- The Biden administration has repeatedly denied Ukraine’s request for certain high-tech weapons only to approve them later, without clearly articulating the logic behind such decisions, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- Experts said politics and concerns over public perception, not Ukraine’s true needs, are the cause of such reversals.
- “You’re waiting for the United States to respond, and then they delay and delay and delay to the point where you’re going to get things after the need arises,” John Venable, a senior research fellow for Defense Policy at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF.
The Biden administration is locked in a pattern of delaying or denying weapons deliveries for Ukraine only to backtrack those decisions and grant Kyiv’s request, one that both shows a lack of guiding strategy and vulnerability to political pressures coming from the Democratic base, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The administration has offered some heavy weaponry to Kyiv, like U.S.-made M1 Abrams main battle tanks, and recently backed a coalition to get F-16 fighter jets to the Ukrainian military even after offering a litany of reasons why such transfers didn’t make sense and warning that such deliveries could trigger world war. The trend represents a dangerous lack of coherent strategy within the administration and could ultimately backfire for Ukraine, experts told the DCNF.
“They’re basically waiting for for public sentiment, someone to suggest something, public sentiment to rise up to where it looks like it’s going to be acceptable, and then they’ll move forward with the initiative,” John Venable, a senior research fellow for Defense Policy at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF, referring to the Biden administration.
When asked what he meant by “public,” Venable explained that pressure bubbles up from the Democratic Party. Compounding with Kyiv’s demands and pressure from gung-ho allies like Poland to escalate support, the administration abandons strategy in favor of “leading from behind,” Venable said.
After Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, and the U.S. rallied to support Ukraine’s self-defense efforts, Europe moved first on sending Javelin anti-tank weapons and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. After months of internal wrangling, the administration relented and announced an initial delivery of the now-infamous HIMARS rocket launchers on June 1, just not those equipped to fire at longer ranges, Politico reported.
In a May 31 op-ed, Biden committed to sending “more advanced rocket systems and munitions.”
“We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders,” Biden wrote.
When Poland proposed a three-way swap to transfer MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in March of 2022, the Biden administration killed the deal, according to The Washington Post. One year later, Poland became the first NATO country to commit aircraft in exchange for a purchase of U.S.-made F-35 advanced fighter jets.
“Rhetorically the Biden administration has signaled that we’re working at the behest of Zelenskyy and his counterparts in the military, and it’s their strategy,” Reid Smith, vice president for foreign policy at philanthropy organization Stand Together, told the DCNF. “We’re reluctant at times to give them everything they asked for, but we end up folding.”
The next capability Ukraine begged for was the Patriot missile defense system, an advanced and powerful air defense weapon Kyiv said could protect its skies from Russia’s indiscriminate missile barrages on both civilian and military sites.
Open calls for F-16s and Patriots during the first six months of conflict turned to a steady behind-the-scenes push from Kyiv to supply more modern, accurate and long-range equipment amid advice from Washington to devote resources to meeting Ukraine’s immediate battlefield needs, according to Politico.
Obtaining and manning Patriots would strain Ukraine’s military in terms of training and munitions, as well as global demand for the rare, expensive systems and the types of missiles they fire, the administration argued, Politico reported. Despite these concerns, the Department of Defense announced it would provide one Patriot battery to Ukraine in December. Germany and the Netherlands offered Patriots of their own soon after.
A Ukrainian unit trained on the system at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for just 10 weeks — faster than projected, Politico reported.
Ukraine recently used a Patriot battery to defend against an incoming air assault, launching 20 missiles in the space of one and one-half minutes, according to videos seen on social media. Venable said that from the research he has done, the U.S. has the capacity to produce just 300 missiles each year.
“It’s unclear to me sometimes when we decide to give them the things that they have been asking me for for ages, whether that signifies an endorsement of their kind of strategic priorities or whether that indicates a shortfall on our end of other material of war,” Smith said.
“The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on. It has a jet engine,” Undersecretary of Defense for policy Colin Kahl said, explaining why the platform was not appropriate for Ukraine.
Amid pressure from NATO, however, the administration authorized 31 Abrams, equal to one Ukrainian tank brigade, in the interest of maintaining a unified front and unlocking German-made Leopard 2s for Ukraine.
“On the battlefield, those tanks can have a very decisive and deadly capability of moving the trench lines, right, actually having an impact for the Ukrainians. That one does make sense,” Venable said.
Finally, in May, the administration said it would support procurement of F-16s for Ukraine and training Ukrainian forces on the system, a process that will take months not including setting up new maintenance lines, Politico reported. The question of what changed between January and May was one of determining whether Ukraine had the capabilities it needed for the short-term and the prospects of escalation, officials told the outlet.
“It’s been in the works,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday, referring to the training program, according to Politico. “We could certainly have started earlier, but there were much higher priorities, and it’s seen by some as an escalatory act on our part.”
Venable expressed skepticism that F-16s would prove useful on the battlefield against Russia’s fifth-generation air defenses, and in any case will require monumental effort to set up new supply lines and Ukrainian units that can operate the jets. F-16s will provide a long-term replacement aircraft as Ukraine seeks to construct an armed forces based on Western systems.
“That’s why this is a hold up on this particular fourth generation aircraft — [it] is all political. It has nothing to do with its military capability,” Venable said.
“[F-16s] are very expensive. It signifies a really high U.S. commitment to Ukraine. They’re symbolically important,” Smith told the DCNF.
However, the symbolic value of high-tech equipment — whether Abrams tanks, Patriots or F-16s — could place Ukraine at a disadvantage, further stretching already strained military and economic reserves.
“The expense of keeping these things moving in the right direction or whatever isn’t necessarily the best use of their resources,” Smith said.
The Biden administration’s fickle attitude has placed Ukraine in a tough position, according to Venable.
“You know that support is coming, so you can’t turn to someone else and ask for it, you can’t go someplace and try to buy it. You’re waiting for the United States to respond, and then they delay and delay and delay to the point where you’re going to get things after the need arises,” Venable told the DCNF.
Earlier in 2023, in a change of tune, the Biden administration told Ukraine it does not have sufficient spare Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to send to Ukraine without detracting from U.S. readiness for future fights, Politico reported, citing four people with knowledge of the discussions. Previously, the administration denied Ukraine’s request for ATACMS on the grounds that the weapon, which can reach targets up to 190 miles from the launch site, would allow Ukraine to strike Russian territory and violate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s red lines.
“To be continued,” Marshall Billingslea, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, wrote of ATACMS and cluster munitions in a social media post parodying the administration’s whiplash decision-making.
The White House did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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