforts by a global network of democracies to arm Ukraine should be applauded, they cannot be sustained if these nations do not address the dismal state of their respective defense industrial bases. Russia has proved more capable of mobilizing resources than the world’s largest economies. NATO intelligence estimates Russia is producing three million munitions a year—three times more artillery shells than the United States and European Union produce to send to Ukraine. This rate of production is why Moscow is firing up to 10 times as many fire missions along the front line as Ukraine. It is also why Russia is expanding its attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure. As new missiles roll off the assembly line, Moscow can match them with imported Western electronics alongside Iranian drones and North Korean ballistic missiles to hold Ukrainian cities hostage.

To address this disparity, the United States must first move from a “stock” mindset to a “flow” mindset. To date, the focus has been on stockpiles, their location, and the impact of sending certain weapons on the broader inventory. But this stock mindset overlooks the importance of support for foreign partners in terms of the flows of key components through the supply chain to the battlefield. Seeing the problem in terms of flows means not just looking at inventories but asking how to accelerate production by considering everything from material sourcing to how regulatory frameworks limit the ability to build new facilities or work with foreign partners.

It also means seeing networks instead of states. The United States cannot produce enough weapons for Ukraine while maintaining its capacity to address other contingencies, but Europe and the United States together can. Therefore, U.S. efforts should prioritize joint production agreements and accelerate the coordination already underway through the coalition system. That means not just replacing the weapons shipped to Ukraine but also changing the regulatory framework—from environmental policies to investment restrictions—that limits U.S. ability to build weapons with democratic partners and allies overseas. Through the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the West has put in place international coalitions to supply weapons. Now it needs to change how it builds weapons.

Increasing the flow of weapons to Ukraine will require a new emphasis on creativity and adaptation. For example, there are alternatives to producing traditional artillery rounds that could make any casting facility capable of helping address the shortage of 155 mm shells. The same applies to additive manufacturing, which can be used to make a diverse range of equipment closer to the front lines. U.S. assistance should incentivize more programs like “FrankenSAM,” which helped Ukraine combine legacy Soviet radars and launchers with NATO surface-to-air missiles.

Second, Ukraine has shown that the future of war resides in the use of multiple classes of networked unmanned systems to hold an adversary off balance. The proliferation of these systems has changed the battlefield. In the early stages of the war, teams of volunteer drone operators and special forces were instrumental in helping delay Russia’s advance on Kyiv. In the latest fighting in Ukraine along the eastern front, first-person-view drones (FPVs) and drone-dropped munitions accounted for around 90 percent of the wounded. Of note, these drones did not exist two years ago, showing the breathtaking speed of battlefield adaptation. According to former Ukrainian commander in chief General Zaluzhny, war has changed and created a new form of combined arms that integrates “radio-electronic environment control . . . [and] a combined operation using attack drones and cyber assets.”

The United States can support this bottom-up military revolution by lowering costs for delivering components to Ukraine and supporting deeper defense integration to avoid duplicative resources and programs that could fall prey to corruption. Much of the battle network used to support Zaluzhny’s new war rests on commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software assembled in creative ways by Ukrainians. Accelerating that process means cutting through International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions and flooding Ukraine with the component parts it needs to keep producing drones and the battle networks that support them. This effort could include new ways of accelerating nontraditional and new defense entrants in the United States and using Ukraine as a battle lab for programs like the Replicator Initiative. Most important, it means using traditional security cooperation vehicles such as foreign military sales, direct sales, and other authorities to support indigenous efforts like Ukraine’s army of drones, a call to produce 1 million FPVs, and the creation of entirely new branches of service dedicated to the changing character of war.

  1. Sustaining Ukraine’s Economy and Strengthening Its Democracy

Of the $175 billion appropriated to support Ukraine’s defense, over half has been dedicated to military support. A relatively small portion, nearly $31 billion, has gone to provide direct budget support (DBS) to the Ukrainian government to ensure it can fulfill basic obligations, such as paying teachers and healthcare workers. Such assistance is critical, as Ukraine is currently spending nearly 60 percent of its revenues, including foreign assistance, on defense. By comparison, the United States spent 12 percent of revenues on defense in fiscal year 2022. Sending military support to Ukraine will do little good if the United States stands by and allows the Ukrainian economy and state infrastructure to collapse. However, lawmakers have expressed wariness about economic assistance, as evinced by the 154 members of the House who voted in favor of an amendment to strike all nonmilitary assistance to Ukraine from the latest supplemental package.

The Biden administration’s strategy must contend with how to use limited resources to support the continued functioning of the Ukrainian economy. The economy has fared remarkably well under the circumstances. The International Monetary Fund projects a 3.2 percent increase in Ukrainian gross domestic product in 2024. To maintain the tax base needed to fund an active war, a robust economy is crucial. The ability to export goods to the international market, combat corruption, and enhance foreign investment are key to ensuring continued economic growth.

