M1A1 Abrams tanks used to train Ukrainian soldiers arrive at Grafenwoehr, Germany, on May 12, 2023.

M1A1 Abrams tanks used to train Ukrainian soldiers arrive at Grafenwoehr, Germany, on May 12, 2023. (U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON – Congress must approve President Joe Biden’s request for tens of billions of dollars to pay for another year of military aid for Ukraine because failing to do so would mean big trouble for Europe and the United States, a panel of experts told a Senate committee Wednesday.

“This is the wrong time to walk away because Ukraine is winning. It has already taken back half the territory [Russia] has seized since February 2022,” James O’Brien, assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs at the State Department, said during the hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “You don’t walk away when you’re part way through the job.”

“If we falter in our support, Russia will win. And they won’t stop at Ukraine,” said Erin McKee, assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the independent government agency that oversees civilian foreign aid and development assistance.

The hearing Wednesday came amid debate in Congress over Biden’s $106 billion supplemental funding request, which includes money in 2024 to aid Ukraine and Israel, which is at war with the militant group Hamas. The funding request also would pay for enhanced security at the U.S.-Mexico border and spend billions of dollars to make key investments across the U.S. defense industry. Ongoing aid for Ukraine still has wide bipartisan support in Congress, though some Republicans are questioning or opposing it. Pentagon officials have said they are running out of money for equipment and weapons for the Eastern European country.

“This is a moment of truth for the Congress and for the United States,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “They are losing lives and giving blood. The least we can do is provide military assistance.”

During the hearing, each of the three U.S. officials said the consequences of a Russian victory in Ukraine would be dire.

“If Ukraine loses [Russian President Vladimir Putin] will promote instability in the Baltics and around Eastern Europe,” O’Brien said. “He will also reach into Africa and the Middle East, where we see he’s already active. He’ll try that anyway, but he will be much more powerful if we walk away [from Ukraine].”

“We can’t let up now,” Geoffrey Pyatt, assistant secretary of energy resources at the State Department, said, adding Russia is constantly attacking civilian energy infrastructure to break the will of the Ukrainian people. “Congress’ continued support of our efforts is vital to U.S. interests. Putin is targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure because he sees it as central to his war aims. The energy sector funding that is included in the [Biden] supplemental [request] is essential to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield.”

“Putin must not succeed. We must continue to support the people of Ukraine in their fight to thrive as a free, secure, independent country,” McKee said. “None of what we have achieved together would have been possible without the generosity of Congress and the American people.”

The three officials told senators that Putin is counting on Americans becoming fatigued with the war in Ukraine and waiting for U.S. support to disappear. They said failure in Ukraine would ripple into the Middle East, where the United States is also providing aid to Israel after it was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7.

“Putin sees Hamas as a way to distract us and to weaken the coalition that we have built against him,” O’Brien said. “His unwillingness to condemn what Hamas did on Oct. 7 and his unwillingness to use any leverage he might have to get them [out of Gaza] is a sign that he prefers to see us distracted by this fight. Putin has hosted Hamas recently in Moscow, the president of [North Korea] and he’s visited China. That’s who wins if we walk away.”

The officials said aid for Ukraine is an investment that pays dividends in many ways. For instance, they said it strengthens the U.S. military throughout the world, expands defense research and innovation, grows the U.S. economy with good-paying jobs and discourages other authoritarian countries such as China and North Korea from similar aggression. For years, China has expressed a desire to “unify” with Taiwan, which it considers a breakaway territory. Some U.S. military officials have said a Chinese invasion of Taiwan could happen as soon as the late 2020s.

“So, we have to shore that up if we are going to have the heft to compete with China over time,” O’Brien said. “All of that is included in this supplemental, and that’s going to make us better able to defend Taiwan, to work in the South China Sea.”

There were some tense moments during the hearing when Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has repeatedly opposed sending aid to Ukraine, berated the officials by arguing the supplemental funding request would only benefit the weapons industry.

“[The money] is coming from somewhere where it would be in a productive use to where it’s into the use of basically fomenting a war and continuing a war,” Paul said.

“No, that’s not the choice in front of us, senator. And I’m sorry you feel that’s the way you want to frame it,” O’Brien responded. “The choice in front of us is, do we invest in the capacities that allow this war to be won – capacities in energy, in defense, in [information technology].”

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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