What’s at Stake for Ukraine in the Senate Supplemental

On Wednesday, December 14, while Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was in Washington, D.C., making the case for additional U.S. assistance, an onslaught of Russian missiles rained down on the capital city of Kyiv. While the Russian missiles were intercepted by Ukrainian air defense, the resulting debris caused substantial damage, with 45 injured, along with damage sustained to a children’s hospital, the city’s water system, and several homes. This coincided with a massive cyberattack that hampered Ukraine’s ability to receive alerts of impending missile attacks. The Russian threat to Ukraine is as clear and present today as it was a year and half ago when Russian tanks rolled across the border.

The supplemental spending package introduced in the Senate provides over $64 billion in crucial military, economic, and humanitarian support to Ukraine. In addition to Ukraine, the package also provides for assistance to Israel, the Indo-Pacific region, and the U.S. southern border. The graphics below capture assistance proposed by the Senate bill that is specific to the situation in Ukraine. The total number is likely higher, as categories such as international disaster assistance, migration and refugee assistance, and the administration of diplomatic programs, among others, did not specify the amount directed for the situation in Ukraine versus for Israel and therefore were not included in the breakdown below. The second graph illustrates the totality of what the United States will have provided in assistance related to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine if the proposed package is adopted.

Remote Visualization
Remote Visualization

The Department of Defense (DOD) remains the largest recipient, with about $47.7 billion (or 74.5 percent of the total requested amount) being allocated in the new supplemental package. The focus is on defense-wide operations and maintenance, which encompasses not only military operations but also training and inventory maintenance, as more than half of the requested amount for the DOD is being appropriated to it. To date, a total of $71.9 billion has been allocated for defense-wide operations and maintenance across all five supplemental packages combined, making it the single largest allocation across all programs that have received funds. In addition to the moral imperative of supporting Ukraine, analysis has shown that a majority of these funds are staying in the United States—helping to create jobs and reinvigorate the U.S. defense industrial base.

Of the funds for Ukraine, $14 billion (or 21.9 percent of the supplemental package) are allocated to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Economic Support Fund will receive most of the requested funds for USAID and stands as the second-largest allocation across all programs in the new package. Across five supplemental packages, a total of $38.7 billion has been allocated to the Economic Support Fund. The Assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia program, which is another USAID program that will be used to support Ukraine’s economy, sees an increase from $1.5 billion combining all the previous four supplemental packages to $2.2 billion in the new package.

While U.S. officials negotiate and debate, Ukrainians anxiously await life-saving assistance. Absent additional U.S. funds, not only will Ukraine be disadvantaged on the battlefield, but its economy could also be driven to the verge of collapse. According to senior State Department officials, the last tranche of direct budget support was transmitted to Ukraine in mid-October. Direct budget support enables the Ukrainian government to continue to function and provide social services to its citizenry since nearly all domestic tax revenue has been diverted to military spending. While Ukraine has adeptly managed the gap in support since the lapse, the government will have to contend with a dramatic shortfall if the United States does not provide additional direct budget support. In November, President Zelensky signed the 2024 state budget. Revenues are set at $49 billion while expenditures total $93 billion with $46.4 billion of that going to the military. Without external funding to bridge the gap, Ukraine will need to employ monetary financing by transferring central bank funds to the state which would spur further inflation and increased interest rates. For context, the current key interest rate in Ukraine already is 16 percent, and inflation, while declining, stood at 8.6 percent year over year in August 2023.

The delay in passing the supplemental has undoubtedly emboldened Russian president Vladimir Putin and his regime. Putin has taken advantage of both the uncertainty brought on by the supplemental delay and the fact that much of the world has shifted its attention to the situation in Israel following the Hamas attacks on October 7. Case in point, on November 25, Russian forces carried out their largest coordinated drone attack since the start of the full-scale invasion launching 75 drones across Ukraine, 66 of which were downed over Kyiv city and the surrounding area. An examination of the data on political violence in Ukraine between October 1 to November 30, 2023, as compared to the same time period in 2022, supports the assertion that Russia has vastly increased the number of attacks. During this period in 2023, Russia launched 1,286 air and drone strikes, compared with 368 during the same period in 2022—a 71 percent increase. This number is alarmingly high even compared to the prior two months in 2023. From August 1 to September 30, 2023, Russia launched 1,402 air and drone strikes against Ukraine. According to conventional wisdom, as winter takes hold attacks decrease. However, this year they are holding steady. As seen in daily human wave attacks along the eastern front, armed clashes are up 25 percent from October to December 2023 compared to the previous two months of 2023. With Russia poised to spend nearly 30 percent, or $109 billion, of its 2024 budget on defense, the pressure on Ukraine will continue. For context, in the three years leading up to the full scale invasion of Ukraine Russia spent an average of between $44 to $48.5 billion annually on defense.

In addition to scaling up attacks in Ukraine, Putin’s regime has heightened its rhetoric and sought to reassert control inside Russia. In an official state publication, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service stated, "Ultimately, the U.S. risks creating a 'second Vietnam' for itself, and every new American administration will have to try to deal with it." On December 8, Putin announced that he will run for reelection in 2024. Elections, which are certain to be anything but free and fair, will take place on March 17, 2024—a date conveniently in the midst of a flurry of U.S. presidential primary elections. Concerningly, close associates of Russian opposition leader Alexi Navalny report that they have lost contact with him as of December 5 and his whereabouts are unknown. Given that Navalny has been in a prison colony following his sentencing on politically motivated charges, his sudden disappearance is deeply worrying. Putin is playing the long game, certain that the United States will become distracted and disinterested.

In spite of a rather delayed full court press by the Biden administration, it seems Congress will recess until the New Year without sending a supplemental spending bill to the president’s desk to provide additional assistance to Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific, and the U.S. southern border. Holding up passage of the $110.5 billion proposed legislation is an agreement on substantive border security policy changes to stem the flow of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. However, negotiations on a border deal have progressed despite challenges leaving hope that a deal will be solidified early in 2024. 

While the delay in assistance is causing a great deal of angst among U.S. partners and allies—not to mention Ukrainians—it is nearly certain that an agreement will eventually be reached. The stakes are too high to fail—and lawmakers understand this reality. Despite detractors, bipartisan support for Ukraine, and Israel, remains strong. However, with U.S. elections around the corner, the politics of assistance to Ukraine will only become more difficult. Nevertheless, the Biden administration and congressional leaders of both parties should continue to remind American voters why supporting a Ukrainian victory—and Russian defeat—is in the interest of the United States. 

Elizabeth Hoffman is the director of congressional and government affairs and fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Jaehyun Han is a research associate for data analysis with the iDeas Lab at CSIS. Shivani Vakharia is the associate director for congressional and government affairs at CSIS.

Jaehyun Han
Research Associate for Data Analysis, iDeas Lab