‘A bad day for Putin’: US aid vote gives Ukrainians renewed hope

Millions of Ukrainians let out a collective sigh of relief on Saturday as the US House of Representatives finally passed a long-delayed $61 billion aid bill that will provide Ukraine with a crucial lifeline in the struggle against Russian aggression. The vote came following months of political deadlock in the United States that had forced Ukrainian troops to ration ammunition and raised serious doubts over the future of Western support for the embattled Eastern European nation.

Responding to the news from Washington DC, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sought to underline the broad historical significance of the vote. “I am grateful to the United States House of Representatives, both parties, and personally to Speaker Mike Johnson for a decision that keeps history on the right track,” he commented. “Democracy and freedom will never fail as long as America helps protect it. A just peace and security can only be attained through strength.”

In his daily address, Zelenskyy also noted the critical importance of fresh US military supplies for Ukraine’s war effort and for the entire country’s security amid an escalating Russian bombing campaign. The bill passed by the House of Representatives is “a very significant package that will be appreciated both by our soldiers on the front lines and by our towns and villages suffering from Russian terror,” the Ukrainian leader stated.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the vote “a bad day for Putin” and “a bad day for anyone who dared to believe that America could waver when it comes to defending what and who it stands for.” Ukraine’s top diplomat also stressed the role of the bill in bolstering the US position on the international stage. “Everyone who made this decision a reality made the right choice. The United States has reaffirmed its global leadership.”

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Saturday’s vote in the United States was closely monitored by Ukrainian troops stationed thousands of miles away on the front lines of the war in eastern and southern Ukraine. Ukrainian ambassador-at-large Olexander Scherba shared a message sent to him by one soldier serving in the Donbas, who recounted the enthusiastic reaction among his comrades. “The whole unit was watching. After the vote, you could hear shouts of “YESSS!” along the entire trench.”

For many Ukrainians, the House of Representatives vote has helped rebuild faith in the country’s international partners following months of mounting frustration and feelings of abandonment. Since late summer 2023, Ukrainians have watched in dismay as their country’s survival has become hostage to US domestic politics. Meanwhile, Russia has taken advantage of Ukraine’s dwindling ammunition and air defenses to regain the battlefield initiative in eastern Ukraine and launch a nationwide bombing campaign targeting the country’s increasingly unprotected residential districts and civilian infrastructure.

With major new US weapons shipments reportedly “ready to go” once final confirmation of the aid package is received from the Senate and the White House, there are now renewed hopes that Ukraine will receive the military support it needs in order to push Russian forces back and defend the country. This boost could not be more timely, with Ukrainian weapons shortages rapidly approaching critical levels and preparations well underway for what is expected to be a major Russian offensive in the coming months.

In the wake of Saturday’s vote, Ukrainian army medic Yulia Paievska was one of numerous prominent figures from the country’s military community to praise Ukraine’s American partners and stress the importance of their continued support in the struggle against Russia. “They have lived up to their promises, which once again proves that justice and freedom are not empty words to the American people,” she commented. “Despite all the obstacles, we advance toward victory.”

These upbeat sentiments were echoed by a number of front line soldiers quoted by CNN. “We thought our partners had forgotten about us. This news gives us a sense of support and an understanding that we have not been forgotten,” one Ukrainian intelligence officer serving on the Zaporizhzhia front noted. “When we feel support from the outside, it motivates us. After all, the military knows it cannot win with sticks and bows and arrows,” stated another.

While the House of Representatives vote clearly boosted Ukrainian morale, many in Ukraine were also realistic about the scale of the challenges that remain. With the US presidential election set to take place later this year, further large-scale US military aid cannot be taken for granted. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s European partners are working to boost defense production but have so far struggled to fill the gap created by the recent pause in US security assistance.

If Western leaders are serious about preventing a Russian victory in Ukraine, they will have to look beyond the current $61 billion US aid package and develop the necessary resources to prevail in a long confrontation with the Kremlin. “Please don’t forget that Russia’s annual military budget is more than $100 billion,” noted Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko on Saturday evening. “We have won time today, but we have not won the war. We will still need to finish the job.”

Peter Dickinson is editor of the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert service.

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The views expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff, or its supporters.

The Eurasia Center’s mission is to enhance transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia in the East.

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Image: Flags flutter as pro-Ukrainian supporters demonstrate outside the US Capitol after the US House of Representatives voted on legislation providing $95 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. April 20, 2024. (REUTERS/Ken Cedeno)