Several Republican Members of Congress are escalating calls for a forensic audit of U.S. military and non-military aid to Ukraine following the Russian invasion in February. Those calls for transparency come as President Joe Biden’s White House just asked the U.S. Congress for another $37 billion for the war in Ukraine. But is an audit of all that aid, which includes not just cash transfers but loans, military equipment, and humanitarian supplies, even possible?
To begin with, we need to answer a simpler question: how much money has the U.S. government sent to Ukraine?
Try Googling the question to find an answer. The search isn’t likely to be an easy one, as I discovered. There’s no media outlet keeping an ongoing tally of the cost of the Ukraine war to American taxpayers, and obviously there’s no government website doing so. Even conservative American think tanks, many of them stuck in Cold War mentalities, haven’t focused on financial transparency as they analyze U.S. involvement in the conflict. A factor that complicates the answer is the discrepancy between total aid appropriated and committed versus aid that has actually been delivered. The Biden administration has not been lightning fast in turning appropriations into actual aid, so there are significant differences between the two numbers.
The Congressional Research Service, the non-partisan in-house think tank for Congress, produced a report on total “security assistance” as of Oct. 21, 2022. Funding in that category, from 2014 to Oct. 14, 2022, was $20.3 billion. But this points up another complicating factor. Different sources measure buckets of aid differently: some will talk about security assistance, some talk of military assistance, some talk of humanitarian aid. Few offer a clear cut, “This is the total cost of all U.S. support for the war in Ukraine.”
Eventually I tracked down a database operated by the Kiel Institute, a German think tank. They have been tracking total military and non-military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict. Their numbers include all aid from Jan. 24, 2022 to Oct. 3, 2022 (the data is scheduled for an update on Dec. 6).
According to Kiel, the U.S. has transferred military and non-military aid worth $54.43 billion to the government of Ukraine. The database Kiel has maintained is by far the most granular and detailed accounting of what the U.S. government has provided to Ukraine, including descriptions of the individual batches of military equipment. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.
It’s unfortunate that an American journalist must rely on a German think tank for get this information. It’s also unfortunate that Kiel had to copiously piece together this information from various statements made by the Department of Defense, the White House, and the Secretary of State. Because of that, the data is only as accurate as the American federal government’s statements to the media.
Kiel’s estimated $54.43 billion plus the White House’s new request for $37 billion would bring the total cost of U.S. involvement in Ukraine to $91,430,000,000.
Let’s put $91.43 billion into context: the European Union member countries and institutions have provided $30.45 billion to Ukraine, per Kiel. The Jamestown Foundation estimates the Russias most recent annual defense spending was $77.7 billion. In 2021, the Gross Domestic Product of the state of Maine was $77.9 billion. And, of course, all of this is meaningless without noting that the total U.S. federal debt currently sits at $31.3 trillion.
As for the calls to audit all of that spending, it’s a noble goal. But much of that aid is physical aid — guns and butter — which has likely been consumed or expended. I rather doubt the Ukrainian government is tracking all of this. Why, in a time or crisis with no expectations from the U.S., would they bother tracking it? The cash assistance may be a different story, perhaps there is a paper trail. But even then: We’re talking about billions of dollars funneled into one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. How much can you trust a paper trail? The truth is that money is gone, and no American politician will ever suffer the consequences or be held accountable. Go Democracy!
Lastly, if you object to the headline calling the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe a proxy war, then you should take that up with people like former Counselor to Condaleeza Rice Eliot Cohen, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Phillip Breedlove, among others. People close to the conflict all agree that what’s happening is more than a fight over disputed border regions in Ukraine, and is in fact a proxy war between Russia and the U.S. Americans are being asked to foot the bill for an enormous transfer of arms and wealth to a country most couldn’t even locate on a map a month ago. So it’s a small request to ask that we at least accurately understand the conflict now underway.