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To win the war with Russia, US support for Ukraine’s economy is essential
Op-Ed by Penny Pritzker, special representative for Ukraine’s Economic Recovery at the U.S. Department of State.
Sun, Jan 21, 2024, The Hill, Wash, D.C.
As I finish a trip to Eastern Europe, we face an inflection point in Ukraine.
Russia’s war of aggression poses a serious threat not only to Ukraine but to the United States and Europe, our economic security and the very ideas of freedom and democracy that hold our world together. Putin’s war is about reconstituting a dictatorial, corrupt empire in the heart of Europe that seeks to undermine both NATO and the European Union.
This isn’t just about Europe. Friends and adversaries alike — in the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific and throughout the world — are watching to see how the United States responds to this moment. Those are the global stakes of our support for Ukraine.
As I have heard from allies and partners both in the region and abroad, now is the time to reaffirm America’s commitment to Ukraine. With America’s help, together with more than 50 allies and partners around the world, Ukraine’s brave soldiers have withstood Russia’s onslaught, reclaimed over 50 percent of the territory Russia seized and significantly degraded Moscow’s military capabilities.
Our security support has armed Ukrainians to defend their land and protect Europe while simultaneously modernizing our defense industrial base at home, making us more ready for whatever comes next. Funding Patriot air defense systems made in Arkansas. Artillery shells made in Pennsylvania, Texas, New York and nine other states. Abrams tanks made in Ohio.
U.S. security assistance is powering American military readiness — and creating well-paid American jobs here at home. This makes us all stronger and safer. It ensures that America remains the bulwark of democracy. The case for military support couldn’t be stronger.
The case for American economic support has been just as important as that for security assistance. Economic resilience is a core tenet of Ukraine’s war effort. Ukraine’s security and economy form a double helix — indelibly intertwined in the country’s effort to beat Putin.
Putin has failed to break Ukraine’s brave military — even in winter. He has turned his efforts to breaking its economy to achieve what he cannot on the battlefield. The Kremlin is doing its best to sever Ukraine from global grain, steel, tech and energy markets.
These actions are affecting not just Ukraine but the world; they have worsened global inflation. Regular Americans have felt it at the supermarket and gas pump.
One-third of Ukraine’s workforce is dedicated to feeding the world. Putin’s war has contributed to global food inflation which is driving new waves of migration. This will only get worse if Putin wipes Ukraine as a sovereign nation off the map.
Our economic support is essential to resist Russia’s onslaught. First, our economic assistance helps Ukrainians fight, as every penny of their tax revenue goes to their military. They need our support for their 57,000 first responders, including firefighters who extinguish flames unleashed by Russian and Iranian weapons. And for their 517,000 doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who tend to veterans, wounded soldiers and children.
It’s worth noting that American allies and partners are shouldering most of the weight. Combined, they provide twice as much economic assistance to Ukraine as the United States has provided. In fact, the EU wants to support Ukraine with an additional $54 billion in aid this year.
Second, U.S. economic support for Ukraine is a force multiplier. Our support for Ukraine’s International Monetary Fund program generates additional support from donors around the world. Our $11.8 billion request from Congress will help unlock nearly three times that amount from other donors. Jeopardizing this could be catastrophic for Ukraine’s ability to defeat Russia.
Third, our economic assistance is creating the basis for the greatest return on investment in terms of Ukraine’s state revenue. Think about the Black Sea. If we can combine infrastructure, defense and private sector investment we can help Ukraine ramp up grain and steel exports to 8 million tons a month, which could add up to $5 billion per year to Ukraine’s government coffers, in turn reducing their reliance on international support.
Fourth, our support is transforming a post-Soviet legacy of corruption to a competitive, free market future looking to the West.
As President Zelensky told Congress in December 2022, U.S. support is an investment, not charity. Our economic assistance must be tied to accelerated, meaningful reform — in the energy sector, anti-corruption institutions, customs and decentralization. Our assistance empowers anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, which in turn, opens opportunities for our greatest asset, the American private sector, to fuel Ukraine’s recovery and support American jobs.
Finally, the Biden administration has prioritized oversight and accountability to ensure that every hard-earned American taxpayer dollar goes where it is supposed to go. The Ukrainian government has provided open access. Three U.S. government oversight offices, the Inspectors General for the Pentagon, the Department of State and USAID, are in Ukraine — and Congress is watching too — to ensure that every American dollar is protected and accounted for.
Together, our security and economic package forms the core of our support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s naked aggression. That’s the double helix at work. If we act now, this package will send a message to friends and foes alike about American leadership, power and resolve when it comes to Ukraine winning this war and its future as a free, independent, democratic, economically prosperous country integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community.
Penny Pritzker is the U.S. special representative for Ukraine’s Economic Recovery at the U.S. Department of State.