Myths Over Ukraine Military Aid: How the Lend Lease Works

With the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, there have been grievances over the amount of aid the United States has sent to the country. Some of the grievances are legitimate, but many of them are caused by disinformation, such as calling aid to the embattled nation as a “money laundering scheme.”

As President Biden signed a Lend Lease Act for Ukraine, nothing Kyiv will get is for free. Here is how the Lend-Lease works and why it is in our national security interest to enhance Ukraine’s security.

In the wake of Russian offensives and the unwillingness of Vladimir Putin to stop the onslaught, both chambers of Congress and President Joe Biden ratified the Ukrainian Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act this past spring. This provision allows military aid to Kyiv for as long as it takes to repel Moscow’s onslaught from the occupied territories defined by the 1991 post-Soviet independence borders.

The bill was officially signed by President Biden on May 9th, 2022–which ironically is the day Russia celebrates Victory Day of WWII, signifying to Putin that this time, he is the one on the wrong side of history.

The Ukrainian Lend-Lease is akin to the World War II era bill, which enabled allied nations, such as Britain and the Soviet Union to receive necessary equipment to defeat the axis. The WWII bill stated that the United States could lend or lease military equipment to any nation in which their defense is vital for American national security. With both Japan and Germany declared war on the U.S. first, it was necessary to bolster the British, Soviets, Chinese, and Free French.

With Russia as our second biggest geopolitical rival, with a president who has openly stated he aims to reconquer territories of Peter the Great and destabilize our alliances, the Lend-Lease was effectively justified for Ukraine. This was further solidified when Yevgeny Prigozhin, the CEO of Wagner openly stated he would continue to interfere in American elections at the behest of Russian interests.

The British would receive more than fifty destroyers near decommissioned for a near century’s lease. Akin to then, Ukraine has also received outdated weaponry that has collected dust for several decades to fight against the Russian invasion. The HIMARS and Javelin systems were produced in the early nineties, and compared to allies of WWII, Ukraine currently has restrictions on the older Abrams, ATACMS, F15s, F16s and the MiG 29s, which were offered for transfer when Washington vetoed.

With Europe lagging in production and independent security, as the PM of Finland recently stated during its decades of relative peace, Moscow has been preparing for its all-out assault in Ukraine. Akin to the present, former Secretary of War, Henry Stimson warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Germany’s years of buildup while allied forces were caught off guard. By our delay during the past six years, while Germany was preparing, we found ourselves unprepared and unarmed, facing a thoroughly prepared and armed potential enemy” said Stimson in 1941.

The Lend-Lease is also required to be paid back, either through monetary means or the use of American contractors to help reconstruct a country, stimulating the loans back into the U.S. economy. For example, it took Britain and Russia several decades to pay back their lease. Both repaid in full in 2006.

Even with the large sums of financial assistance to Kyiv, the military aid has primarily come through weapons and not monetary transactions. There are currently a small contingent of American forces in Ukraine acting as weapons inspectors that have verified that there has not been black market trafficking of weapons. Russian agents have been caught by the FBI attempting to steal and black market our own weaponry at the behest of the FSB.

Overall aid to Ukraine accounted for less than 5% of the U.S defense budget, which operates differently from the infrastructure and healthcare budgets. During the same period of the passage of the lease, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill was passed along with a $300 billion Climate Change Bill and a  major push by the White House to cancel student debt up to $20,000. As the U.S., UK, and Poland have led the forefront of military aid to Ukraine, all three nations will have contract preference for reconstructing the country after the war is over.

It could be argued that there would be no need for American military aid had it not been for US policies post-USSR collapse that disarmed Ukraine. In the Budapest Memorandum, Kyiv was forced to give up the world’s third largest nuclear stockpile by the US, Russia and UK in return for territorial integrity and sovereignty. It was recently revealed that Russia is using the same long range missiles Ukraine gave up to bomb the country, showing a failure of American foreign policy when it comes to appeasement of good faith negotiations with Russia.

The Lend-Lease has not gone to waste, as Russia has suffered over 100,000 military casualties, continues to be pushed back from occupied territories, and the Kremlin faces economic hardship with sanctions finally starting to feel its effects, forcing the country to allocate into a wartime economy that cannot sustain.

The support for Ukraine has also functioned as a deterrence not just in Eastern Europe but also in Southeast Asia. As Japan and Taiwan are the most important strategic allies in the Pacific with mutual defense pacts with Washington, our top geopolitical rival China has reassessed a potential invasion of Taiwan, seeing the rapid response America gave to Ukraine.

Not only will the military aid to Ukraine be eventually paid off but combating our historically second biggest rival without a single U.S troop being killed is an investment into enhanced security for our allies. Even with an isolationist push within some in the political sector, it is important to supplement our European allies, as seen in 2022, most of them were unprepared for a conflict without American assistance. The renewed Lend-Lease gives us the opportunity to bolster a future regional military power in Ukraine, which makes the European continent less reliant on U.S. aid in the future.

[Photo by the White House, Public Domain]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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