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Supporters Say Passing Ukraine Aid Could Turn The Tide Of War. But Is That True?

Ukraine’s latest battlefield setback has become fodder for aid proponents to argue that Congress’ delays in passing a supplemental U.S. government funding bill are immediately undermining Kyiv’s effort to repel the Russian invasion. It’s more complicated than that, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Ukraine-skeptical Republicans, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance among the most outspoken, oppose the $60 billion in security assistance for Ukraine that is wrapped into the national security supplemental funding bill currently stalled in the GOP-controlled House. Despite the White House’s argument, however, it’s not certain that the supplemental would have prevented Ukraine from losing the city of Avdiivka on Sunday, experts said.

“There is a ‘shell hunger’ in the war, not just one battle for Ukraine,” retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, a senior fellow at the Defense Priorities think tank, told the DCNF.

“Passing the supplemental won’t turn the tide against Putin in the near term, but failure to do so will bring swift and catastrophic consequences,” Vance Serchuk, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told the DCNF. (RELATED: Is The US Running Out Of Tomahawk Missiles?)

Ukraine’s newly-instated top military commander ordered troops to withdraw from Avdiivka in a Feb. 16 statement, bringing to a bitter end the months-long attritional battle to hold the city. Both sides endured staggering numbers of killed and wounded as the fight chewed up tanks, armored vehicles and thousands of rounds of artillery, The New York Times reported. Aerial bombing by Russian bomber fleets laid waste to the city.

Once a city of 30,000, the fall of the frontline city marked Russia’s first significant gain since the capture of Bakhmut in May 2023, according to the NYT. Russia said it took full control of the city on Sunday, according to Reuters.

The withdrawal was justified — Ukraine faces a 10-to-1 shell disadvantage while Russian forces continue to grind forward under constant bombardment, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who leads the Ukrainian forces in the south, said in a statement, the NYT reported.

President Joe Biden had warned in recent weeks that Ukraine might lose Avdiivka due to ammunition shortages created by the Republican-led House’s failure to pass a government funding bill that includes money for Ukraine, Reuters reported. The Ukrainian troops rationed ammunition amid uncertainty about future support from the U.S., Ukraine’s largest military backer.

Avdiivka’s fall “happened in large part because Ukraine is running out of weapons due to congressional inaction,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said in a press call on Tuesday. “And Ukrainian troops didn’t have the supplies and ammunition they needed to stop the Russian advance.”

“If we don’t get the funding needed … we will not be able to provide these critical [Presidential Drawdown Authority] packages and Ukraine will have to make choices and decisions on what cities, what towns they can hold with what they have,” Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said Tuesday.

Some experts disputed that the supplemental funding would have made an impact in Avdiivka.

“It would not drastically increase the supply of weapons in Ukraine because we’ve already expended so many of our munitions and resources,” Vance said over the weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference Politico reported.

“That’s wholly inaccurate. The loss of Avdiivka came as a result of many factors, and a few billion dollars wouldn’t have made even a slight difference,” Davis told the DCNF.

Ukraine failed to achieve its counteroffensive goals over the summer of 2023, when the Department of Defense (DOD) had ample funding to support Ukraine — although it received criticism for kickstarting major initiatives too late to have practical effect on the battlefield.

Ukraine “failed then for very practical, fundamental reasons, and they lost Avdiivka for very fundamental reasons,” Davis said, including poor leadership and troop shortfalls. That goes “far beyond whether the U.S. Congress ponys up another $60 billion.”

Neither side has managed to take major swaths of territory since early in the war, now nearing the two-year mark.

As the gap in funding for Ukraine lengthens, however, the crisis will grow more acute, Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told the DCNF.

“Last fall I would have said that Congress’ delay on additional funding for Ukraine would not have an immediate impact, because there was still enough ‘stuff’ in the pipeline” already going to Ukraine, he said. As spring looms, portending an increase in fighting, that may no longer be the case.

That pipeline of weapons, ammunition and related equipment is drying up, he said. Complaints that Ukraine is rationing ammunition are real.

“Dithering by Congress is having a negative impact on the battlefield right now,” he said.

Ukraine needs thousands upon thousands of artillery rounds to achieve its goals of retaking the territory Russia occupies. While the U.S. has made strides toward expanding production of 155 mm artillery shells — one of the most common munitions used in the war — to 100,000 rounds per month by the end of fiscal year 2025, that would only fuel less than two weeks of conventional combat, Davis explained. Additional funding cannot overcome the time it takes for companies to grow factories and hire new workers.

So far, the U.S. has sent close to 2 million 155 mm shells to Ukraine according to a fact sheet dated Dec. 17, the last time the Biden Administration announced a security assistance package. The munitions are just one example of the various types of weapons the U.S. has pulled from its own arsenal and is scrambling to replace.

“The U.S. could give $300 billion and it still won’t matter, because there aren’t millions of artillery rounds just sitting around waiting to be purchased,” Davis explained to the DNCF.

Coffey disagreed.

“The U.S. only has limited capacity in our defense industry because of choice,” he told the DCNF.

The president does have $4 billion-worth of authority to pull directly from U.S. stockpiles for Ukraine. However, the Pentagon does not want to use up that funding because of the “risk” incurred when there’s no money to buy items for replenishing those stockpiles, Singh said at the press briefing Tuesday.

Singh reiterated the Pentagon has been “sounding these alarm bells since October.”

Ukraine is also investing in its own domestic weapons production, using Ukrainian-origin drones and missiles to wreak havoc on Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet, Serchuk explained.

“The only question for Members of Congress now is whether to help buy the Ukrainians the time they need, or to invite a victory for Putin that is otherwise preventable,” he said.

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Micaela Burrow

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Micaela Burrow
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