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The Ukraine Example: Circumstances Matter for Effective Security Assistance

RESEARCH Policy Brief by Ethan Kessler
tanks in Ukraine

US aid would not have been nearly as effective without Ukraine’s efforts to improve its military prior to the 2022 Russian invasion.

US security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s all-out invasion in February 2022 has been substantial, but was not sufficient to guarantee Ukraine’s initial military success in the war. Data reveals that US security assistance to Ukraine, which mainly consisted of nonproliferation-related aid before 2014, increased after Russia’s invasion of Crimea that year. However, Ukraine’s failures against Russia in Crimea and later in eastern Ukraine were largely due to an undermanned, underequipped, and undertrained Ukrainian military. Ukraine’s focus on remedying these problems, along with increased combat experience, principally drove Ukrainian military improvements by 2022. These internal changes, as well as Russia’s poor military organization and force employment in the first phase of its 2022 invasion, are essential for understanding the contributions of US equipment and weapons to Ukrainian military successes. These lessons are instructive not only for US security assistance to Ukraine, but also for the many other settings where US security assistance is a prominent policy tool.

Key Findings

  • US security assistance to Ukraine increased substantially and shifted mainly to training and equipment assistance after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
  • However, in keeping with a conservative US strategy toward Ukraine, US aid was still not substantial enough to offset Ukraine’s military shortcomings.
  • Ukraine’s military made substantial gains from 2014 to 2022 by conscripting more soldiers, implementing better and more extensive training, and learning lessons from combat with Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists.
  • These gains, along with the Ukrainian military’s strong will to fight, have made effective the vastly increased quantities of US weapons and supplies sent to Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.
  • Russia’s disastrous opening maneuvers in February and March 2022 and lack of adequate infantry also contributed to Ukraine’s effective use of US weaponry.
About the Author
Ethan Kessler
Former Research Associate
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Ethan Kessler joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2021 and was a research associate in the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy.
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