FRANKFURT, Germany — On Apr. 21, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations unanimously passed the Ukraine Security Partnership Act. The bill, which is now on the way to a full Senate vote, increases the military and diplomatic aid the U.S. will extend to Ukraine over the next five years. As the threat of Russian aggression still hangs over Ukraine’s southeastern border, U.S. assistance will help protect the lives, rights and security of many Ukrainian people.
Ukraine in the Shadow of Russia
Since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has displaced more than one million people and killed more than 10,000. Even now, minor skirmishes between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian military continue to plague the Donbas region.
In mid-April 2021, Russia conducted extensive military exercises in Crimea, leaving many world leaders and NATO in a state of apprehension. In addition to 40 warships with 10,000 personnel, an estimated 100,000 troops mobilized along the Ukrainian border. On May 1, 2021, Russia withdrew the troops it had dispatched to the region to return to “their permanent bases,” but the situation is likely to remain tense.
Ukraine and Russian Relations
Although Ukraine’s poverty rate declined by more than 15% between 2015 and 2019, currently more than 50% of Ukrainians live in poverty. The unemployment rate reached 10.4% by the start of 2021. However, the almost completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, connecting Germany and Russia via a tunnel underneath the Baltic, also poses a serious risk to Ukraine’s economy.
At the moment, Ukraine earns approximately $1 billion each year from transit fees of Russian gas en route to the rest of Europe. Losing this source of income would put Ukraine’s economy under considerable strain, especially as Ukraine is already the second poorest country in Europe by GDP per capita.
Moreover, diverting the flow of gas around Ukraine would nullify one of its most important international bargaining chips. If western European countries no longer depend on Ukraine’s stability and relationship with Russia for access to gas, Ukraine will have to rely on goodwill or broader geopolitical pressures to incentivize their assistance in case of a Russian attack.
The Ukraine Security Partnership Act
Against the backdrop of this social and geopolitical turmoil, the Ukrainian Security Partnership Act underscores the U.S.’ commitment to democratic values, international law and the basic right to live a safe and secure life. The bill (S.814) has a group of bipartisan sponsors, including Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) and the chairman of the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).
The bill authorizes $300 million in military financing for Ukraine, half of which will be subject to conditions. Another $4 million will be available to help Ukraine train and educate its military. Moreover, Ukraine will have easier access to transfers of military supplies from other countries.
The Ukraine Security Partnership Act also contains provisions to ensure a productive future relationship with Ukraine. Specifically, it calls for a strategy to increase Ukraine’s resilience to predatory military investments and a report on the U.S. diplomatic strategy towards Ukraine.
Lastly, the bill encourages both transatlantic working groups concerning Ukraine and the appointment of a special envoy with expert knowledge of Ukraine. Regarding Nord Stream 2, the bill requires that President Joe Biden evaluate and then declare whether Nord Stream 2 AG and 19 other entities can be sanctioned under the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act.
The Future in Ukraine
Persistent tensions with Russia have left many Ukrainians uncertain of their future. Those that do remain in the southeastern region of Donbas make do with a crippled local economy with fewer customers to service and less work to do. However, a 2020 U.S. State Department report on Ukraine identifies it as having “significant investment potential given its large consumer market, highly educated and cost-competitive workforce and abundant natural resources.” And yet, Ukraine remains far from realizing its potential.
The Ukraine Security Partnership Act reaffirms U.S.’ commitment to democracy and national sovereignty. However, the bill is about more than just geopolitics. It is a way to help hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians attain safer, healthier and more secure lives. This act could unlock much of that investment potential and lead Ukraine out of poverty.
– Alexander Vanezis