U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine Grows, Thanks to Lobbyists

U.S.-Ukraine military exercise | OPED COLUMN POLITICS

[ by Alex Wright ]

The total cost of weapons transferred to Ukraine by the United States broke the record in 2020. Some experts view it as a growing support from Washington, but in fact it shows the excellent work of the USA‘s lobbyists.

WHAT HAPPENED?

According a report published by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which is a part of the USA’s Department of Defense, Ukraine received weapons totaling $510.5 million in 2020. This amount includes both military aid programs and commercial contracts between Kyiv and Washington.

In the USA’s budget, the military aid to Ukraine is listed in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative program. It includes both the provision of the military-industrial complex products and retraining of Ukrainian Armed Forces officers. For the year 2020, Donald Trump, the former president, signed the USA budget which included $300 million military aid to Ukraine. So, only the remaining $210.5 million comes from commercial defense contracts between the Ukrainian and USA officials.

NOT MUCH INFORMATION AVAILABLE

Details and amounts of defense contracts often remain unknown for the ordinary citizens, and we have to look carefully for this information, otherwise we might miss it. In summer, Vladimir Elchenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to the USA, said that three major deliveries of weapons from the USA were expected last year. Former USA Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor confirmed that the Ukrainian top-officials closely cooperate with the USA’s embassy in Kyiv to decide on what the Ukrainian army needs. According to the diplomat, the list of possible deliveries includes anti-ship missiles, drones and communication equipment. However, there were no publicly available reports on agreements or deliveries, especially for such significant amounts.

Perhaps the only well-known acquisition of Ukraine within the bilateral military cooperation with the USA is anti-tank guided missiles Javelin. In early October 2019, the State Department approved the sale of Javelin to Kyiv worth $39 million. The contract includes 150 missiles and 10 launchers.

SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR UKRAINE NEGOTIATIONS

A Politico’s article, which revealed the personal gain of the former United States Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker in lobbying for the supply of lethal weapons to Kyiv, was widely discussed in the Ukrainian press in 2019. Since taking office, the USA diplomat has actively contributed to the decision to provide Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles, while keeping a paid post in a lobbying firm close to Javelin manufacturing company Raytheon.

According to the newspaper, at the same time Volker was pushing Trump to arm Ukraine, he also held positions with a major lobbying firm, BGR Group, and a think tank, the McCain Institute, that each had financial ties to Raytheon Co., which manufactures the Javelin system and earned millions from Trump’s decision to provide Kyiv with missiles. Raytheon has paid BGR Group for many years for promoting their products. A major producer of weapons in the USA also is a corporate donor of the McCain Institute and transferred money in its support.

Donald Trump’s decision to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons allowed Raytheon to get a huge government contract. In 2018, the USA send over $47 million worth party of Javelins to Ukraine under the military aid program and one more $60 million shipment in 2020.

MISSILE AND MORE

Diplomat’s financial interest in expanding military supplies to Ukraine can be seen for several years. Since the appointment of Kurt Volker, the budget of USA’s aid to Kyiv significantly increased. In 2014 and 2015 the USA Government spent on the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative only $57 million and $77 million respectively. The situation has changed fundamentally since Volker took office. According to USAID, the USA’s Department of Defense sent $258 million to support Ukraine in 2017, $305 million in 2018, and $300 million each in 2019 and 2020.

The Javelin-gate attracted special attention of media, but it is highly likely that the supply of anti-tank missiles was not the only fact of Kurt Volker’s use of official post. Raytheon produces a wide range of weapons, from optical sights to aircraft engines. Since 2014, the USA has provided Ukraine with night vision devices, radar systems, counter-battery radars, which are also produced by Raytheon.

USA MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX AND POROSHENKO’S EMPLOYEE

In addition to the apparent connection of the former USA’s Special Representative for Ukraine with the company of the USA’s military-industrial complex, the facts indicate his involvement in lobbying activities in favor of Petro Poroshenko.

In 2017, the National Reform Council of Ukraine paid $600,000 to BGR Group to “strengthen ties between the USA and Ukraine and attract USA’s private entrepreneurs to invest in Ukraine”. Information that Petro Poroshenko’s administration hired this company to promote its interests in Washington, DC can be found on the website of the Department of Justice. Later the information was confirmed in the Office of the President of Ukraine.

Volker can hardly be called a true diplomat. In fact, he was serving the interests of Raytheon and Poroshenko but not the USA’s State Department. He was loyal to his sponsors till the end. During the second round of presidential elections in Ukraine he was calling on Ukrainians to support Poroshenko. Volker did not stop working even after his dismissal from the diplomatic post. He still publicly supports ex-president of Ukraine in Twitter and interviews.

AFTER KURT VOLKER

In September 2019, Kurt Walker resigned as the USA’s Special Representative for Ukraine, but military assistance to Kyiv did not decrease. What is more, defense ministries of both countries discuss new arms shipments. In July 2019, former Raytheon top lobbyist Mark Esper became the USA’s Secretary of Defense. A few month after the Esper’s appointment, the Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine Anatoliy Petrenko said that Kyiv concluded contracts for the delivery of a second batch of Javelin anti-tank missile systems. In addition, contacts in the defense field between Washington and Kyiv have significantly strengthened over the past year. For the first time since 2014, the USA’s Secretary of Defense held a phone conversation with a Ukrainian counterpart. What is more, Mark Esper publicly spoke out against Donald Trump’s decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine in 2019.

At the moment there are no facts that could confirm Esper’s lobbying activities in favor of Raytheon while heading the ministry. At the same time, the USA arms manufacturer specializes in those equipment that the USA is ready to provide to Ukraine, for example anti-ship missiles, drones and communication equipment.

Alex Wright is an Ukrainian journalist, political blogger, contributor to International Policy Digest and a number of Ukrainian media.

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