The U.S. Congress has reached an agreement on a defense bill covering funding for 2020 that will allocate military assistance to Ukraine.
This week, following months of dialogue between members of the two political parties in the U.S. Congress, a deal was struck for the U.S. to spend $738 billion on defense in 2020. Included in the budget bill is an allocation of $300 million to Ukraine to support its armed forces. Reporting on the bill, Reuters said that the funding would “include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.”
The allocation is a boost from the previous level of $250 million.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump, Washington has begun providing “lethal” military aid to Ukraine, beginning with a transfer of sniper rifles. The U.S. later signed off on several batches of Javelin anti-tank missiles in a show of support to Ukraine as the country contends with Russia’s annexation of Crimea as well as a Russian-backed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. has also donated decommissioned vessels to the Ukrainian Navy.
Military assistance to Ukraine has proved to be a controversial subject in the U.S., after funding allocated for the purpose in 2019 was temporarily frozen by the Trump administration. The aid was restored in September after having been frozen for a period of several months, but the opposition Democratic Party, which controls the U.S. House of Representatives, has investigated the circumstances surrounding the aid and announced articles of impeachment against President Trump over the matter.
Democratic lawmakers have alleged that President Trump sought to tie domestic political interests to the disbursement of the aid, while President Trump has aired concerns about corruption in Ukraine.
Despite the controversy in the U.S., Ukraine continues to enjoy bipartisan support, and the newly approved defense spending bill provides an indication that the country’s relationship with the U.S. has not been damaged over the political battle.
Ukraine is looking to procure more anti-tank missiles and has held discussions with American officials over other types of missiles. The American defense spending suggests that the U.S. may move forward with a deal over coastal defense systems, which Ukraine wants in order to beef up its deterrence against the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Last year, several Ukrainian patrol boats were apprehended by Russia as they attempted to transit into the Sea of Azov. The capture of the vessels, which have recently been returned, underscored the power disparity between the naval forces of the two countries.
The Ukrainian military has also pushed for the acquisition of U.S. air defense systems, though it is not clear whether Washington is ready to provide such hardware. While the U.S. has gradually increased the types and volumes of systems supplied to Ukraine, it is sensitive to Moscow’s concerns about the delivery of armaments to the Ukrainian military and wary of provoking an escalation in Eastern Ukraine, where the insurgency has ground to a halt in a shaky ceasefire that is regularly violated.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who bested incumbent Petro Poroshenko in an election earlier this year, has pushed for the implementation of a resolution in regard to the conflict in the east. This week, he met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, their first meeting in person, to discuss bringing the conflict to a close.