Ukraine’s gains in the Black Sea have been critical in this respect. While Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea have not reached the levels from before the full-scale Russian invasion, progress continues. In March 2024, 5.2 million tons of grain and maize were sent abroad compared to an average 6.5 million tons a month prior to February 2022. Securing Ukraine’s ability to export goods is a key area in which security and economic goals are inextricably linked. Of the five major Black Sea ports operational prior to the full-scale invasion, only three remain operational, and these have come under increased attack. Enhanced air defenses will protect not only Ukrainian civilians but also their livelihoods.

Further, Ukraine has made significant progress in combating corruption despite simultaneously grappling with an active conflict within its borders. In 2015, Ukraine established NABU and SAPO. In 2023, NABU issued 238 official accusations and SAPO issued 100 indictments for charges of corruption, up from 131 and 56, respectively, in 2022. High-profile officials, including most recently the minister of agriculture, have been implicated. This demonstrates not an increase in corruption but a determination by the government to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse. Indeed, scores of public perceptions of corruption by Transparency International show a 10-point improvement over the past 10 years. U.S. support is critical to ensuring the government continues to make progress on reforms, which is key to increasing much-needed foreign investment.

Increasing foreign investment in Ukraine will not only help the economy during wartime but also ensure speedy recovery and reconstruction following the conclusion of the war. Presently, obtaining war insurance remains a major barrier for U.S. firms seeking to enter the Ukrainian market. Given the risks, financing remains scant for those who seek to do business in Ukraine. Proposals to confront these challenges include more nuanced risk mapping of the country by the State Department and the creation of a U.S. government–backed risk pool for businesses using interest from frozen Russian assets. As such, the administration’s strategy document should lay out steps to increase U.S. investment. Late in 2023, the Biden administration appointed former commerce secretary Penny Pritzker as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine’s economic recovery and gave her the mandate to accelerate Ukraine’s economic transformation. This position should be leveraged to develop strategies to confront these challenges in the congressionally mandated strategy document.

A U.S. strategy should confront the oft-cited obstacles to increased private investment: rule of law, corruption, and political instability. These sectors are key not just to economic prosperity but also to the consolidation of democracy in Ukraine. In spite of the war, Ukraine is making great strides in these areas, bolstered by the quest to ensure long-term economic security through ascension to the European Union.


The need for a U.S. strategy is urgent as Ukrainians are preparing for an anticipated Russian offensive this summer. The threat Putin’s despotic regime poses to the West has already crystallized in the string of recent arrests of Russian agents plotting violent acts of sabotage across Western Europe. The reality of the situation is that Ukraine will need further financial support beyond the most recent supplemental for continued defense and reconstruction activities. The strategy should be candid in this assessment while making clear the alternative—sending U.S. troops to Europe if Russia is not stopped in Ukraine—would be far more costly in blood and treasure. A one-time Ukraine skeptic, House speaker Mike Johnson stated: “To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine than American boys.”

Although the Biden administration is charged with writing the strategy, this is a task the administration and Congress must own jointly. In the days and weeks prior to the most recent vote on Ukraine assistance, Russian-linked media and online accounts sought to amplify narratives about the crisis on the U.S. southern border. By doing this, they aimed to embolden the argument that the United States should not spend money defending Ukraine’s borders but focus resources on its own borders. Russia capitalized on a similar narrative following the tragic wildfires in Hawaii in fall 2023 that suggested the United States was spending taxpayer dollars in Ukraine at the expense of disaster recovery at home.

These narratives have proved salient. Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Mike Turner stated, “We see directly coming from Russia . . . communications that are anti-Ukraine and pro-Russia messages, some of which we even hear being uttered on the House floor.” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul noted that Russian propaganda has “infected a good chunk of my party’s base.” The U.S. public remains divided on Ukraine aid.

The administration undoubtedly needs a strategy to communicate why supporting Ukraine is in the national security interest of the United States. Following the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, President Biden did not address the nation on the importance of Ukraine until October 2023. However, members of Congress also bear this responsibility, as they are closer to their constituents and better positioned to make the case as to why Ukraine should matter to Americans living in places like Lima, Ohio, or Fort Worth, Texas. The 311 members of the House and 79 members of the Senate who voted in favor of the most recent national security supplemental package should go on the offensive and explain their support to their constituents.

Ukraine requires more than U.S. financial and military assistance; it requires political leadership and courage. If Ukraine is to win the war against Russia, the most recent assistance package cannot be the last that Congress passes.

Benjamin Jensen is a senior fellow in the Futures Lab at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., and a professor at the Marine Corps University School of Advanced Warfighting. Elizabeth Hoffman is the director of congressional and government affairs and a fellow at CSIS.

This report was made possible by support provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Please consult the PDF for references.

Benjamin Jensen
Senior Fellow, Futures Lab, International Security Program